Having burst onto the global scene this year with high profile release and appearances, Themba is the latest musical export carrying the flag of House Music from South Africa.
With a sound forged into his African roots, Themba utilizes local singers, songwriters and percussionists to create his own unique & distinct take on House & Techno. A take that has already been heard via Knee Deep in Sound, and will also feature on Yoshitoshi, as well as through upcoming remixes for Nick Curly and Black Coffee. In fact, it is Themba’s relationship with Black Coffee that has perhaps been his most formative to date. Having made his debut with the South African star in December, Themba has since gone to feature during multiple dates at Black Coffee’s Hï Ibiza residency during summer 2018.
Now, we shine the spotlight on this hotly tapped young star, and Bridges for Music associated philanthropist, by turning our mix series over to him, as well as engaging in a lengthy conversation describing all his motivations, influences, key moments and more. Themba will join Black Coffee at Hï Ibiza again on 1 & 22 September, while also appearing at HEART and Pacha.
Perhaps you would like to start by giving a brief introduction of yourself? Where in South Africa are you from/based? What were your first introductions to electronic music? When did you first realize it was something you would like to pursue?
My full name is Themba Nkosi and I’m a DJ and producer based in Johannesburg. I don’t really like to box myself but I make house music with African influences. My first introduction to House music was Black Box Fantasy and Kwaito, which is a local genre made from slowing house beats down to mid tempo and then rapping and singing over the beats. I collected music extensively from a young age and when I was 14 a friend asked me to DJ at his sisters birthday. Back then I was unfamiliar with the concept of a DJ but I knew that I love to share my music with people and DJing, whatever it was, was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
What is your approach to creating original music? I ask, as I know you incorporate many local elements from Africa including local singers, songwriters and percussionists?
As a South African we are surrounded by so much music from all over the world including our own local sounds so when I make music I can’t help but be globally inspired whilst staying locally relevant. Our country has a lot of rhythm and soul so I make sure I fuse as much of who I am and what I grew up listening to in my sounds.
What do you feel makes South Africa such a hotbed for House Music?
The vast diversity of cultures and the influence of the globe. House music is the sound track of the youth. It is what we sing and dance to and it’s music that plays on national radio so we can’t ignore it. Naturally there’s a lot of DJ’s and producers who make their own music thus making the genre the preferred party music of the youth.
We are also speaking here as you are on board with Black Coffee for his Hi Ibiza residency. Firstly, how did your relationship with Black Coffee start and form?
Nathi, Black Coffee, and I met through the music back in 2005 in South Africa and we’ve been friends since. He’s also a friend and a big brother and has really been instrumental in guiding and advising me on my career.
How do you view Black Coffee within the context of South African electronic music? What does he mean to the country and its scene?
He’s the biggest flag bearer of the South African house sound and having known him personally I’m glad he is the one at the forefront of the scene because he’s been opening doors for those that see the future of our countries music while chasing his own ambitions. South Africa is a musically rich country and it was only a matter of time before the house sound from our country had global interest and relevance.
I heard there was quite the story from one of your Hi Ibiza gigs…it involved surgery (!) but you still made the gig. Can you explain?
Yeah man my appendix almost burst a few days before the opening of Hi so I was literally checking out of hospital from surgery the day of the opening and still gathered the energy to perform despite my conditions. I was in no physical form to perform but this was something I was waiting and working all my life for and there was NO WAY I was not going to be in that DJ box on opening night. I played my set and the next day I was back in hospital for a few more days. I come from a country where we’ve been through a lot because of our political history so the resilient South African in me definitely came through.
What are your impressions on the Hi Ibiza space, the island, and the residency in general? How have you gauged the atmosphere from the booth?
I’ve been coming to the island since 2012 to learn and listen and I think right now, especially the Black Coffee night, has brought through a different flavor and it couldn’t be happening in a better venue. The sound system is amazing, having the DJ box so close to the people adds to the vibe and the energy of the night and topped with our version of Techno with African influences I don’t think you can go wrong. It’s actually hard to describe which adds to the enigma of it all.
You also have a forthcoming release on Knee Deep in Sound, with your current single topping Beatport’s Afro – House charts. What was the starting point of the release for you as a Producer and what message did you want the entire package to send?
Where I come from its Music first and let the music do ALL the talking before you even show your face or open your mouth. The starting point was to be myself as much as possible and to allow my surroundings and influences guide the direction of my music. I also felt that a lot of the music in our scene globally is lacking emotion. The songs right now are mostly very functional for the dance floor but strongly lack emotion and I wanted to bring lots of emotion into my music and I’m grateful it’s working.
Leading up to this place in your life and career, what would you say were some of the most important events that got you here? Additionally, what do you look to achieve as an electronic music figure in the coming years?
Taking the time out to learn the global scene and unlearn some of the things that work and don’t work in South Africa which is still largely a 3rd world country. I also learnt from listening and learning that the world isn’t looking for another Luciano, Solomun or Sasha but rather looking for something more unique and special and to be yourself is critical. I’m looking forward to inspiring musicians and producers from around the world and particularly South Africa that anything is possible if you put the music first. In South Africa the youth need hope and I hope that with what I do and the music I make I give the youth hope.
I’m sure that you have recently done a lot of traveling. What are some places that you have found particularly enjoyable?
This year has really been an insane year for me and I feel blessed with the amount of travelling I’ve been privileged to have. Where I come from its unheard of that someone globe trots the way I have this year. Ibiza and Amsterdam are my top 2 locations and I really enjoyed the UK Tour I did with Black Coffee as well as places like Miami and Milano. More than playing music I’m also passionate about other people’s cultures so the touring life has allowed two of my passions to meet.
Finally, what are you most looking forward to through the end of 2018 and into 2019?
I’m looking forward to growing as an artist and producer, travelling and seeing different parts of the world and inspiring change in the music scene and in people’s lives.
Themba’s “Haai” EP is available 3 August on Knee Deep in Sound