For the fan of African music I’ve been since discovering artists such as Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango or Hugh Masekela, getting my ears into South African House Music was just a natural step back at the beginning of the 2000’s with cuts such as Bongo Maffin‘s ‘Mari Ye Phepha’ as remixed by Dennis Ferrer in addition to B.O.P.‘s ‘Zabalaza’ and Mafikizolo‘s ‘Loot’ both released on Louie Vega and Kenny Dope‘s MAW label. It is to say how when I got informed about the presence of a South African delegation at the Miami Winter Music Conference back in 2003, I felt like I had to know more about its representatives. And this is how I got to met DJ Fresh, Oskido and Vinny Da Vinci for the very first time, with the latter soon after becomin’ my correspondent, alongside House Afrika colleague Tim White, while sending me monthly local charts that I would include on French mag, Coda.
I couldn’t help myself askin’ Vinny Da Vinci about his pseudonym when we would get to have an interview coinciding with the release of the 5th volume of his ‘Deep House Sounds’ compilation on House Afrika back in 2007…
“Back in the 80’s there was a big Disco movement. There were clubs around but they weren’t as big. If one wanted to hear all the latest records, we had venues that were called shebeens (which is basically someone’s house turned in to a mini club/bar). All you’d have in these places would be a makeshift bar and a sound system. A lot of them were competing about which’d got the best sound system and who’s got the latest records. The fact that most of these venues were in the townships (and at the time Apartheid was at its peak) made it a bit difficult to trade because the police would raid them all the time. Then the Disco era changed to this new thing called House and it caught on like wild fire at these venues and to most people that were in the know…”
“A lot of people who don’t know me even think I’m white (LOL)… I used to hang out at this club in Mabopane called Cherry’s which was a fairly new venue at the time and on that particular night, the resident didn’t pitch and a number of people in the club noticed I was there and told the owner about me. He soon after called me at the office and said: “I hear you can play, where’s your music???” So we went to my house, fetched my vinyl bag and that was about it…
There was a scroll bar notice at the club saying about the DJ’s name. One night, I came in and they would write Leonardo Da Vinci (the famous Italian painter). I asked why and they said it’s because it feels like it’s an artform whenever I’m gettin’ to play. That was like way back in the day. I thought it was a cool name and simply removed Leonardo to add my first name to it…
As matter of fact, Vinny Da Vinci is just a simple guy who grew up loving music, because there was always somethingt playing at my house. My family has always been collecting vinyls from as far as I can remember. All the old Jazz, Soul, Reggae, Disco… That was the order of the day at home.”
“I intentionally put the skyline of Johannesburg on the cover as a tribute, South Africa is the most vibrant dance nation I know globally… A lot of songs and the vibe of them are inspired by the dance scene of the country and the country itself. I wanted to produce an album which continues the legacy which was started by people like Vinny Da Vinci and Christos and take it further.” (Ralf GUM speaking of his ‘In My City’ album)
I remember our meeting in Miami, with some of your pals. What has brought you first there?
“Basically for us, it was a ‘go and check what’s up with this WMC’. Louie Vega who came here in South Africa had also mentioned it to us as well and said that should we wanna grow the scene here, we needeed to go see what’s going on in Miami. That sort of opened our eyes as to what the Dance scene is all about.”
Has this had an impact on the progressive recognition of your scene on an international point of view?
“Definitely. I mean after our first experience of the WMC, things just got better and better. We’ve now got a lot of international recognition and a number of international DJ’s and producers started wanting to come here. The culture is growing at a rapid pace and one major factor is that House Music is huge here…”
As far as House Music is concerned, South Africa is far from being the very first country we would ever had thought of. How and where did it get starting over there? One word about the local pioneers and activists…
“Back in the 80’s there was a big Disco movement. There were clubs around but they weren’t as big. If one wanted to hear all the latest records, we had venues that were called shebeens (which is basically someone’s house turned in to a mini club/bar). All you’d have in these places would be a makeshift bar and a sound system. A lot of them were competing about which’d got the best sound system and who’d got the latest records. The fact that most of these venues were in the townships (and at the time Apartheid was at its peak) made it a bit difficult to trade because the police would raid them all the time. Then the Disco era changed to this new thing called House and it caught on like wild fire at these venues and to most people that were in the know. I mean DJing wasn’t big then. They’d just record their records onto tapes and play them. As for me, I had a group of like minded friends who liked music. As soon as we heard this new thing called House, we got so fascinated by it that we even started collecting our own, just for listening pleasure. Which meant that every weekend we would meet and just listen to music all the time. Sometimes maybe throw parties just for the fun of it. Then I think in the second half of the 80’s one radio station had a 30 min House show, although it didn’t last long. The then odd DJ’s on other stations tried it as well, but the programmers didn’t really get it. So basically you could only listen to House Music at the shebeens or clubs…”
Haven’t you felt somehow isolated from a strictly African perspective?
“Well, I would say yes and no. Yes because of the Apartheid regime, and no because there was no scene then. We didn’t know anything about the Dance scene until the late 80’s…”
The crowd seems to definitely support House Music in South Africa, and according to what I’ve been reported, eventually more than other genres such as Hip-Hop, R&B, not to mention the countless forms of African music. How do you explain this?
“Through House Afrika, we released a compilation late in the 90’s that sold over 150,000 copies to date. The emergence of YFM in 1997/8 has revolutionized the scene. I mean they managed to have a real impact on the market. They started playlisting House records in daytime programming. For the youth, House was somehow a new thing and they embraced it fully. The other genres of music (Hip-Hop/R&B and our own home grown stuff) will always be played all the time, because they are mainstream. At least, this has brought the balance and made sure that House Music is recognized as well as a genre…”