2 December 2014
The story of Levern, awarded our Black Coffee Scholarship at SAE
South African DJ Black Coffee defied a devastating injury to achieve his musical dreams. Now with Bridges for Music, he’s helping another aspiring musician do the same.
In June, Levern Williams received a yearlong scholarship for certification in sound production at SAE Institute Cape Town, sponsored by Bridges for Music and the Black Coffee Foundation.
Williams, a 32-year-old Port Elizabeth native, applied for the scholarship with an essay detailing his passion for music and perseverance following a freak accident that cost him his fingers as an infant.
“Next door to us there were people spray painting a car with a compressor, an engine that had compressed air with a pulley system,” explains Williams. “I crawled over to the other side and they didn’t see me. I grabbed the fan belt and it cut off my fingers.”
While doctors were able to reattach some fingers with limited use, Williams’s injury had a tremendous impact on his childhood and adolescence.
“I was usually teased a lot about it by kids who were ignorant,” he says. “In secondary school, I suddenly wasn't the straight A student I was in primary school. I was going through changes and peer pressure. It made me very doubtful about what I could contribute to the world and those closest to me. I didn't perform so well and couldn't get clearance as easily, so I had to end up doing casual jobs to make ends meet.”
While working, Williams obtained a cheap computer from a house doctor who recognized his talent for fixing them. After a friend gave him music software like Fruity Loops, Williams began remixing old Elton John songs and learning to produce. He also drew inspiration from Black Coffee, who overcame a car accident that left him with a paralyzed left hand to become the most popular DJ in South Africa.
“He also doesn’t have use of his left hand,” says Williams. “He’s also disabled, and seeing how in spite of that he goes on and contributes in a positive sense and showcases his talents and entertains people, it's something I have the utmost respect for.”
After his sister encouraged him to pursue a livelihood in music, Williams discovered with scholarship and decided to apply. He was at a friend’s house when he got the life-changing phone call to inform him he had been selected as the recipient.
“I got a bit lightheaded with excitement, because I was so shocked and in pure joy and ecstasy,” he says. “These things never happen to us in our community to go on to bigger and better things. It’s a real moment I will never properly understand, but it happened to me and I’m making the most of it.”
Williams began his studies in July, enrolling alongside international students in a comprehensive program he has found “extremely enriching and rewarding.”
“I had to leave whatever talent I thought I had at the door,” he says. “I’m learning things I never even fathomed, like features in Ableton that guys like Stimming and Daft Punk are using! I’m also learning a lot about other cultures from people who come from overseas.”
After he has completed his program, Williams will pursue a career in television and film post-production and launch an events company and record label. He also seeks to give back to others who find themselves in similarly hopeless situations.
“Port Elizabeth is a place with so much raw and unearthed talent,” says Levern. “At the end of the day, they don't know how to harness their talent because being they’re being swept away by life and temptations. They don't have anything to live for. I’d like to give those individuals a sense of hope and help them by honing talents and help them get to a platform where they can showcase their talent and start to lead meaningful lives.”