/ 30 October 2009

One-armed bandit on deck

Pity is not a word you’d associate with top DJ and producer Black Coffee. When we met he was about to fly off to a gig in Greece, one of a number of trips that have seen him rocking dance floors in Paris, London, Dublin, New York and Miami.

The member of successful vocal house group Shana has won a South African Music Award and had numerous hits. There’s no doubt that his recently released third album, Home Brewed, full of tasty, deep, soulful house sounds (and guest appearances from Hugh Masekela, Ringo, Zonke and Bucie), will go gold.

The 33-year-old, whose real name is Nathi Maphumulo, certainly has no reason for pain, shame or uncertainty. This father of two has achieved a lot.

Black Coffee’s achievement becomes more remarkable when you consider his back story. In 1990, on the morning of February 11, the then 12-year-old’s dreams of becoming a DJ were all but shattered. Born in Durban, he was brought up in his mother’s birthplace, Mthatha, in the former Transkei, and it was there that he was celebrating Nelson Mandela’s imminent release when a taxi crashed into the crowd, killing one and injuring 36. In his hospital bed all Black Coffee could think was: “What am I going to do? I want to be a DJ. How do you spin vinyls with one hand?”

The accident resulted in Maphumulo losing the use of one arm, his hand forever balled into a fist and stuffed into his pocket. But he kept working on his dream, spinning discs at township parties, fiddling with a friend’s keyboard and then eventually enrolling at Durban Tech to study music production. One would imagine huge psychological and physical barriers, but he makes the journey sound easy: “I just did what I had to do. I figured out how to DJ and how to produce and get a record out — and that’s it.”

Today Black Coffee is one of the most respected names on the local dance scene and one of our best known DJ/producers internationally. His label, Soulistic Music, is home to Culoe De Song — who has just released the album, A Giant Leap, featuring luminaries such as Busi Mhlongo, Thandiswa and Salif Keita. For those who don’t know him, Culoe De Song is a 19-year-old from Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, who is fast gaining a name overseas, having been signed to major German dance label Innervisions.

Taking strength from his achievement, Black Coffee says: “I love being me.” It’s this sense of pride that has accompanied all his achievements. In 2005 when he released his eponymous debut album he said: “I didn’t want people to feel pity for me, or single me out as ‘that DJ with one hand’. I wanted to make my mark, not as the disabled DJ but as Black Coffee.”

Today he sees his tough experience as a kind of blessing: “It came with a responsibility,” he says, “not just to be popular and make money. Now I can be an example to disabled people who think they can’t do anything.”

His mission now is to instil his sense of self-love in others with disabilities. When you read the notes on the latest albums from his label there is the following statement: “We have started a DJ Black Coffee Foundation to assist the needs of disabled children. For every Soulistic Music CD you buy, 5 percent goes to this cause.”

He’s keen to host a DJ marathon next year that will see him “breaking the record of the longest playing session by a DJ with one hand”. He believes the idea will “get a lot of media attention and raise sponsorship”.

Maphumulo says he knows nothing about the ins and outs of fund-raising. He’s never distributed wheelchairs or prosthetics or had to track down counsellors.

But he’s pragmatic about finding a solution. “The first thing is to make some money,” he says. “Then we’ll find out who needs what and where.”

If you have a contribution to make call Amaru on 011 477 9685 or 082 633 6392