DJ Black Coffee at the Exclusive Durban Vignette Experience at Maxs Lifestyle on June 23, 2021 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
I first saw Nkosinathi Maphumulo alias Black coffee performing at Amaros Night Club in Pretoria, South Africa in the late 2000s. Dressed in a casual T-shirt, no one would have guessed he was destined for global fame. Under the strobe lights, bathed in throbbing house music, clashing vocals and sweat, he could have been like any other struggling DJ. But it seemed impervious to the spectral faces, shapes, and vapors swirling on the ceiling, walls, and floors. In the midst of the Pretoria club, Black Coffee has taken its throne in a scene where everything is in the balance between absolute elation and dissolution.
Black Coffee is not very demonstrative behind the decks. He maintains a cool attitude – but the whole dance floor goes crazy. At the 64th Grammy Awards, he lifted a golden statue to Best Dance/Electronic Album for his sixth studio album Unconsciously (2021). Black Coffee does laid-back house music; his touch is cool, sober and incomparable.
Over the years he continued to grind, but there was rarely anything sweaty or gritty about his music. His tracks have been paired with a unique range of singers and musicians – from Drake to Thandiswa Mazwai. He constantly sought out sophisticated sounds and grooves like frenetic waves of house music subgenres – kwaito, gqom, amapien – swept in and out of fashion.
There is very little, for example, that connects him to gqom, a genre associated with Durban, his adopted hometown. Gqom has a predilection for raw, heavy drum beats and hectic, messy grooves. Just as little compares it to amapiano, a jazzy, bluesy, synth-laden subgenre of house music famed for having hatched in the townships of Pretoria (though very different from Bacardian old house subgenre also born in Pretoria).
Instead, the Black Coffee label, Soulistbecame a base for house music stars Culoe De Song, DJ Shimza, Bucie and others.
Ironically, Black Coffee peaked artistically over a decade ago when it was the wave of the moment. While house music is still popular, it can no longer be considered the flavor of the season. Amapiano has everyone hot, bothered and fast. But the Grammys judging committees are still too far behind to listen.
The deejay of a deejay
Since becoming an established global name, Black Coffee still comes across as a deejay deejay; a name ennobled for the art and craft of the bridge. His music does not drip bodily emissions or draw undue attention to itself other than delicately seeping with the moisture of dew into the quietest recesses of the soul.
This is precisely why it is largely an acquired taste in many parts of Africa. However, there is obviously a lot of courage, consistency and conviction in his craft which has largely paid off. House music was well received by South African youth at the dawn of political liberation. In a way, it corresponded to their aspirations for freedom, emotional release and creative experimentation. They had no existing rulebook, and the dance music provided them with a powerful imaginative blueprint that supported their understandable optimism.
While South Africa and the rest of the continent were always a bit late to love it, Coffee courted large swathes of Europe, starting with the party scene of Ibiza in Spain. And, of course, Diddy, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Swizz Beats, David Guetta and other equally important international music stars respect and admire him.
DJ Cafe Noir. (Photo: Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
Back in South Africa, Black Coffee courted controversy. In a video that went viral in 2016, we see violently slap manager of another artist during a concert in Polokwane. He apologized.
A few years later, a very public and ugly breakup of her marriage to actress and fashion designer Enhle Mbali Mlotshwa took place in her midst. allegations physical violence and infidelity. He refuse these.
Issues have also arisen regarding the rights to certain songs he samples on his tracks. There was a misunderstanding, for example, about his remix by Simphiwe Dana Ndiredi.
For some South Africans, Black Coffee represents the misshapen core of masculinity in contemporary South Africa; seemingly violent and seemingly arrogant in the face of his ex-wife’s allegations. The country finds itself under the sway of a scourge gender-based violence. It is perhaps curious that such soothing sounds emanate from a character who seems so rambunctious. But for many others, Black Coffee appeared almost as flawless as the white blazer he wore to the Grammys.
DJ Black Coffee and Esona Maphumulo, winners of Best Dance/Electronic Album for Unconsciously, attend the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the MGM Grand Marquee Ballroom on April 3, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)
The discreet balance
Even before the Grammy nod, he had been lavishly crowned with awards and international recognition. Obviously, this was all accomplished by finding an inner drumbeat and staying true to one’s own path.
In a time of incredible entertainment industry frenzy, vapid selfishness, self-glorification and widespread plagiarism, Black Coffee captured its moments of victory with what seemed like casual understatement. In the eyes of the public, it cuts an image of refined style and poise.
We can say that the tunes of Black Coffee are surrounded by a quest for sublimity. They seem to be searching for an essence of humanity that is hard to find or appreciate if you don’t cherish the meaning and uses of silence. That’s what makes his sounds so distinctive amid the crowded gathering of current producers and beatmakers. Silence applies equally to lightness, another intrinsic characteristic of his productions.
Yet, ultimately, there’s a slight sense of disconnect in Black Coffee’s Grammy win; it’s a graphic example of winning the world and losing the house; the amapiano wave is cascading crescendo by crescendo, beat by beat, country by country, and Black Coffee is not one of them.
Sanya OchaSenior Research Fellow, Institute for Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town
This article is republished from The conversationunder Creative Commons license. Read it original article.