Considering his meteoric rise to fame, it would be easy to stereotype Black Coffee as just another black diamond, a BEE beat magnet out to mine the insatiable upwardly mobile urban house party market. But as he proved on his South African Music Award-winning album “Home Brewed”, this DJ and producer defies convention. Sidestepping Afro-house clichés and stage-managed highs in favour of restrained sophistication, Black Coffee’s penchant is for true Afropolitan house: home-brewed but fresh and future-focused. Expect almost sculptural balance and beauty. If one heard a clamour and ululating emanating from the eastern provinces of South Africa, KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape, announcing the recognition of a cultural phenomenon.. and their role in the development of this cultural phenomenon.. one could not argue were that clamour and ululating to be in respect of one.. that is the soul, spirit, talent and vision of Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo, one better known as “Black Coffee”.
Catch Black Coffee at Omnia Bali
Where would you say South African house music draw its influence?
You have more vocal house in South Africa. We are very much influenced by R&B where if a song is well written and the rhythm is amazing and well presented, the club will get into it.
What about from a production side of things, when you are in the studio, do you have a go to piece of gear you use?
I use Logic a lot because of traveling. I have a studio back home but I rarely use it for production. I mostly use it to record vocals. Now, even when I go to the studio I take my laptop and work from it.
How do you balance the demands of traveling and touring with having a family and raising kids?
It is the hardest part of all this. My team and I struggle a lot with it and I don’t think it is a fight we will ever stop. For instance, I thought I was playing here last night and leaving today. This would have been my third weekend away from the family so I was looking forward to going home afterwards. Then, when I was getting my accreditation they told me I was leaving on Wednesday, which was a hard blow for me since Thursday I am leaving for Dubai. Having a great team works for me because they understand me and what I need. If I didn’t have a family, I wouldn’t even bother going home. From here I’d go to Dubai then Greece than Washington DC. I tell my team, I don’t care how many days I get as long as I get home. Even if it is only for a day or 2, I don’t mind. In the summer, I moved to New York with the family so they aren’t that far. That is how much I try and keep them close.
What if your kids came to you and said they want to become DJs, would you be supportive?
Yes. My oldest son is 16 and on my birthday he and his friend released their mixtape. Growing up, he was mostly into hip hop, bit now he is into dance music and house. He likes a little more of the EDM stuff, which at first didn’t really sit well with me, but I am supportive of what he does. I know how hard the industry is and I will assist him any way I can!
Do you approach DJing in a similar way?
A DJ is a tastemaker. Without a DJ playing that new song, people will never know it. With DJs, the temptation is to be safe and play the same music because we’re afraid to break new songs. But I like to take risks. Especially at the beginning of a set, when people are paying attention. I use that excitement to educate and introduce new songs. I start with a song people don’t know. I don’t even know where I’m going to go after that. I keep layering it till I get to the song people know. Then you go back to what they don’t know.
How do you find your inspiration in bringing people of all ages together and not just catering for the younger generation as a DJ where music is mostly played in clubs?
I don’t even look at it like that when creating music. For me I always look for beauty in music you know. If I’m feeling down, what song would I listen to that would make me feel better? If I’m in love, what song would I want to listen to as someone in love? I create from that space. That’s why you will never find a song that is angry or is fighting or degrading women. I don’t care how cool it is because we live in that era where women will actually sing a degrading song towards themselves and they like don’t care because it’s a good song. I see the power of house—what a good song can do even when degrading. I however choose to sit on the side where it can only build. It can only be positive. It can only bring beautiful memories. It can only inspire. It can only be beautiful. So I create from that space and then people will then pick it up from there whether they are young or old because it makes them feel a certain type of way. That’s what music does, it makes you feel a certain type of way then when the words are right then everyone relates to it so I always create from that point. I don’t say I’m doing it for the millennials. I don’t think like that. I go straight to the feelings, you know. I create music for the feelings.
How do you feel about the reception it has gotten? I was listening to one of the youth radio stations the other day and so many DJs have made a mix with the song.
It’s really amazing, man. I just don’t have the right numbers but it has been on the top of I think 150 most Shazam’d songs in the world. That’s a big number for me you know doing what I do. We had been talking with David and my management and his management about doing a song together and eventually we got around and booked a studio in LA and worked on the song and that’s how it came about and we just went in and tried by all means to make it balance. In the song you hear me and you hear him [David] on the song which is the most challenging thing to do, but it worked it. It worked really well.
Through your work you’ve secured a spot both home and abroad as one of the biggest DJs. When was the first moment that you realized how far your music had reached? Did you have a big realization moment about your influence?
It’s still coming, to be very honest with you (laughs). There have been significant points growing up in the industry and understanding ‘Oh wow this is big!’ Like I just said with “Drive” we were told top 150 most Shazam’d songs. That is a step for me. It’s new and big! But before then doing a song with David Guetta is a milestone on its own. Like, wow! But then you keep it moving you know. What’s next? So it’s a series of different things you know that got me here and I think there’s still a long way to go you know there’s still so much to do and based on what I was saying earlier about collaborations and making sure they sound right eventually you don’t have ‘South African House Music’ you have house music. You can start just hearing a song on a radio station in Germany where you don’t say it’s a South African music song it just blends in. Because when you heard Drake they don’t say “That’s a Canadian” it’s Drake! I would like for our music to get to that level where it blends in with everything that’s happening without it being marginalised to “awwwe that’s an African thing,” you know I think that’s the point.
With the world being so globally interconnected it’s easier for young people to make music and share on sites like Soundcloud and Apple Music globally. Do you think there is a form of disconnect in the way young people are making, releasing and receiving music? I mean you studied jazz and were a backup singer in an Afro-pop trio called SHANA before becoming a sold out DJ.
There is and there isn’t. We can use technology to really fast track things. When I look at how long it took David’s career to take off like you would see his pictures he was young and playing in clubs, it took him long and then there’s Martin Garrix, who’s a kid who started very early as well as a kid but made it quite early because of the internet and exposure and how much quicker it is now to pass on the message. So, there are good things about the internet today—how interconnected the world is—and we can only use that to our advantage.