Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo and a bunch of his friends, jammed into a car, were barreling down the street. Joyfully enjoying themselves. Then, like Frankie Beverly definitively knew, joy can quickly turn into pain. A car traveling the wrong way rammed into them head on. Nkosinathi survived. Well, most of him survived. His left arm was disabled. In one terrible sense, that was the conception of the future manual magician, mega-talented DJ, Black Coffee (his nom-de-musick).
Nkosinathi refused to surrender his position atop a mountain of DJs striving for the summit of being the best, just because because he now had only one working arm. My man went on to become an internationally famous music producer and ultimately the ultra-successful DJ, Black Coffee, literally working shows worldwide.
But first a video that gives the social and musical context from which Black Coffee emerges. Rave and Resistance delineates how the club culture in South Africa evolved out of the immediate post-apartheid 90’s area. Through first-hand testimony, this forty-some minute documentary lays out the whole back story. Although the music ended up a long, long way from hand drums and manual turntables, or from the Chicago-based, queer-friendly genre known as “house music”, the musical sound remained African to its core.
Of all the artists rising out of South Africa, Black Coffee is widely known as someone who collaborates with damn near everyone. Plus, he is the epitome of what it means to be a creative DJ.
Black Coffee is a profound aural architect who is proficient at moving the sound initially generated thousands of miles away at the margins of society to now occupy and dominate the common ground of the entrancing discourse of popular music in South Africa.
His January 2018 set in Paris is an absolute killer. The music is superbly recorded and the visuals are a graduate course in revealing how he expertly works; yes, pushing buttons, twirling knobs, loading and unloading recordings, plus, strategically dropping in miscellaneous sounds, all while keeping the beat thumping, flowing, crashing and dashing, a veritable, irresistible sonic river.
Black Coffee is a wizard of sound. Twisting, turning, stopping, starting, chopping up long cuts, weaving together snippets. He makes maximum use of digital turntables and a mixing board, filtered by his unerring ear for both sound and sensibility. This is music. Categories be damned. You could call it techno-tribal but that would be a mere label trying to capture and contain sonic waves.
His Paris set both opens and closes with “We Are One“, a major collaboration-hit he had with Hugh Masekela celebrating the unity of the various peoples of South Africa.
In a video interview Black Coffee offers sincere insight into his life and music making. Succinct and to the point, the video proffers more than a mere peek at the music man. He says that the Africa Rising show was one of his most memorable. Although tracks from the DVD are available on line, the twenty-minute video behind the scenes look at the set up and the participants for the massively innovative concert is an informative exploration of one of the largest programs of its era.
Despite the brevity of the introducing Midem Insights video, we get a total sense of where Black Coffee is coming from. And just in case you are as captivated as I am by his music, here is a little lagniappe for those still hungry for more of the entrancing digital music emanating from South Africa, or as the philosophers know: out of Africa, always something new.