​south african superstar black coffee shares the tracks that changed his life

Black Coffee is the biggest DJ in South Africa, and these are the records that got him there.

by James Hutchins
20 May 2015, 12:15pm

Nowadays, it's rare that a DJ can rise to become a massive star without crossing over into the terrifying world of EDM. But producer, DJ and label owner Black Coffee has remained true to his roots, making some of the most informed, inspiring and straight up firing Afro-House music in the game.

Raised in the townships of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Black Coffee moved back to his birthplace of Durban to deepen his knowledge of music as a producer, befor Entering into Red Bull's Music Academy in 2003, since then he's become something of a rock star in the house music obsessed RSA, with four multi-platinum albums under his belt, two South African Music Awards, and an MTV nomination for best worldwide act, further setting in stone his global status as a DJ.

His DJ sets see him mix up some of the funkiest house and afrobeat with cutting edge tracks that have seen him rise to become a unique figure in the global scene. Ahead of his show tonight at International Music Summit in Ibiza tonight, we caught up with the superstar to get his musical biography on the record.

What was the first record you bought?
I bought my first records from a second hand record store in Umthatha where I grew up. I remember one being the Ladysmith Black Mambazo hit, Halala Team Leaders. I used it as the intro for a lot of my sets in the early 00s, and later re-recorded the song with my former group, Shana as well. I actually still have it.

The song that made you fall in love with electronic music?
There are so many. Black Box, Fantasy, Soul 2 Soul's albums, and Banderas, This Is Your Life.

The song that made you fall in love with soul music?
Donny Hathaway, The Ghetto.

Who was person that made you want to be a musician?
I was about 16 at the time, hanging out in Umthata with one of my cousin's friends who owned a sound system. There were two big DJs, Christos and Oskido, coming to town to play at this place called Transparadise, which was a club on Fridays and Saturdays and a church on Sundays. We went to drop off some equipment there and I watched as the DJs connected everything. Then Christos put a record on to do a sound check. With me watching everything he was doing. Then the sound came out… That was my moment. That was it.

What song that reminds you of school?
Spiritual Brothers. A song that my friend and I used to sing during morning prayers at school as part of an acapella group.

Is there a song that reminds you of your parents?
Brook Benton reminds me of my mother.

What song got you through your first love/ heartbreak?
Tortured Soul, How's Your Life and George Levin, (I Got) Somebody New

Was there a song/lyric that made you think 'I want to write songs like that'?
All the Tortured Soul albums.

Was there a record that changed everything for you?
I'd say Larry Heard, Flight of the Comet

What song was a turning point for you in your career?
My remix of Hugh Madekala, Stimela. I was working on something else when that song started playing on my TV. I stopped what I was doing, watched and while it was still playing, I switched to working on it instead. I didn't stop until I had finished the entire instrumental.

What track or collaboration is most special to you?
My remix of Wathula Nje by the late Victor Ntoni. He was a double bass player who never really sang much. But on this piece, he had decided to sing, and he created a masterpiece. It blew me away the first time I heard it. I looked the label up immediately and asked for permission to remix it. lt's also one of the most challenging songs I've ever worked on.

What was the first song that you ever played out live?
I don't recall exactly but pretty sure it would've been material by Shana, the group that I was part of.

Which track of yours do you think sums you up most?
Mmm... I don't think any of them. I'm quite a complex person. I'm still trying to figure myself out.

Last song that you played out live?
Black Coffee, We Are One. At the most recent Africa Rising live show accompanied by a 24-piece orchestra and band.

What's your pleasure?
Buying shoes.

The most played song in your collection?
Mother Mother, Fat Freddy's Drop.

What's your favourite thing to watch on YouTube?
Ballantine's Human Orchestra. The experiment I conducted recently to recreate one of my tracks using 40 human voices.

Black Coffee plays IMS Ibiza tonight at Ushuaia Hotel and speaks tomorrow at the IMS Market Focus.

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