Saturday, September 08, 2012

Matthew Africa Forever

I first encountered Matthew Africa as a new volunteer at KALX in the late nineties. He stood out because well, he always looked sort of dressed up. I never saw him in anything but a button up shirt, nice pants and nice shoes. I thought, who is that guy? He looked like some kind of lawyer on his day off or something. Well, turns out he was a lawyer. And he was also the most revered and respected hip hop, soul and funk DJ at the station (not to mention, the greater Bay Area and the world). I think I was a bit confused and intimidated by Matthew at first. He seemed like he'd be a super serious dude given his perpetually business-like appearance. But after exchanging a few hellos and a couple quick conversations, it was obvious that the things Matthew took seriously did not include himself. However he was mad serious about his love for music and his desire to dig ever deeper into breaks, beats, rhythms and sounds.

As I got more involved at KALX and had my own show on the air, I had the pleasure of running into Matthew more regularly while also getting to dig through and play the many records that he reviewed for the library. If Matthew liked it, it was guaranteed to be good. Through his reviews and our brief overlaps at the station, Matthew turned me on to all kinds of amazing African funk, blues, hip hop, soul, psych, folk, and jazz tunes that I'd never heard before. Matthew's depth of knowledge when it came to all this music was so massive that you marveled at how deep all of these genres went. Matthew got you so excited about the possibilities of music and proved to you that there's a seemingly unending wealth of hidden gems just waiting for you to dig them out.

But Matthew wasn't just a crate digger or record collector. He knew the story behind every single record he owned. He knew the producers, the songwriters, the musicians, the sidemen. He knew their influences and he damn sure knew who was influenced by them. He often released mixes based on one sample or break, including a mix of 47 songs that sampled the drum break from Melvin Bliss's legendary "Synthetic Substitution". Matthew never used his crazy mad knowledge to act like he was cooler than you. In fact, judging by his buttoned-up appearance, Matthew always seemed pretty uncool. That was one of the incredible things about Matthew. He was so much hipper than you or anyone you could ever hope to know but he was also so deeply humble, generous and thoughtful. You sometimes had to slap yourself to shake the disbelief that someone this massively cool with that much cred cared enough to say hi to you and ask you about your job, your dog, your parents, your life. I almost passed out the day that Matthew asked me to pitch with him on his show for a KALX fundraiser. I was such a mega fan (personally and musically) that I couldn't believe that THE Matthew Africa wanted me to help him fundraise on his show.

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 (see photo above). 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/mother, 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.

When I learned of Matthew's passing, I thought it was a mistake. I thought, there must be some other Matthew Africa. It couldn't be our Matthew Africa. There was just no way. I still have moments of total disbelief and then moments of overwhelming sadness when I remember that he really is gone. Matthew and I fell out of touch a little after I left KALX but we reconnected via Facebook, email and mutual friends. I would often ask our good friend Martina, "How's Matthew?" and he'd ask her about me and about my young daughter. I had been meaning to call Matthew so we could get together and catch up but life got busy and I hadn't yet done it. Needless to say, I'm pretty torn up about that.

I am so deeply saddened and heartbroken by Matthew's death. I also feel so honored and lucky to have had Matthew in my life. Matthew was one of those rare persons who was just all good. He was one of the best people I've known. Endlessly kind and generous, incredibly talented, and hugely soulful. Matthew was a damn good guy who also just happened to be an exceptional and tremendously respected DJ. The world was a better place with Matthew Africa in it. We are all blessed to have known him.


Martina Tran, said...

My heart breaks reading this, Babe. You express so many thoughts that I agree with whole-heartedly here, and share a lot of memories that I also have of him, in such a poetic way. Thank you for speaking for both of us. Our loss is immeasurable because we all loved him so much! And I still can't bring myself to articulate my grief so eloquently.

lesley moran said...

The dance off was the best of any wedding I've ever seen and could only be achieved by a true talent. I don't think my dad has done so much squatting since.I'm sorry to hear he is no longer with us. Xx

Michael Lubenow said...

Thanks for this Marin. I too took it for granted that I would reconnect with Matthew after he left the station at some point. And you knew when you did see him it would be like no time had passed at all.

Have you seen Oliver Wang's piece? Check it out if you haven't:

I want to share my favorite MA moment here too: Do you remember the ukelele explosion in the Bay Area about 5 years ago? There must have been half a dozen titles in feature that were uke dominated if not solo uke releases. Anyway, I followed Matthew's show for about 4 or 5 months during that time. One afternoon I came into the station and the student doing office hours was sitting at the front door with a uke in her lap practicing from a beginner's book on the table. I mentioned how omnipresent the instrument seemed when I went into the air studio to greet Matthew. The first words out of his mouth: "If I see one more hipster with a ukelele I'm going to beat them over the head with it"

Sean Farnan said...

a wonderful read Marin, thank you so much for sharing. you are not alone in your feeling torn about not catching up with him - i had opportunities recently and totally blew it, sometimes it is so hard with a community of wonderful people that we have met over the years at KALX, i want to hug you all right now, Matthew even more so. hope to see you soon.