Black Coffee didn’t lie. I sat down with the multi-award-winning MVP of Mzansi music while Langa Mavuso, who just signed to his independent imprint, Soulistic Music, put the finishing touches to his private dinner.
Inside the restaurant, I’d spotted Mavuso sitting with his back to the bar. He was facing his band and meticulously giving out orders. Outside, Black Coffee, whose real name is Nkosinathi Maphumulo, was telling me: “Langa is so dedicated, man. On a different level.
The meetings with him, sometimes I’m not there, but everyone in the office tells me: he comes with structural things.
“Like: ‘this is what I want to do: a, b, c, d, e aaaand f.’ A lot of things like: ‘this is where I want to go and this is my vision’,” Black Coffee continues.
“I didn’t have that. All I had was: ‘I want to go there!’ He has plans. I saw an e-mail today saying: ‘this is how Langa is expecting the response to his presentation (to be).’ And it was a certain form.
“We’ve never dealt with an artist like that before. It’s always: ‘guys, get me gigs. I want gigs and to be on TV.’ It’s something really fresh to see and to be a part of. I’m very excited about the artist he is and what he’s bringing to South African music. He’s going to be a great success.”
Black Coffee does have the Midas touch but Mavuso was building his own fan base long before either of them knew they’d be working together.
In fact, Mavuso’s luxurious, wide-ranging voice had become the talk of Jozi before his latest release of a reworked version of his ballad, Sunday Blues – which has a stunning video which was a debutshowned at the dinner party. But that was always a part of the plan.
Mavuso’s parents sat at the front of the tables, close to the stage and after realising this and flashing that school boyish smile, he explained that he comes from a family that didn’t advocate doing things on the fly.
There always had to be a plan in place. When I caught up with Mavuso later, he elaborated: “I think the biggest thing is even when things don’t go the way I anticipate them, there’s always a lesson. I don’t think any experience is ever a waste of your time.
“I was finishing high school at the National School of the Arts and I’d decided I didn’t want to do this music thing,” Mavuso recalls. “I thought I’d pursue a career in diplomacy. During my high school time, I’d take part in the model UN debate at Wits. That led to me creating this whole plan of going to Rhodes to study politics and economics and Mandarin.
“I went for a year but within the first three months, I needed to add one more subject and wasn’t interested in studying sociology or any academic humanities course so I took music. I had this whole plan of studying politics then realised I didn’t want to do it. But I’d sold the plan to my parents so I told them I don’t want to be here. I actually learnt a lot through economics – that there’s an opportunity cost for everything in life.”
The opportunity to be signed to a record label came quickly but Mavuso wasn’t swayed – until Soulistic came knocking.
Here’s how Black Coffee remembers the beginning of this relationship: “Me and my sister share a lot of music, like new artists and what she’s listening to on iTunes. She sent me a video of Langa singing Sunday Blues live and that was it. When it’s live, it’s a different story from when a person sends you a demo that was done in studio and just sounds amazing.
“I couldn’t stop listening to the song,” continues Black Coffee, “I wanted to work with him so I asked my team to find him. We started working together and that song came out very well. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it but that song came out very, very well. Everyone in the office – we’re all fans.
“I believe with the growth I have internationally, I can find him things to do. I played Sunday Blues to John Legend’s manager. We had dinner in the UK and I said: ‘you need to listen to this kid.’ He went crazy over him. Those are the kinds of relationships I want to start creating, he belongs in that world.”
While we wait for that collab to surface, Mavuso is working on his debut album. He says the Soulistic deal includes the release of his debut and promoting three singles over 18 months. Together with Black Coffee, Mavuso reworked Sunday Blues into this stripped down, melancholy song about “feeling distant from someone who is in the same room with you but obviously isn’t okay with something”, Mavuso explains.
“And all you’re saying to them is I can love you and I can show you love regardless of the person you think I perceive you to be. Just be yourself and I’ll stick around when it’s good and when it’s bad.” he says.
While Black Coffee encourages Mavuso to steer clear of the expected dance music by association trap, Mavuso is “trying to create music I can dance to, so I’d like to make two or three songs that people can have a good time to”.
With regards to the upcoming album, Mavuso says: “I’d written a lot of material and recently, my car was broken into so my hard drive and journals were stolen, ,” he shares. “so I’m taking a two week hiatus to go and write music in January and we’ll jump right back into recording.”
The lists a few producers he’s been working with and others who have expressed interest in his work but Mavuso says: “Nathi was very instrumental in the production of this new Sunday Blues. Every time he was in the country, we were having the sessions together. I’m sure he will have a big hand in advising me through the year.” Sounds like a plan.