South Africans making it big overseas

Tumi Morake, Riaad Moosa, Black Coffee and Trevor Noah


For instance, I grew up in East Africa, where entertainers such as Miriam Makeba, Johnny Clegg, Brenda Fassie, Lucky Dube and Jonathan Butler were household names. Plays by South African playwrights such as Athol Fugard were often performed on stage, and films such as the 1992 musical Sarafina, still hold Box Office records. In more recent times, South African arts and culture have been exported to the rest of the continent via the medium of television, courtesy of DStv and MultiChoice.

A report on South Africa’s entertainment and media (E&M) industry published by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 2017 forecasted that the sector’s total revenue would reach R177.9-billion by 2021, up from R132.7-billion in 2016.

Then there are the entertainment exports such as DJ Black Coffee (real name, Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo) and Comedian and US TV show host, Trevor Noah,whose value and worth as exports and the nation’s ambassadors is nigh impossible to monetise.

As one of the world’s biggest DJs, Black Coffee is constantly making history. He has traversed the globe, with regular shows in Sydney, New York, Sao Paulo, Luanda, Maputo, Los Angeles, Nairobi and Athens. As well as his success as an international DJ, he is also a highly sought-after businessman.

However, success and international acclaim did not occur overnight. It took a combination of years of hard work and pure talent to get where he is.He was born in Durban in KwaZulu-Natal and grew up in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, before moving back to Durban to study music at Natal Tech. There, along with a couple of friends, Thandukwazi ”Demor” Sikhosana and Mnqobi ”Shota” Mdabe, he started the group, Shana, and relocated to Joburg. It was his endeavours in Johannesburg that led to his being picked by the Red Bull Music Academy in 2003. And that is when his DJ career really began to take off.

In 2005, he released his debut album simply titled Black Coffee, and it was the success of this that saw him start his own production company, Soulistic Music, which has since been the launching pad for a number of music careers.

In 2017, Forbes Magazine classed him as Africa’s second most bankable artist, just behind Akon, the Senegalese-American, and ahead of Hugh Masekela whose hit, Stimela, DJ Black Coffee covered, reworked and made a hit all over again.

Meanwhile, Noah who began his career as a Comedian, Presenter and Actor here in South Africa has gone on to become one of the world’s most recognisable names and faces while hosting The Daily Show, an American satirical news programme on Comedy Central.

Asked in a 2015 magazine interview about leadership, Noah said: “For me, being a leader has always meant being part of the team. Some people choose to lead from the top, whereas I choose to lead from within. It’s how I ran my production shows back home and how I run my businesses, and it’s the same thing I’m trying to do at The Daily Show. It’s just a different leadership style depending on who you are.”

In 2016, Noah released his debut book titled Born A Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood. The book garnered him two awards in the Debut Author and Outstanding Biography/Autobiography categories at the US National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) awards in February 2017.

The book is based on his life experiences—having been born to a black mother and white father in South Africa in 1984 when the Apartheid regime was still in power and interracial unions were still illegal.

Time magazine named Noah as one of its 10 “young innovators and rising stars” in 2017. His name was on a list of “Next Generation Leaders” that ranged from artists and athletes to activists and entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, it would seem a worthwhile bet that the world will be getting to know a few more entertainers from South Africa.

In September this year, it was announced that a new and unprecedented stand-up comedy event series featuring the talents of, among others, Comedians Tumi Morake and Riaad Moosa, would be premiering next year on Netflix.

The two will be joining 45 comedians picked from 13 regions across the globe in this groundbreaking event series (title to be announced). Two other South African comedians—Loyiso Gola and Loyiso Madinga—are also on the list. The yet-to-be-named series will feature a range of stand-up specials from comedians who are diverse in style, gender and ethnicity and will be taped in seven languages.

For Morake, there is double the joy as this new show makes her the first African female Stand-Up Comedian to have her own set on Netflix. On what such a major stride means for other women in stand-up comedy, she said in an interview: ”I hope more and more will realise we don’t need to wait for the scraps left by male comics. And that, eventually, people will recognise that we can stand toe-to-toe with our male counterparts. I also hope we will no longer be called an endangered species because we are increasing, not decreasing, even in exposure.”

Bold, sassy and impossible to ignore, Morake has racked up a few “firsts” in her career. In 2016, she made history by becoming the first South African female Comedian to win Comic of the Year at the Savanna Comics Choice Awards. She was alsothe first woman to host Comedy Central Presents on African soil.

Moosa and Morake have already recorded a half-hour special at this year’s Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal from 24 July to 29 July. Other specials in the series are set for recording in Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Mumbai, Berlin and Amsterdam.

On the way to Montreal to take part in the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, Moosa remarked, “Netflix is taking comedy to a whole new level and even though I’ve been a part of several specials back home, I’m excited and honoured to be taking part in a series of this calibre.”

Netflix is the world’s leading Internet entertainment service with 125 million memberships in over 190 countries enjoying TV series, documentaries and feature films across a wide variety of genres and languages. Members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on any Internet-connected screen. Members can play, pause and resume watching, all without commercials or commitments.

Introducing the series, Lisa Nishimura, the Vice-President, Original Documentary and Comedy, Netflix, said, “Few things are better than discovering a new comedian you love. With this event, we’re creating a true comedy festival experience for our members where they can scour the globe from home to find some of the freshest voices in comedy.”

Morake is a formidable force in the male-saturated comedy industry. Born in the Free State, she grew up in the North West and is now based in Gauteng. She studied drama at Wits University from 2000 to 2003, majoring in performance and writing with a focus on comedy.

Since beginning her career in smoky clubs in 2006, she is relentless in her quest to maintain her footing as a comedy tour de force. This drive has seen her steadily grow into one of South Africa’s most sought-after comedians, earning her the title of South Africa’s First Lady of Comedy—as she says on her website: “Not bad for a mother of three and wife of one.”

Internationally, Morake’s comedy career has seen her wow audiences in the Czech Republic, France, Britain and at venues closer to home, in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Ghana.

In true multitasking woman style, Morake has parlayed her comedy into writing, acting and producing. In mid-September, Morake announced the release of And Then Mama Said, her highly anticipated debut book, which hit the bookstores in the first week of October.

As well as being a former Medical Doctor turned Comedian and Actor, Riaad Moosa is also a father of four and a husband. As if to prove the old saying, “laughter is the best medicine”, Moosa recently produced the world’s first funny medical educational show #DOC, in which he utilised humour to communicate important and practical health promotional information.

Moosa originally flexed his comedic and dramatic acting muscles when he played the lead in the internationally acclaimed movie Material, which he also co-wrote. The film was screened at film festivals across the globe.

He won the South African Film and Television Award (SAFTA) for Best Actor for his role in Material, which also received SAFTAs for Best Film, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor in 2013. His standup comedy tour in 2013, also called Doctor’s Orders, was one of the biggest tours of his career, performing to over 35 000 people all over South Africa and beyond.

Moosa’s previous one-man shows, Strictly Halaal and For The Baracka, were instant hits, both live and on DVD. Moosa has appeared in various TV and film productions, such as Laugh Out Loud—the largest stand-up comedy show in South African TV history.

But it’s not all about basking in the applause and raking in the cash for these South African entertainers making it big abroad. All four of them are very big on giving back to their communities and society as a whole.

For instance, DJ Black Coffee has a charitable foundation named after him. The foundation’s motto ”Disability is not a curse” is a reference to his own journey to success. The foundation’s stated aim is “to uplift the destitute, the physically disabled and the poor”.

In August this year, it was reported that DJ Black Coffee had launched a streaming app, GongBox. He explained his motivation for launching the app saying he planned to use it to help up-and-coming musicians take their music to the world.

DJ Black Coffee added that his belief was that the app would give aspiring musicians exposure and will motivate young people in general to create our their platforms.

In an interview he gave to Okay Africa, the digital media platform dedicated to African culture, music and politics, he said, ”I’ve always felt like our future is not certain, because it was in other people’s hands and I feel like that’s how we’ve been as a continent. We’ve always been ready to give our future away to the next bidder who promised us whatever they were bringing. So, my worry has always been, ‘When do we start creating our own things?’ And our own things, not just independent record labels.”

For his part, in April this year, Trevor Noah launched his eponymous foundation whose focus is on helping orphans empower themselves with educational programmes, skills development and drug prevention. At the launch in Johannesburg, Noah said he was inspired by advice from South-African born Hollywood Actress, Charlize Theron, to ”believe in drops in the bucket” when setting up a foundation to benefit people facing complex challenges.

”The journey and goal are to start a programme and better understand how to help schools move forward. Then, we want to help these schools become self-sufficient. Each experience will inform the next. Today is only the beginning,” Noah said.

Noah’s foundation, which hopes to drive sustainable change that improves the lives of the most vulnerable youth in South Africa, plans to achieve its goals by investing in three priority areas: psycho-social support, skills development and career guidance.

By partnering with government schools, researching innovative approaches and mobilising philanthropic capital, the foundation is currently piloting initiatives at a government school in Johannesburg that caters for orphans and children who find themselves outside of the traditional family structure. 

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