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An in-depth look at established artist careers that relate to social, political, and/or spiritual issues.
This showcase features underrated, talented performers whose names have yet to be discovered.
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16: Black Coffee

Photo By DJ Mag

“It’s About Having Our Own Stage And Trying To Pioneer A Certain Sound...”

How do we define success? Is it through a financial lens or one of integrity? Is it through joy or through pain? Is it measured by the love we get at home or away from it? Does success have a limit? Should we seek it in the midst of our journeys or let it come naturally? Must we suffer at its expense?

On Saturday 1st October, I braced myself for a performance I was thoroughly looking forward to. I had spent the day with friends soaking up the sun, dining on fresh seafood and taking a dip in some of the clearest, purest waters on this side of the Earth. It was my penultimate day in Ibiza; a calm before a storm, gearing up for what was set to be an overly exciting evening that would last into the early hours of the next morning.

Black Coffee has (not for the first time) been the resident DJ at Hi Ibiza this past summer, so it was easy to see why he was able to strut so effortlessly onto the stage. It’s been a home away from home for a man who’s had to acclimatise to living out of a suitcase for substantial portions of his professional life, particularly over the last couple of years. The crowd awaited in differing states of intoxication; some natural, from a sense of complete euphoria and anticipation, others self-inflicted with manufactured assistance. But the end goal was shared amongst everybody present: to experience a maestro of House music ignite spiritual like unity and ecstasy.

His background makes his music all the more fascinating. Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo is a product of incredibly unique circumstances and surroundings. Having grown up with his grandmother a mere thirty kilometres away from Nelson Mandela’s hometown, it was her radio that would engage him in music. Sounds varying from soul, jazz and native elements of his homeland would lead him to joining the choir before he pursued music academically.

“As soon as I got into that space, I knew I needed to make a career out of it… That was the defining moment.”

In keeping true to his words, Black Coffee went full steam ahead to achieve his goals. Hardship presented itself along the way, in the form of dropping out, teaming up with peers and then eventually deciding to go it alone. A severe injury to his left arm caused him to temporarily create his art one-handed, but a challenge he bypassed, nevertheless. Strength was instilled with him in his surroundings, be it from the prominent figures in his country that came before him, to the charged atmosphere of the youth who strived for a better future in a country with monumental levels of potential.

Indeed, it is perhaps the work of a poet who could instigate the direction and philosophy of Black Coffee’s musical gift and the pursuit that went with it. His music would bring calming senses whilst exploring new combinations to supplement his selection of influences, sounds and vibes. He doubles down on this with the graceful way he carries himself; perhaps a key element in his ability to break barriers and work with an incredibly diverse range of collaborators.

Photo By Drumshed

His big break came when being selected for Red Bull’s Music Academy in 2003. As the saying goes, there was no turning back. He would release his self-titled debut album with far less sophisticated equipment than his peers, but Black Coffee competed pound for pound in spite of this. He’d carve a lane out for himself by incorporating tribal elements, native instrumentation, and vocal heavy tracks, eventually becoming an influential figure in South Africa’s Amapiano scene.

“This is precisely why he is largely an acquired taste in many parts of Africa. However, there is evidently a great deal of courage, consistency and conviction in his craft which has paid off handsomely. House music was welcomed by South African youth on the cusp of political liberation. Somehow it chimed with their longings for freedom, emotional release, and creative experimentation. They had no existing rule book and dance music provided them with a powerful imaginative blueprint that supported their understandable optimism.”

Black Coffee would also prove to have a proficient level of business acumen too, as his debut release came under his own Soulistic Music record label. As he continued to grow, so did his opportunities, and before he knew it, he was in high demand worldwide as much as he was locally. Everything was falling into place. The humble beginnings of his rare sound suddenly became a hot, global commodity in the House scene.

With more attention and spotlight, Black Coffee became everybody’s favourite DJ, and more commercial acts would soon seek him out. For some, this could be a bit of a tight rope, or even a poisoned chalice. But Black Coffee’s bread and butter was and still is to bring influences from different corners of the world together. He stands before us as a top billing DJ, whose name is synonymous with an enjoyable time and electric atmospheres. Whether you’re late for his Arrival or one of the early ones, the point is that you’re here on ride to House’s summit.

The list of notable co-signs in the industry is as envious as it is glamourous. The cultural waves he started has his noticeable fingerprints all over it and continues to expand despite him seeking newer horizons. As we revisit the questions around how we define success, it’s hard to consider Black Coffee anything but. A self-made pioneer who instilled passion and energy into the world through his music. Everybody wants you when you’re at the top.

Written by: @WhosAria

Bars Of Wisdom

In collaboration with Insight.