Being an artist is not about buying cars, says DJ Maphorisa

Themba Sonnyboy Sekowe, the producer with the Midas touch, is on a mission to own the African music space

29 July 2018 - 00:00 By REA KHOABANE
Producer Maphorisa released his first album when he was in Grade 11.
Producer Maphorisa released his first album when he was in Grade 11.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe

"Uhambile uma-baby/Uhambile uma-baby yea/Uhambe namablesser/Uhambe namablesser wooaa."

Many will know these lines from the chorus of the latest DJ Maphorisa hit Ama Blesser. But who is DJ Maphorisa?

Welcoming us into his double-storey home in Midrand, Maphorisa - real name Themba Sonnyboy Sekowe - is cleaning the recording studio where he spends his time creating hits, including DJ Zinhle's My Name Is, Mafikizolo's Khona and multi-South African Music Award winner Shekhinah's Please Mr, that went gold.

Born in 1987 in Soshanguve, his journey to stardom began in his bedroom when he was a young boy.

"My mother runs a ministry, so I grew up around gospel music and music instruments," he says, pointing out that his two uncles are in music and one of them is a member of the Soweto Gospel Choir.

"Growing up, I knew how to connect a PA system. I knew an amplifier and a cassette. When I got a computer, everything came together and gave me the chance to create better sounds.

"It was a cool space for me and a different world from that of an ordinary township boy. I was intrigued by a mixer, lights and equaliser; the whole sound system."

WATCH | The music video for Mlindo's track Ama Blesser featuring DJ Maphorisa

By the time he was in his teens, the self-taught producer was the hood's resident DJ.

"Everyone used to bring their memory sticks to collect music from me. I had music, electronics and headphones, so when there were parties I was the guy they called to come and play."

Spending most of his time creating beats, he challenged himself and released his first album, titled Funny Face, while in grade 11.

He signed to DJ Oskido's Kalawa Jazmee Records in 2010 as a producer.

During this time Maphorisa worked with artists like Professor, DJ Zinhle and Busiswa and Oskido. But he needed to make ends meet and he needed transport from Pretoria to Joburg to report at Kalawa.

"I used to deejay on weekends and I opened a tuck-shop at home just to have a cash flow and at school I used to sell sweets and lollipops.

"You can't do business without capital and that's how I was able to save money and buy my first car and that's how I was able to move around and make it to Kalawa."

From that moment on everything I touched became gold under the recording label
Maphorisa on life after his first hit song, Professor's 'Jezebel'

His first Kalawa hit song was Professor's Jezebel, a massive, award-winning number in 2010.

"From that moment on everything I touched became gold under the recording label," he says.

He cites legends who came before him, such as Chicco Twala and DJ Cleo, but Maphorisa says he also "wanted to be different and wanted to introduce a new sound".

He formed the group Uhuru, known for their massive single Y-Tjukutja. The song became so huge that the group started getting bookings in Botswana, Zambia and Angola and it is during his travels that his sound became African influenced.

"I started appreciating different African cultures and taking something from them, which influenced my sound."

WATCH | The music video for Uhuru's track Y-Tjukutja 

Maphorisa produced Ngudu for Kwesta (he calls the song a "life-changer" for Kwesta) and he's behind the Afrobeat-influenced hit Particula, which features South African rapper Nasty C and American producer Diplo's band, Major Lazer, as well as other artists.

Particula is not Maphorisa's only brush with international hits - he has worked with big Nigerian superstars such as Wizkid and Davido. He was one of the producers of rap megastar Drake's 2016 hit One Dance.

The song reached No1 in 15 countries, including Australia, France and Germany. It topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks (non-consecutively) and became the joint third-longest consecutive No1 song in the history of the UK Singles Chart with 15 consecutive weeks (tied with Wet Wet Wet's Love Is All Around).

About One Dance, he says: "I want to see South African and African music become one and that's why I created an Afrobeat song and had an [international] hip-hop artist on it. My name is one of the biggest in Africa. Black Coffee is representing us globally, [but] I feel like Africa is my space."

WATCH | The music video for Drake's track One Dance

Last year Maphorisa launched his label, Blaqboy, with Sony Music - it has 10 artists.

He says: "Being an artist is not about buying cars but about finding wisdom and using my purpose in life, which is music to influence others."

Maphorisa is working on an album with Mlindo The Vocalist, who features on Ama Blesser, due for release next month.