From jailbird to role model, DJ Fosta has an interesting story to tell.
Thulani Headman, aka DJ Fosta, has lived in Langa, an informal settlement outside of Cape Town, all his life. His dad, Cyril Ngcukana Headman, was a jazz musician and a well-known pianist for Peto music group, which won the Shell Road to Fame talent competition in 1986. He was the composer of the album title track "Khaya".
“We were a household of musicians,” Fosta says. “I got into music when I was very young.” His mom didn’t want him to get involved in the music industry, as his father was often away from home, travelling and working long hours, but Fosta would steal cassettes from his father’s stash and record the Top 20 countdown on Metro radio station. “At family braais, I would take two tapes and start mixing them,” he says. “As time went on, I would create tunes on the piano. I was first influenced by jazz, and then by kwaito.”
He formed a group, called Genders, with his neighbour and they would DJ small local gigs and make music together in their spare time.
However, as Fosta was in his teen years and South Africa was grappling with the aftermath of the apartheid era, he began to rebel. His mother was a strict Jehovah’s Witness, and that meant Fosta was not allowed to do a lot of the things his friends could, like playing sport on a Saturday. “I was a very good soccer player,” he recalls. “I felt left out and angry when I had to drop out of the team because I couldn’t be at practice or games on a Saturday.”
He started to make friends with the wrong crowd and was soon involved in petty crime. He narrowly avoided being arrested a few times, but then he got caught. “My life changed when I got sentenced to jail time,” he says. “I pled guilty, which meant I got a reduced sentence.”
He served four years in prison, where he had a lot of time to think. “I realised that this was not who I wanted to be,” he says. “I knew I had talent, and I decided to change. I also realised I wanted to help change my whole community. I wanted to be one of the role models I wished I’d had.”
He chose the name Fosta for himself as a symbol of this change. “It’s Xhosa slang for ‘making things happen’”, he explains.
When he got out of jail in 2005, he and two old friends, Sindisa Cima and Thulani Fesi, their own label, 021 Records, with the aim of creating a platform for the artists in Cape Town to be represented. “We also started this label to release our own music and own our music and business,” says Fosta. “We then created demand using MXit and Bluetooth to share our music and make it viral. We were then booked to perform and that's how we started generating revenue.”
Their song Khulula – a blend of Kwaito and house – attracted the attention of DJ Euphonik, who played it on the radio. It became the no.1 hit on 5fm for four weeks running.
Fosta puts part of his success down to the fact that he makes music with meaning. “I don’t make music about flashy cars I don’t own,” he says. “I want to be real and make music that says ‘this is how life is’”.
He began sharing stages with bigger and bigger artists, and developing a reputation in Langa and beyond. He would use his own platforms to give other developing musicians an audience, seeking always to pay his opportunities forward.
In 2012, he met Valentino Barrioseta, a famous Ibiz-based promoter who was taking some time out in South Africa. The two struck up a friendship and decided to work together to help develop musical talent in Langa.
Later that year, the team hosted their first workshop. Valentino organised for international artists and equipment, and Fosta ensured the community knew about the event and supported it.
Valentino decided to relocate to South Africa, and started working towards his dream of building a music school in Langa. After five years of fundraising and three years’ of building, Nando’s came on board to help him finish the amazing work he had started.
In 2019, Bridges for Music Academy opened its doors. Fosta is the co-founder and operations manager. Despite all his personal success, which includes performing at Glastonbury Festival in the UK, and headlining several major events in South Africa and Abroad, he counts opening the school as his career highlight to date.
He hasn’t stopped dreaming big, however. His ultimate goal is to replicate the Bridges for Music Academy concept to open more schools to help more young musicians make their way into successful careers.
For more about Fosta, follow him on Facebook.