By Tim Cocks
JOHANNESBURG – He rose from South Africa’s poorest province to become one of the world’s most successful DJs, entertaining millions in dance clubs all over the globe, but the COVID-19 lockdown has got DJ Black Coffee wondering about the future of the music business.
Like most artists, the 44-year-old’s income depends on live gigs because the digital age has killed revenue streams from recorded music. Under lockdowns and air travel bans, the money has dried up.
“Regardless of what revenue you were making before, you are gonna to get to a point where you are making zero, it’s gonna affect all of us,” Black Coffee, whose real name is Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo, told Reuters in a video interview on Friday.
“We perform for crowds and crowds is a ‘no-no’ … A thousand people in the room means good business. If you say 80 people in the room, no one is going to make a party for 80 people.”
Like other artists he has turned to performing “virtual gigs” that fans can access via the Internet in their living rooms, raising money for charities mitigating the fallout from the coronavirus in South Africa.
The country’s strict lockdown has left millions in need of food aid. South Africa now has nearly 13,000 cases of whom 238 have died.
His last virtual charity performance is on Saturday. Then he is going to try and figure out how to make money online.
It won’t be easy: listeners are used to getting music for next to nothing on streaming sites.
“Even if you get a million views, if you get 5 million on YouTube, the cheque you’re going to get for that is like a joke,” he told Reuters by videolink from the front seat of his car, wearing a casual sweater and brown-tint aviator shades.
“Money is in performances.”
Black Coffee’s sound blends classic electronic ‘house’ music with jazz and sometimes traditional South African folk songs in homage to his Eastern Cape roots.
“By virtue of who I am, even if I want to create something that’s more electronic than African, the African in me always comes out,” he said.
Black Coffee’s big break was in 2010, when he won the Guinness World Record for the longest-ever DJ set, spinning vinyl for 60 hours non-stop. It was no mean feat for a DJ who lost the use of his left hand in a car accident while celebrating the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.
He expressed the hope that advances in virtual experiences could recreate at least some of the “vibe” from live gigs. But for that fans need better technology such as virtual reality sets in their living rooms.