Music

Electronic music sang the African way

electronic-music

South African DJ and producer Themba Zamna. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • Africa is playing its part in contributing to the global movement of electronic music and Themba is on the vanguard of the artists who are creating contemporary dance with a unique flavour.
  • He has emerged from the shadows of his mentor and compatriot, Black Coffee, to establish his credentials as a much sought-after DJ and producer.

In December 2019, South African DJ Themba played to a packed house during the Kenyan Nights, one of the biggest electronic music events in the region. His reaction was ecstatic: “Madness from Kenya. So many amazing people” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Africa is playing its part in contributing to the global movement of electronic music and Themba is on the vanguard of the artists who are creating contemporary dance with a unique flavour.

He has emerged from the shadows of his mentor and compatriot, Black Coffee, to establish his credentials as a much sought-after DJ and producer.

Themba’s long-awaited debut album “Modern Africa, Part 1 -Ekhaya” which has just been released internationally through the independent dance label, Armada Music, is a collection of seven songs that range from celebratory dance grooves to deep reflective rhythms.

It is not just the electronic sound of the music, but the interplay between digital production and a range of instrumentation, and great vocalists.

The man whose official name of Themba Nkosi describes “Modern Africa” as capturing every side of his story, the roots, the emotion, and passion.

The theme of his music revolves around putting a spotlight on the continent globally, showcasing the best talents from his country, and changing perceptions about Africa wherever in the world that he gets to perform.

“This is me describing to the rest of the world and showing what South Africa is all about and the easiest way to allow people into that world is through the music,” says Themba.

He explains that the album was born out of the realisation that any human being can positively influence and impact the lives of other people wherever they may be. It reflects what it means to be an African living in the modern world shaped by Western culture, but remains deeply rooted in the spirit of Africa.

“I could not put it into words, so I made some music to describe this feeling,” he says. As he told DJ Magazine, the international publication dedicated to electronic dance music, in 2020: “When you say ‘I am from Africa’ they expect to see beads, weird hairstyles, cuts on your face, (they expect that) you dress in a certain way, but the reality is a lot of us come from the first-world cities of these African countries.”

Indeed, the music is as cutting edge as any top EDM would be, the sound is global, though there is no escaping the refreshing, distinctive vocals and percussions that you will hear on songs like the hypnotic “Izindlu.”

He may be a newcomer on the international scene, but his career in South Africa goes back two decades. Long known in his home country as Euphonik, he rebranded in 2018 and kicked off the new phase of his career with a massive hit called “Who Is Themba.”

He has been following on the international success of his friend and compatriot Black Coffee who has firmly established the South African thumbprint on the global house music circuit.

In 2019, Themba joined Black Coffee on tour dates around the world undertaking extensive appearances at shows in the US and South America on a series titled “Africa Is Not a Jungle.”

The release of “Modern Africa” coincided with Themba’s first tour of 2022 that took him to shows in venues across the US: Boston, Washington D.C, Miami, New York, and Miami.

He uses his music to showcase South African singers, songwriters and percussionists and his debut album is no exception.

It is packed with a host of top singer-songwriters like J’Something of the popular group Mi Casa on “Colors”, Thakzin on” Sound of Freedom”, and Lizwi who sings on both “Mountain High” and “Izindlu.”

It is no surprise that Black Coffee has remixed the opening song on the album “Reflections” with infectious classical piano tones and gentle house beats.

“The song encapsulates beauty and ease — two themes that we should all be brining into 2022,” Themba and Black Coffee say in a joint statement.

According to Themba his highlight of the album is “Colors” written in 2019 by J’Something who was mourning the death of his father by using the lyrics to explain why colours ‘don’t look the same anymore.’

It just so happened that Themba lost his father the following year and he says it felt almost like the song was written for his healing.

He deliberately used the pounding sound of a heart throughout the song as a symbol that ‘life starts and ends with a heartbeat.