Music

Interview: Black Coffee on Cars, Music, & Inspiration

Black Coffee

Star DJ Black Coffee discusses producing, aspirations, and his life-changing car accident.

Someone murmurs under their breath as Black Coffee, aka Nkosinathi Maphumulo, admires a white McLaren. Within seconds, he’s shifted his attention to a black Mercedes-Benz AMG. “This is my dream car,” he gushes over the gleaming beast. He’s one of the most successful DJs and producers in modern music, one of the coolest men on the planet, and he’s jumping around like an excited teenager.

It’s clear he’s into this; cars are his thing. Well, cars and music. Black Coffee has built his life on a love of music. Growing up in dusty Mthatha, Eastern Cape, the young Maphumulo refused to have his prospects limited by his modest beginnings.

Right now, he’s probably South Africa’s biggest musical export. His singles routinely hit number one, and his world tour is pretty much ongoing. The biggest names in music want to work with him, and Redbull Bulletin got the chance to sit down with the superstar DJ to talk cars, music, and inspiration.

The Red Bulletin: Are you a bit of a piston head?

Nkosinathi Maphumulo: Not really. I love cars, but… it’s the same with music, really. I’ve never been the guy who can tell you the history of a record label, or a producer.

So you’re more of a fan than a fanatic?

Exactly. I won’t be able to tell you details about the engine… As an artist, it’s the design that attracts me, the way a car looks. Then I think, “OK, let’s change the sound, change the colour, dechrome it.” I don’t want it to feel normal. It has to be unique. 

Always remixing?

Yeah, that’s it!

Did your love for cars come later in life, or was it always there?

It’s always been there, township kids play a game where you stand by the road, and as the cars come by, you choose: “That’s mine!” I never limited myself as a kid, despite where I grew up. As a kid, I would literally draw my dream house, my dream car and my future family.

So, in a way, you designed your life?

That’s exactly what I’m telling kids to do. I’ve been visiting high schools lately, speaking to kids about self-love, sharing my story. “Imagine yourself in a couple of years’ time. Say to yourself: ‘I’m gonna wear these clothes, I’m gonna drive this kind of car.’ You need to speak this into life now. Have a clear vision.”

How did you build a vision beyond the rural landscape of the Eastern Cape?

It’s all here. [Taps his head] You don’t need to move somewhere else to think bigger. It’s up to you. If you have nothing, the biggest thing you can do for yourself is to think, “How am I going to get out of here?” visualise that. Be a dreamer. Create a life. As a kid, I used to daydream about myself being visited by Michael Jackson, eMthatha! Only you can limit yourself.

Black Coffee 2

You injured your arm when you were 14 – did your accident create a limitation?

It could have, but it happened when I was a kid, which helped me. If it had happened later, I could have been too conscious about myself. It would have killed me. My innocent belief got me here today. I had serious nerve damage on my shoulder. I did physiotherapy as a kid but it almost crippled my mind. Eventually I realised that it wasn’t helping. One day I told my grandmother I wanted to stop, it was liberating for me. From that point I just forgot that I was injured and started playing with other kids. I remember this particular day, I was running, and I just thought, let me put my hand in my pocket, which was weird at the time. That was it. My friends looked at my new solution and they were like, “OK!”

Which came first: DJing or producing?

I started DJing first. I’m an old-school DJ. I started DJing on cassettes. You’d go to shows with a pen to rewind and fast-forward the tapes.

You started your record label Soulistic early on. Is there something that distinguishes the music business from other businesses?

There are so many opportunities in music. You can be a publisher, a management company, you can be a record label and concentrate on album sales. 

You were in the Red Bull Music Academy in 2003. What did that teach you?

It helped me understand music in a different way. It got me thinking a lot about production.

What artists inspire you and what’s next for Black Coffee?

Chris Brown. His approach to music is second to none. Next for me is getting a night in Ibiza, a residency, get to name the party, create a brand. When it becomes strong, you tour that name. I’m playing a residency at Shimmy Beach in Cape Town in December. So it’s happening.

Would you change genres?

Listen to my new single, Your Eyes. It’s different. Slower; kind of mid-tempo. I feel I’ve confined myself to one genre too much; musically I want to explore. I don’t want to say I’m just a house-music producer.

Find the full article on RedBulletin.com here.

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