16 July 2016
The story of Dj Fosta (Langa , South Africa)
Fosta is a born and bred Langa local, a township (economically challenged urban areas) in Cape Town, South Africa which is also a burgeoning hub for local house music.
 
In fact Langa has a long pedigree of outstanding Jazz artists dating back to the fifties and Fosta himself belongs to one of these musical families with both his dad and late uncle being working musicians. The late, great Brenda Fassie, an icon of South African music also came from Langa.
 
Ironically this didn’t mean he was automatically welcomed into this career path and although surrounded by music with the opportunity to tinker on his father’s grand piano whilst growing up, it was his experimentation with Kwaito (a local form of dance music from the 90’s that uses predominantly vernacular tongue) that had the elders wondering why he wanted to make ‘simple, repetitive music.’
 
“It was around about ’97 that all the guys my age started listening to Kwaito, so this is when my tastes shifted from Jazz to this new sound, but we were the first generation so it was quite tough. The older people didn’t understand this type of music. I remember when I was working on my father’s synthesizer, programming beats, my uncle would say that it sounded like a scratched CD, because of the repeated loops,” he laughs.
 
Of course Kwaito was the precursor to the massive house music scene that now exists in South Africa and Fosta’s ‘hood’ [Langa] is a creative melting pot of house music producers and DJs today.
 
‘It took them [the elders] about 10 years to finally accept this music and believe what I was doing,” he adds.
Fosta’s early productions were all done solely on his dad’s Roland XP-50 – no computers, no music software.
“It was hard. It would take like 2 or 3 weeks to finish a track sometimes and the problem was if you made a mistake you’d have to delete the arrangement and start again.”
 
But the negative influences that the youth are faced with daily in the townships impacted on the young man and he end up running with the wrong crowd, the result being a 4 year stay in Cape town’s Pollsmoor Prison.
 
The universe does not keep a good man with the right intentions down though and this hard life lesson was where he turned his life around.
 
“When I was serving my sentence they had a project for broadcasting and music and there was a full studio so this was the first time that I got introduced to music software on a PC. So I taught myself how to produce on Reason [Production software]. But even the piano, I was self taught so although I can’t read music I can play it and create it, all genres. I don’t see myself as a house music producer, just a music producer.”
 
When Fosta was released from prison he made it his goal to start afresh.
 
“When I was still in prison I told myself that when I was released I needed to make a difference within my community so when I came out I named myself DJ Fosta and started again.”
 
From learning to DJ by recording Top 20 hits off the radio onto cassette and playing these back, to writing full tracks on the Roland synthesizer, once Fosta was back home he proceeded to start his own label called 021 Records and produce music professionally and pursue his promise to himself... to work in his community to help others through music.
Right from the outset Fosta and his business partner had a different approach with the label.
Rather than sell the music they opted to use it as a calling card to secure gigs. They would spread it throughout the community and on the university campuses of Cape Town knowing that 80% of the students were from out of town and that their music would travel back to the students’ homes during vacations.
 
This forward thinking approach epitomises the entrepreneurial spirit of these hard working musicians from the townships and it was a strategy that paid off...
 
“In 2006 we did our first song which was ‘Khulula’ which went crazy ‘cos it was quite a controversial song with Kwaito and house elements and it was released about the time that the Durban Kwaito scene was getting big.”
 
The song remained number one on South Africa’s biggest national radio station – 5FM – for five weeks and remains a firm favourite almost 10 years later.
 
Fosta turns 30 in 2016, but talking to him he seems wise beyond his years; where it took many independent labels year to understand that with the changing musical landscape artists would need to generate their income out of performances rather than CD sales, Fosta and his partner at 021 Records were already doing this.
 
When Bridges for Music, founder, Valentino Barrioseta put out feelers for his first visit to Langa Fosta’s was a he was recommended to meet.
 
“The Bridges for Music concept was very much in line with what we’d been doing with 021 Records. Our objective has always been to help up and coming artists and develop the scene so when I heard about what they wanted to do it was exactly in line with us. I saw BFM as a vehicle to fast track all of this work so I was immediately in on the concept.”
The concept of bringing massive international artists such as Richie Hawtin, Luciano and Skrillex to the townships for workshops Fosta says was invaluable.
 
“Township artists often don’t think bigger than their local ‘hood,’ or past South Africa. When these guys came to town it made everybody realise that there is a whole world out there to explore and there is a whole world out there that wants to explore our music as well! When Richie Hawtin told us about his life and how he started it was inspiring especially for youngsters who maybe doubting whether to chase their musical dreams.”
 
Fosta and another highly talented DJ/Producer, Thibo Tazz, performed at Glastonbury on behalf of Bridges for Music.
“I was really worried about what to play and for a while I thought maybe I should just play deep house but then we got invited to a secret party at the Rabbit Hole where we performed back-to-back with Skrillex. He told me to just be free and play what I wanted. After that I realised that I did not travel all this way to play other people’s music so we played all original compositions from South Africa and they loved it. Afterwards Skrillex was like ‘Fosta I need that crazy music,’ so for it showed that we shouldn’t doubt our sound because it is quite unique and people are always looking to hear something new and different.”
 
Fosta sees the planned music school BFM want to build in Langa as the next obvious progression from the workshops.
“The workshops are not only a brilliant way to educate and encourage young producers but it is also an excellent networking platform for guys to talk amongst themselves. But now the school will provide the necessary tools for teaching music production techniques and will also be the perfect meeting place for young producers to share their musical ideas. Also when these international artists come down in the future they can actually work with local producers at the school, in the studio, and collaborate on a track, as well as do the workshops.”
 
There is so much talent waiting to be unleashed from townships like Langa, the biggest obstacle being the resources to nurture this. The music school in Langa holds the key for many of these young musicians to elevate their dreams into reality.