He might seem like an overnight success. As his hit, Phoyisa, gets played over and over all across Mzansi, even getting a mention from EFF leader Julius Malema in parliament, it feels as if he’s just burst onto the music scene. But, of course, as his true fans would know, DJ Maphorisa has been around for some time.
“People actually don’t know but I’ve been in the industry for over 10 years and I feel only now I’m becoming the artist I used to dream of becoming,” he tells DRUM.
“So those who have joined the journey now, they aren’t late.” Phoyisa, the hit amapiano track Maphorisa and Kabza De Small released late last year, has won him a new legion of fans. The smash hit spawned the Phoyisa challenge on social media. There’s no doubt they’re taking the music scene by storm, we remark when we catch up with one half of the dancefloor kings.
Themba Sekowe, better known as Maphorisa, tells DRUM he’s both dumbstruck and delighted by the hype. “When we released the Scorpion Kings album, we really just randomly dropped a body of work because we had too much music that we had done together,” he says.
“The response is definitely something we didn’t anticipate – and that’s what has made the journey so exciting.”
Maphorisa grew up in Soshanguve, Tshwane, and there was always music in his home. “I collected more than 10 000 music files on my computer. Every day after school, I would run home to share my music with friends. Music is my life and it comforts me when I’m sad,” he told the Daily Sun in an interview.
Now he’s known as the man with the Midas touch on Mzansi’s music scene, making superstars out of the new talent he discovers. Although he has more than enough reason to brag, he’s modest about his achievements. Last year he and Kabza released a hit almost every week.
As one social-media user put it, “Maphorisa’s back must be so sore from carrying the whole music industry. Man’s had no off days this whole year”. But the hit DJ and producer insists on sharing the shine from Scorpion Kings with Kabza.
“As individuals we are probably the hardest working people I know. We both have our strengths and weaknesses but professionally they balance out and that makes everything work,” he says.
Kabza is more than just a collaborator. When a Twitter user recently accused him of boozing, Maphorisa, known on social media as LAWDporry, was quick to defend his friend.
“You don’t even know what was going on before Kabza became this Kabza, now shut da f**k up,” Maphorisa wrote. It wasn’t long before his tweet snowballed into a full-out twar. In the end Prince Kaybee got drawn into the spat and he and Maphorisa ended up arguing over music ownership.
“Samthin Soweto owns his Masters Kabza De Small owns his Masters DJ Maphorisa I own my Masters [sic],” he wrote before going on to name other artists, like Kaybee, who don’t own the rights to their music.
“Do you know what’s the difference? I empower and the world doesn’t. Facts.”
Despite the drama, Maphorisa doesn’t regret speaking out against his fellow musician.
“I wouldn’t say I’m controversial, what I tweet and post is real, I am human,” he tells DRUM. “Half the time I have to stand up for myself.”
Twars aside, he says there’s a need for artists to have a serious conversation around the ownership of their work.
“I really think people, especially up-and-coming musicians, need to understand the business of music and how certain things actually work.
“I wasn’t given those opportunities as a young DJ or producer. I literally had to learn as things came my way. So, by tweeting, I was using my platform to educate the people.”
Looking back, he could’ve chosen his words more carefully.
“The delivery . . . Maybe how I put it wasn’t communicated correctly,” he says.
“At the time I tweeted my real thoughts. [The twar] wasn’t the desired effect but it eventually got the right attention.”
Delivery in English might have been an issue for others, but not for Maphorisa. As any fan will know, people have often teased him about his poor command of the language.
“Nna, ke ngwana wa kasi [which, loosely translated, means, “I’m a child from the township”],” Maphorisa says.
“English is not my mother tongue. I have actually improved a lot. I wouldn’t call it my thing, sekogwa [English] is not my thing but I am trying my best with it.”
Luckily, music transcends language barriers and making hits is what he’s best at. From Cassper Nyovest to Shekhinah, Maphorisa has worked with some of the biggest names in Mzansi – and who can forget the contribution he made to superstar Drake’s hit single One Dance featuring Wizkid and Kyla?
“We did something small when I was in LA with Wizkid. “He sent something to Wizkid and because I’m always with Wizkid I just added a few things . . . I didn’t produce the song but I did get a credit he told Gareth Cliff on CliffCentral. com in 2016.
The iWalk Ye Phara hitmaker was also recognised by Beyoncé when she visited Mzansi for the Global Citizen Festival in 2018 but it’s working with rising young stars that truly brings him joy.
“That’s something I know has allowed the genre to grow within itself,” he says.
Due to the coronavirus epidemic currently gripping the world, the self-taught DJ has been locked down in studio working on new music. He’s had to postpone his highly anticipated Scorpion Kings Live Concert at Sun Arena but isn’t too bothered.
Maphorisa has always moved with the times and is planning a series of live streams on social media for his fans.
“Content is how people will make money during these times, but in these tough times it all boils down to what I said about understanding the business of music,” he says.
“Performances are not the only form of income for us and we should explore as much as possible.”