Album of the month
Black Coffee 'Pieces Of Me' (Ultra Music)
11 February 1990 was a momentous day for all South Africans, but especially Nathi Maphumulo, a 14-year-old from a Durban township. The whole world watched as Nelson Mandela walked free from prison after 25 years, marking the birth of a new South Africa. Nathi was just another schoolboy in a crowd, celebrating Mandela’s release, when a car ploughed into him, leaving him so badly injured he’d lose the use of his left hand. Perhaps inspired by Mandela and the idea that even seemingly impossible dreams could be reached, Maphumulo, as Black Coffee, fought adversity to become his country’s leading DJ – mobbed back home and now, belatedly, with a burgeoning global reputation. While ‘Pieces Of Me’ is Black Coffee’s fifth album (previously available in South Africa only), it’s the first to get the major push outside of South Africa.
As a producer, his magnetic personality filters through the album: there’s warmth and sensuality in its groove-laden soulful house. It pays its dues to African rhythms and melodies, but they’re subtly interwoven. ‘Come With Me’ shimmers with its jagged guitar motif, choppy percussion and Mque’s lazy drawl of a vocal. It’s like Bob Moses meets Chic. ‘Extra Time On You’ works massed African voices into a chugging house juggernaut, full of sharp stabs and intriguing tics. ‘I Have Faith’ briefly departs from the moody and atmospheric aesthetic, as Mondli Ngcobo’s jazz-tinged gospel vocal embellishes a wailing Hammond organ. Perversely, it’s one of the few non-vocal tracks (save from some scatting) that hits hardest: ‘Inkodlo Kamashimane’, a tribute to Maphumulo’s late father, is a gathering storm of groaning bass synths, menacing violins and ethereal piano. By mixing the traditional and the futuristic, ‘Pieces Of Me’ opens up an enticing portal into South African dance music – and a glimpse, perhaps, of where we’ll be heading next.