Black Coffee Pieces of Me – A track by track review
It may struggle to live up to the sheer brilliance of its older siblings, ‘Home Brewed’ and ‘Have Another One’ but as a sole entity, it stands tall…”
Black Coffee Pieces of Me is the new album by South Africa’s biggest name in house music. He is also undoubtedly South Africa’s biggest music export in recent times.
Residing literally in a league of his own, the Black Coffee has successfully transcended to international status and subsequently now rubs shoulders with the likes of P. Diddy while calling mega stages like Circo Loco in Ibiza home. As us locals put it, “He’s gone!”
But while he may be globe trotting and thrilling revellers from Greece to Gaborone, fans, both local and abroad, have been unified in the painfully lengthy wait for new Black Coffee material ever since he offered us the Africa Rising triple disc album.
Thankfully, September saw us finally get what we’d been so dearly waiting for; the Black Coffee Pieces of Me album.
With a frenzy that’s probably only matched by Zahara (her latest album reportedly sold Gold in under 24hours), house heads across South Africa scrambled to download Black Coffee Pieces of Me on iTunes the minute Coffee announced its release.
It’s been two weeks since I personally acquired the album and it’s been an interesting journey of critiquing the work of my favourite DJ and producer. To give you the full sonic picture of the album I’ve opted to give a track-by-track review rather than a summation of the project.
That’s the beauty of a good song. It sheds the casings of genre and goes where it pleases.”
Black Coffee Pieces of Me – Track by Track
You can never go wrong with Lebo Mashile. Her work escapes the ever-lurking trap of faux deep poetry that has plagued preach-apellas since producers started trying to mimic the president of house, Roland Clark. For the ‘Pieces of Me’ intro, Mashile recites an impassioned poem that occasionally goes over my head with its depth but essentially intertwines the symbolic significance of coffee and Black Coffee’s higher purpose in the music industry… I think.
Regardless of whether you get what is being said or not, it’s a great intro however if you have this album on repeat after a while you may find yourself hitting skip and getting straight into the music.
Come To Me
When Black Coffee Pieces of Me was delayed, he teased with a clip of this track on his Instagram account so it became that “I can’t wait to hear the full track” song on the album. As the first actual song on the album it’s a good start. The guitar riff is funky and coupled with the signature Black Coffee drum pattern the song has your head rocking for the entire 7 minutes.
I have the suspicion that this is going to be one of the DJ and crowd favourites. Mque does an outstanding job on the vocals and crafts lyrics that are easy to sing along to which sit comfortably over that guitar. One also can’t help but remember Beatenberg’s “Pluto” when this drops.
Stuck In Your Love
For anyone who’s owned previous Black Coffee albums you know that they come pre-mixed but that’s not the case with ‘Pieces of Me’. It may just be an occurrence on the iTunes version but strangely enough it doesn’t make for a pleasant experience. House songs have notoriously long intros and half a minute of just kicks and claps after coming out of the previous song resets the energy levels.
Stuck In Your Love though as a song is okay. After being hyped up by Come To Me it sends the excitement on a downward trajectory rather than builds on the energy of the album. Perhaps it’s more a case of bad placement rather than bad song.
Love on Fire
There’s no mistaking Ribatone’s voice. It takes less than a note to be like “ah hah! That’s Ribatone!” For Love on Fire, Black Coffee partners the one half of Sai & Ribatone with seasoned vocalist Lungi Naidoo. The combination makes for a fair duo but while their voices together create eerily beautiful harmonies, I can’t help but feel like the song never really reaches a ‘wow’ point.
Meandering along with no real crescendo, Ribatone’s piano skills would have made for a welcome addition and coloured in the parts where the production played it safe.
Hardcore Black Coffee fans are no strangers to Mondli Ngcobo. He’s that electrifying voice that scatted like his life depended on it when he performed Lyon to KwaZulu at the Africa Rising concert. More recently though he’s stolen the limelight with DJ Merlon’s 2014 hit, Koze Kuse. Naak MusiQ is also no stranger to house music lovers and one is hard pressed to not find his vocals on at least one hit coming out of the Afrotainment camp.
On Angelina though, Naak finds himself lacking the range to fully capture the emotions of a song that laments over a lost lover. From a production point of view the song is textbook Black Coffee. A simple yet inexplicably effective bassline with a crafty coupling of baritone backing vocals makes Angelina one of those songs that may sound better as a dub version or instrumental.
While the pattern of lengthy intros continues, Extra Time has you sitting up in your seat from the very first kick. Afrocentric drums, offbeat conga hits and an indistinguishable low pad signal all the markings of a banger on the way. By the time Portia Monique starts chanting in an uncharacteristic but well delivered African harmony, you’re sufficiently convinced that this is a damn good song.
Portia delivers a convincing ode to an unknown love in a manner that allows for Black Coffee’s production to keep the body in motion while the heart shares in adoration laced vocals. They definitely spent extra time on this one!
I Have Faith
You can’t be faulted for expecting Mondli Ngcobo to belt out every song he’s featured on. Yet on I Have Faith he displays rare vocal form that’s controlled, rich and fervent. As the song builds and more instrumentation is introduced with surgeon like precision, emotions run high and non-believers are converted. I’m pretty sure pastors are cueing this one up to play just before offering time.
If there’s one song on the album that will be even more memorable live, it’s this one.
We Dance Again
Black Coffee has a knack for pairing his best work with the most unlikely of artists (think what he did with Juju). Nakhane Toure may be a breakaway success in the indie rock realm but he’s certainly the last person we expected to jump on a house record. And yet his voice not only compliments the production, it pulls the song in a direction that welcomes it into the seldom-visited world of a near-perfect intersection of genres.
We Dance Again is just as potent on a big room dance floor as it is on the sticky tiles of a backyard tavern. That’s the beauty of a good song. It sheds the casings of genre and goes where it pleases.
Go On plays a dangerous game. It’s easy to dismiss the song as miss-able and yet if one cares to hold on until the 3 minute mark, you’re gifted with a percussive explosion that instantly transforms Go On into another crowd pleaser on the album. Khensy’s vocals though might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I could personally do without them in this instance as she fails to elevate to a level that matches the natural progression of the track.
But there’s a market for obscure voices and one can argue that she perfectly contrasts the instrumentation and prevents it from being quickly slapped with the ‘commercial’ label.
Black Coffee fans will be familiar with Inkodlo Kamashimane from numerous live mixes recorded at Coffee’s shows overseas and much like the timeless Trip to Lyon, the song does so much with so little. A lonely piano carries the song with the accompaniment of a string section and un-credited female adlibs. Tied to the fact that it’s actually a tribute to Black Coffee’s late father, Inkodlo Kamashimane has a strong spiritual element to it and evokes something within one’s soul that I last felt with Culoe De Song’s early productions like We Baba.
It simply goes to show that tributes don’t necessarily have to be sorrowful affairs. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is one of the classics on the album.
The Beat of Indlamu
This is another more familiar track on the album and has been featured in mixes for the better part of the year although most had no clue of its origins. What Inkodlo Kamashimane did with a piano, The Beat of Indlamu does with a bass guitar. Occasionally the guitar appears and teases with a depressed slide before offering some licks then deliberately disappearing just as quickly as it came, letting the rest of the song build around it. The Beat of Indlamu is in no rush to go anywhere and the pinnacle of the song takes places north of the 6 minute mark but it still manages to keep you captivated and bobbing along.
The only question; if you could only pick one between Inkodlo Kamashimane and The Beat of Indlamu, which one would it be?
I’ll Find You
The final track on Black Coffee Pieces of Me existed as a solitary single for close to a year. Its 2014 release didn’t have a great impact on the scene and it more or less faded into the background soon after it dropped. But on the album it’s right at home.
It almost feels like an entirely new song and makes more sense as part of the long player than as a single. If anything the song would actually have been better placed earlier on in the album.
Black Coffee Pieces of Me – Conclusion
Ultimately the question at the end of the day is…
“Is Pieces of Me a good album?”
I think it is.
However it’s difficult to call it the best from the catalogue. Expectations were high and the schedule was tight. It’s reasonable to deduce that the world tours played their role. While Black Coffee is talented, like any other individual invested in their craft there’s one commodity that they need copious amounts of and that’s time. Making a great album takes time and by his admission, that’s a resource he didn’t always have in abundance.
Furthermore Black Coffee’s meteoric rise to international dominance came with expectations to match. I for one expected a more illustrious feature list. This is the man who introduced a whole new generation to Hugh Masekela, Black Moses and Victor Ntoni to name a few.
However as talented as the vocalists on this album may be, outside of Nakhane Toure, the status quo defying collaborations are near non-existent.
That being said, Black Coffee Pieces of Me does what it set out to do; it makes the fans happy and at the end of the day is that not what counts the most?
It may struggle to live up to the sheer brilliance of its older siblings, ‘Home Brewed’ and ‘Have Another One’ but as a sole entity, it stands tall in an industry that was increasingly finding itself overshadowed by redundant EDM releases and the burgeoning South African hip hop industry.
Simply put, it’s safe to say that Black Coffee’s still got this.
WITH BLACK COFFEE