Master of the deep

And so it was that Motshegoa became known as Da Vinci, nicknamed after the great Italian. What the two have in common is a mystery.

Born in Pretoria 36 years ago, Da Vinci was raised by his grandmother in Mabopane. “I was born into a big family — everybody loved music. If there was a hit out we’d have it at home. Anything from jazz to … anything that was good.

“There were always parties or gatherings at home. They played records. I started playing them when people weren’t around. I’d record from the vinyl on to cassette. If I heard a good song on the radio I’d tape it too.

“When there were school functions, I’d play. I became known as the person who’d organise the music for parties.”

In the pre-kwaito and pre-house era Da Vinci was hooked on disco, such as Diana Ross and Donna Summer. But there were also local artists like Letta Mbuli and Caiphus Semenya on his early playlist.

After matriculating, sometime in the mid-Eighties, Da Vinci landed a job at a clothing outlet in Pretoria. “I used to temp there during the holidays. Once I finished school they offered me a full-time job. I must have been earning R800 a week.”

Within six months Da Vinci was promoted. At night he had begun DJing at clubs and was juggling two jobs. “I was making a lot of money and didn’t know what to do with it. In my head I just thought that I was young and rich. I started buying equipment.” He began investing in vinyl after watching a buddy spinning discs on a pair of turntables at a shebeen.

Da Vinci’s big break came when the resident DJ of a Mabopane club called Cherry’s didn’t pitch up for work. He was asked to stand in. The owners were impressed and offered him the job.

But soon it became clear that he was overstretched: “I must have gotten about three or four warnings for being late. I decided to make a choice, so I quit my nine-to-five.” From the late Eighties to the early Nineties he gigged in Durban and the Cape and started doing stints at the legendary Club Gemini in Pretoria. But in 1992 the club was shut down. “I will never forget that weekend,” he says. “I didn’t tell [the owners] I was going away for the weekend. I organised somebody to fill in … I didn’t know that it was the last weekend for the club.”

His entire record collection was locked up in the storeroom and later flogged at a flea market. “My whole collection was gone. I tried to call the owners, but they had moved.” Da Vinci had lost more than a job but he loaned some discs and, a year later, he secured a gig and became resident at a friend’s club — the Arena in Hillbrow.

“DJing then was not that popular. There were just a few: Oscar, Christos and Pepsi. I started hanging around them … You needed to be seen with them.

“We decided to take this game to another level. We used to see international artists coming here — big stages et cetera. We organised our own party at one of the varsities. There were about 5 000 people and all of the door takings were shared between us.

Then they organised a stadium: “I think that was the turning point for us, and the game. Kwaito started coming up. I can safely say that Oscar and Christos were the founders of kwaito, before M’du and Arthur,” he boasts.

But Da Vinci was not a fan of kwaito. “I had a problem with kwaito. I never liked it. For me it didn’t have meaning. People would just get on the stage, say one thing and repeat it over and over and over again.”

By the mid-Nineties Da Vinci, the house master, was a household name. “I hooked up with Christos and we started doing our own parties. It used to get crazy. You’d have three gigs in one night, from Nelspruit to Mmabatho and all over the place. It’s tiring. I felt it was too much. I’m comfortable doing one gig a night.”

Da Vinci’s friendship with Christos culminated in 1998 in DJs at Work, a platinum-selling album that realised their intention “to change the face of music in this country”. They released their third in the series last year.

Da Vinci has become a partner in House Afrika Records and executive producer of many of its top-selling compilations. The African-ism series has dominated the deep-house scene, pioneering a new wave of minimal, bassline-heavy, Afro-flavoured rhythms that have bewitched dance floors across the world over.

Vinny da Vinci presents a Deep Soul Session at 115 Anderson Street in downtown Jo’burg on the first Saturday of every month

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