Remembering Matthew Africa Through the Music He Loved

Posted by Billyjam, September 11, 2012 10:30am | Post a Comment

"RIP to one of the best beat diggers, djs, and all around nicest dudes in the game. You will be missed, but your spirit will live on brotha."

The above comment, posted by Tha Megatron online yesterday, is just one of the literally hundreds of tributes  that have been written about beloved Bay Area DJ Matthew Africa who was tragically killed last Monday (9/3) in a car crash. Since Thursday last, when the shocking news of this well-known and well-liked DJ's sudden death began circulating, friends and fans from the Bay and beyond have been mourning his passing through memories of the music that Matthew himself loved so much and happily shared via his radio shows, blogs, 2 Busy Sayin’ Yeah or Stay Hatin podcasts, club sets, and mixtapes. That comment by Tha Megatron was posted on the MixCrate page for Matthew Africa's final mix, "Matthew Africa: Plays Seven Inches," made a few weeks ago. On August 14th, the tireless crate-digging Bay Area DJ made what would be the last entry on his blog. And in true Matthew Africa fashion, it was all about music and records, and about how he was really looking forward to spinning 45s at the upcoming weekend's 45 Sessions - both to play records and to hang out with fellow music fanatics/DJs like DJ Platurn, E Da Boss, DJ Enki, and Joe Quixx.

"These days I really never play 45 sets except when I'm out in NYC and drop in on friends who do vinyl parties like Mr. Finewine or JBX. The last time I remember doing that on the west coast was for an all-45 45th birthday party for my friend DJ Stef," wrote Matthew on that final blog.

And in further true Matthew Africa form (a guy known for executing exact and exhaustive detail on everything he did in life), the ever prolific DJ laced up "a warm-up" mix for the 45 Sessions (with full track listing) of what he described as,  "mostly '70's era funk and soul-- lots of classics, some recent favorites, some oddities. Hopefully there's some "oh shit, it's great to hear that," some "wait, what the hell is that?" and maybe an "ooh, he's got that?" or "wait, that's on 45?!?" or two." The 46 record mix's tracklist included records by such artists as  Pearly Queen, Dionne Warwick, Hank Ballard, The Fabulous Souls, The Soul Company,The Isley Brothers, and Marvin Gaye.

Last Thursday (9/6), the very same day that the news of his death had begun circulating after most folks first read about it on the SF Weekly Blog, Matthew Africa was scheduled to DJ the High Life party at the Layover in Oakland. It would have been another opportunity to play and share new musical finds and hang out with DJ pals like Tim Diesel. But as the shocking  news became known the party's tone changed with Tim Diesel altering the last minute invite asking folks to "join in celebrating the life of Matthew Africa at the HIGH LIFE at The Layover.

That downtown Oakland party became a bittersweet musical tribute to Matthew Africa - just one of many - celebrating the legacy of what fellow music scribe/DJ/crate-digger Chairman Mao wrote on the Ego Trip blog: "A great DJ, a revered music connoisseur, and a terrific, insightful writer. And, as anyone who was fortunate enough to have spent any amount of time with him will tell you, an even better person – funny, beyond generous with his knowledge and support, and above everything really, truly the humblest dude around."

        Doing what he loved most: Matthew Africa sharing music (45 Sessions, August 17th, 2012)

Since the news reached them, old friends of Matthew's from all over, including at Amoeba Berkeley where he used to work at back in the '90s, have been grieving and remembering him: mostly through his love of music. Karen Pearson from Amoeba said, "I just think of the deep passion he had for the music and what a nice guy he was. He was genuine and genuinely loved the music and wanted to share it. He had no pretense. He was just a good human." 

On Sunday KPFK radio's Melting Pot dedicated an entire show to Matthew Africa (streamed & archived here). Meanwhile, Sunday evening at his old Berkeley radio station KALX, where Matthew was a DJ from the '90s up until recently when he split to DJ at Oakland-based Youth Radio's ADP, DJ Sherry Darling dedicated her entire three-hour show to the DJ, playing music inspired by what Matthew would play.

During one of her mic breaks, Sherry Darling recalled when she first started at KALX and was in training as a DJ. Matthew Africa happily allowed her to sit in on his show, patiently showing her how "the magic" happened. Matthew, who she noted in another mic break had very neat handwriting, was one of those KALX music library reviewers whose opinions she could always trust 100% when digging through the library in prep for her show. If Matthew Africa gave a record the right stars, you could always trust his opinion, she said.

The KALX DJ is among the several folks I reached out to ask them about their favorite Matthew Africa music-related memories, records, and songs associated with Matthew Africa. The others include fellow KALX friends from over the years like Last Will, Hugh Howie, Pal 58, and Marin Moran (Matthew Africa DJ'ed her September 2005 wedding). The other friends of the DJ's who shared their Matthew musical memories (scroll down to read all) with the Amoeblog include Tim Diesel, DJ Stef, El Kool Kyle, DJ Eleven (who he was once roomates with and made the popular above-pictured Too $hort mix with), and Jonathan Sklute (Bay to NY transplant/owner of Good Records, NYC).


DJ Eleven's Matthew Africa Music Memories:

Matthew's musical tastes were so varied and deep, and he shared so much music with me over the twenty years we knew each other, that I could list hundreds of songs that will always remind me of him.  Some of the very special ones, which I uploaded here are:
Freddie Hughes, "Sarah Mae" - One of Matthew's favorite types of song was the melancholy soul song.  (Check his "Soul Boulders" series with B Cause for a lot more.)  This was a song he sent to me when I was working on a project and had asked him for suggestions, which I always did.  His ideas were invariably amazing, unexpected, and appropriate with a laser-like precision.  Dude knew music, loved sharing it, and put a tremendous amount of thought into making sure it was selected perfectly for every situation.  The first time I listened to "Sarah Mae" my eyes started to water and listening to it now, years later, I can't stop crying.

Mac Mall, "Sic Wit Tis" - Matthew was a huge fan of hip hop from all over the country, but a great Bay rap song was his SHIT.  I think about him every time the second half of the third verse rolls around in "Sic Wit Tis" and Mall switches to his slick-talk-pimp voice.  The beat smoothes out and the sweet sax comes in: "when we first meet, I give you full respect.  I'll be the sweetest motherfucker that you ever met."  It sounds like Mac Mall had an epiphany and is ready to treat his woman like a lady.  But then he finishes the verse as the sax player finishes up: "don't think think I'm stop doing scandalous shit, i'm taking mail, food stamps, checks, even WIC...  Bitch!"

Nice & Smooth, "Hip Hop Junkies (Spanish Fly version)" - I don't know how much Spanish Matthew actually spoke but anytime anyone played this version, which was pretty damn infrequent, Matthew would dance around and sing every single word.  "Yo tengo funky funky rhymes con un funky funky style" and on and on.  It was one of the most unabashedly joyful sights I've ever seen.
                                                                           - DJ Eleven

"it was because of DJing at KALX that we crossed paths. He was just one of my favorite DJ's to listen to, and he inspired me to dig deeper. It meant a lot when he struck up a conversation regarding something I was playing. Am listening to Can's "Halleluhwah" at full volume, right now. We shared a moment over this at KALX, long ago."

   - fellow KALX DJ Hugh Howie

"One day, years ago, I saw Matt shopping in the rap section at Amoeba Berkeley and he proudly recommended this isht..Dirty Raps Best of Too $ of my favorite comp./mixes. "Oak-lin' Cal-uh For-nigh-yay" will never be the same without Matthew Africa. The nicest; in every hip and formal sense of the word."
            - William Smith  (aka KALX DJ Last Will)

        Matthew Africa DJing wedding party for Marin Moran and her husband Brian (Sept 2005)

"My husband Brian and I got married in September 2005 and Matthew was the only person on my list of potential DJs for the event. Matthew said yes without hesitation and proceeded to turn the evening into the booty-shakingest funk and soul dance party that any of us had ever been to. The groove was so perfect that it inspired a no less than twenty minute dance-off between Brian's sixty year-old father and his twenty-something best man. All the other guests danced on the sidelines while hollering with delight. Hilariously, another notable moment in the evening occurred when Brian's dad and I accidentally ended up dancing together to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On".

After all the first dances (Brian and I, father/daughter, son/mom, etc), Matthew was transitioning into getting everyone else on the dance floor with a little smooth Marvin Gaye. I was about to grab Brian for another dance when Brian's dad swept me up for a bride/father of the groom dance. As Marvin Gaye sang "I'm asking you baby to get it on with me", Brian's dad beamed and twirled me around, completely unaware. I looked over at Matthew and we both chuckled as he sort of shrugged. It was a terrific night." 
                   - Marin Moran (fellow KALX'er) who wrote a more in-depth tribute to Matthew on her blog

DJ Stef Remembers Her Old Friend Through Music

Matthew was a huge contributor to the DJ zine I published from '94-'97, The Vinyl Exchange. I couldn't wait to get his disk (remember those?) each month, to get a jump on all his new 12" recommendations. I've been going back and reading them all and one made my head nod just thinking about it, and it's the original version of "Get Your Swerve On" by Dutchmin. This was soon re-released on Dolo Recordings, but the Street Life Entertainment version is way more dope.

I designed the cover for Yay Game, his E-40 mix (under Matthew's careful art direction of course!). I was excited to get the first look at the track listing. I was actually nervous that he might leave out my favorite, "Sprinkle Me" featuring Suga-T. But of course he didn't.  Recently on "So You Think You Can Dance," contestants performed to Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang" and I was reminded of the dopeness of that song. Matthew had the Betty Chung version, which he played on KFJC's Rucker Park show. Hearing this after he passed, when it had just been on my mind, was very special. And I love how he leads into it with the Nancy Sinatra version on the Plays Seven Inches mix.

Matthew and my husband Serg started the Stay Hatin' podcast last year. They, along with Soft Money, play and discuss rap songs. On Episode 3, Matthew played Juicy J's "A Zip and a Double Cup" which became an instant favorite. The last time I went out with Matthew was Juicy J's show at the Regency last month. When this jam came on I was so pumped, I started jumping up and down and landed on Matthew's foot. Sorry Matthew!     Matthew Africa was a great friend and I miss him terribly.
                                                                                                                                       - DJ Stef


I didn't meet Matthew until around 1998. Local 1200 was just getting our feet wet on the scene, doing house parties and running a pirate radio station in North Oakland. He was the nicest person you'd ever meet. Completely sincere and very generous. Matthew shared an apartment with DJ Eleven on the North Berkeley campus. I used to pick up Eleven whenever we had gigs together and I couldn't wait to go up to their spot and check out all the records all over the place. I was dumbfounded by what I saw. This guy had 4 or 5 copies of everything and they were all in top shape.

For a long time, I only knew Matthew as a radio DJ. On the radio, Matthew played his favorite music and also what he felt people needed to be up on. His music knowledge was so deep beyond Hip Hop. Every time I listened, I'd be calling the station asking what the hell he just played.

I never saw Matthew rock a party until 2005. Willie Maze and I held down a weekly at Luka's in Oakland and we invited Matthew to DJ with us. I didn't know what to expect since I had only ever heard him on the radio. Silly me. Matthew was the full embodiment of a DJ. Not only did he have the collection, the knowledge, but also the skills to make the party bump. Every song transitioned perfectly to the next. No song outplayed it's welcome. He paid close attention to his crowd. If he threw on a song that didn't get the reaction he was looking for, he'd quickly move on to the next record. He had a dance he would do behind the turntables, if you've seen him DJ, you know what I'm talking about!

One night, Matthew played E-40's "Gasoline", which prompted me to tell him how pissed I was when I recently lost my copy while DJing a house party. The next week, Matthew gave me a brand new copy of the same record. Everyone I know has a similar story. One of the things that I've really admired about Matthew is that he never gave up on Rap music. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said, "Rap sucks now", or "Hip Hop isn't like it used to be", or "We need to take it back to the golden era", etc, etc, I wouldn't be DJing for bar tabs. I never heard Matthew say any of that bullshit. While everyone was complaining about the music, Matthew was discovering new artists and playing their records! He not only played them on his radio shows, but also in the clubs.

Matthew was a great friend. He offered so much and never asked for anything in return. A few times I've surprised him with songs I've played at parties. A few days later, he'd email me his own mix-friendly edits of those songs.       
                               - Tim Diesel (1200 DJs)

"Of the stuff I played I most associate him with the DIRTY Edits stuff -- I totally listened to that because of his recommendation and got obsessed with the DIRTY label, which he was very enthusiastic about. The A'z "Yadadamean" was *so* Matthew, as was the Kubiq.

One of the short cuts to pulling music at KALX is knowing you can trust a reviewer's taste. I'm not exaggerating when I saw Matthew is the only KALX DJ whose starred tracks I will play no questions asked. Some others come close, but his are the only reviews I trust completely."

                     - Sherry Darling (KALX DJ)

Jonatha Sklute's Musical Memories of Matthew Africa

"I'm devastated by the loss of my friend Matthew. Two songs that have been in my head over the last couple days have been the Lijadu Sisters' "Life's Gone Down Low", a psychedelic afro-funk track that I hipped him to a number of years back at my record shop; he took it home and used it on the original Soul Boulders* mix. It sounds melancholy, but the lyrics convey an uplifting message of togetherness. Another tune on my mind is by the Bay Area soul group Chain Reaction, called "Lady In Red". This song popped into my head early this week, as if sent directly from Matthew's departed spirit. I couldn't place it... until yesterday, as I was mourning and playing Matthew's mixes, I realized it was from his Soul Boulders 2* mix. "Lady In Red" is about a woman, but there's a bridge in there that could as easily be about Matthew: "I know you've got to go (start another day, start another day)/the cards you never show, no (always have to pay, always have to pay)/and when I see you again (I'll know this game)/I'll be much older then, but you'll still be the same..."

DJ Jonny Paycheck (aka Bay to NY transplant Jonathan Sklute owner of Good Records, NYC)

Pal 58 Remembers Matthew Africa

Last time I saw Matthew Africa was at DJ Eleven's anniversary party in November [in New York] and Matthew spun a set. I remember he threw in classic tracks that you don't get in NYC or anywhere else for that matter. He had current hits but sprinkled in Souls of Mischief, and Pharcyde, along with M.O.P. My friend Rob Connors who never met Matthew before made it a point to big up his set and he was so juiced that Matthew played Public Enemy who he said he had never heard in a club before, and we all talked and had a good laugh and caught up.

More recently I was trying to get Matthew to let me put out his E-40 mixtape, and he was so happy when I told him it could have a big audience and I could help him sell a bunch of them. He said he was in the process of getting some drops from E-40 and then we were in business, but alas the Universe had other plans. RIP my friend, you will be missed but your musical love and passion and knowledge will live on, you will be remembered in the best light, and sound. One thing I remember about Matthew was a style he used to rock back in the day. A baseball hat with the brim cut off, never seen it before and haven't seen it since. I remember him giving me top dollar at Amoeba for trades, used to love him for that.
                             - Arjuna Pal Grashin (aka Pal 58 of the Uptown Vandals on KALX in the 90's wholives in NYC these days running a mixtape distribution company)

El Kool Kyle's Matthew Musical Memories 

Matthew Africa was that older kid who already had all the records I was looking for. As I became a more avid and deeper collector over the years I would come across some rare finds myself. One of the ways I would chart the value of my new record was to ask Matthew if he had a copy or even heard of it. Nine out of ten times he'd say "yes" and even add some extra credit music nerd fact about the record! As the years went on, I found myself doing the early set at Kitty's Bar and Matthew would take over after me for the rest of the Friday night. He would show up a bit early and hear the end of my set most weeks and, every now and then, give me the Matthew Africa nod of approval.

I remember one night I was playing some rare records and everyone was dancing and, for the first time, Matthew walked over to me and asked me about the record I was playing. I told him what it was and some extra credit music nerd fact about the record. I was a bit surprised that he didn't know and even more surprised that he had the humility to ask me. It was in that moment I knew we were friends and peers. The first asked me about a Cumbia record, this was years ago before any one new what Cumbia was, and then 20 minutes later, he asked me about an obscure 12" single of "Rappers Delight" in spanish. And it was also in that moment, the reflection hit me, that I had learned to dig for musical gems from one of the best. R.I.P. Matthew Africa
       - El Kool Kyle (aka Inspector Double Negative) - longtime Bay Area hip-hop artist

Mr Supreme w/ Benni B (ABB) & Matthew Africa @ KALX Bowditch studios 1995

       Rest in peace DJ Matthew Africa - your spirit will live on through the records you shared

Relevant Tags

Dj Stef (7), Sherry Darling (1), Youth Radio (1), Pal 58 (1), Dj Eleven (2), Megatron (1), Kalx (20), Kitty's (2), Kitty Faria (2), El Kool Kyle (1), 45 Sessions (6), Dj Platurn (47), Amoeba Berkeley (98), Amoeba Music (73), Karen Peason (1), Tim Diesel (3), Matthew Africa (6), E Da Boss (2), Dj Jonny (1), Jonathan Sklute (3), Marin Moran (1), Mr Finewine (1)