Matthew Africa is gone. I’m having trouble accepting this.
I probably first met him around ’91 or ’92, when I started volunteering at KALX FM in Berkeley. I admit: Matthew intimidated the hell out of me at first. He wasn’t unfriendly but he carried himself with a certain, serious countenance. He didn’t seem like the type to suffer fools lightly and I guess I thought myself a fool, or close enough to one. What trips me out to realize is that, for the longest time, I just thought of Matthew as being older and wiser but he was only the latter. We were the same age, but he possessed such knowledge and self-assuredness even in his late teens. I just realized this a minute ago and it blows my mind. We may have shared an age but he was always on another level.
But gradually, over time, I (mostly) got over that feeling, especially during the time that Matthew was working at Amoeba Records (Berkeley). There used to be a minor feeding frenzy when he’d put out new stock on hip-hop promos and other goodies; we’d all swarm as he filled the bins and I remember him looking out for me on occasion and placing a 12″ in my hand on some “you need this” tip.
In those early years, I’d always see Matthew hanging out with Beni B, who – as much as anyone – was the inspiration behind why I became a DJ. Beni was the first bonafide “crate digger” I met; he had one of those classic record-hoarder apartments where there’d be literally stacks of vinyl in every room of the house. Beni had/has a huge personality so it was easy to assume he was the big record dog and Matthew the sidekick but as I learned later, it was actually the other way around. Matthew was helping put Beni – and Joe Quixx and many others – up on the game at a time before the internet disseminated that kind of knowledge more freely.
That’s the thing about Matthewâ€¦I often told people that he probably had one of the best “shadow” collections in the Bay because he wasn’t ever the type to floss that. I often imagined there wasn’t any sick ass breakbeat record that Matthew didn’t already have and as I learned years later, my introduction to “breaks” probably came, indirectly, through him because I used to listen to KMEL’s Wake-Up Show, when Quixx would play the “classics” and much of those he learned from Matthew. Same goes for Beni’s show and all the breaks he used to play.
This site wouldn’t exist if not for inspirations like that. Real talk.
I have to borrow this from my man Noz because I love the way he puts this across:
“he was a master of dropping knowledge at a matter of fact angle without ever coming off like he was flexing or being pedantic. he’d clarify in the name of clarification and keep it moving. of course it also helped that he always knew what the fuck he was talking about. purely constructive og moves.”
I certainly was a beneficiary of those “constructive OG moves” on many occasions through the years. And I really need to emphasize this: Matthew wasn’t “the dude” because he had cool records. It was his generosity and basic kindness to people around him. He could have been a master of anything – making coffee, car repair, raising kittens – whatever mattered wasn’t what he knew but how he shared it. He was a mentor, a guide, a gentle hand on the shoulder that helped point you in the direction you wanted to go (even if you didn’t realize it at the time).
By the early ’00s, we both had logged in years as DJs at KALX and I had finally developed a comfort level with him. We ended up DJing two different (albeit short-lived) monthly parties together, Eastbound in East Oakland, and Popcorn in S.F. (along with Cool Chris).1 To be honest, I was less bummed about losing those nights b/c of the money or whatever: I was bummed that I wouldn’t get to hang out with Matthew at least once a month. He was just such a good dude: avuncular, insightful, funny, and genuine.
It’s so hard to express how enormous a loss this is. He was really just one of the best people I ever got to meet through the DJ/record game. I will miss him eternally.
I need to restrain myself from hitting you all with a gazillion links so let me be selective.
1) Michael Barnes has written an incredible tribute post to Matthew, including a few of the key songs he helped put him (and me, as it were) up on.2
2) Matthew was my very first guest on The Sidebar. I was listening to just the first few minutes again earlier tonight and was filled with simultaneous grief over his passing but also happiness to hear his voice.
3) Matthew wrote a Summer Songs post for us in 2010.
4) And as long as his site stays up, you can find some of his excellent mixes and podcasts here.
One last anecdote, at least this go-aroundâ€¦
Matthew and I co-hosted KALX fundraisers at least once or twice. If you’ve ever had to suffer through a public radio fundraising drive, you know how tedious it is and believe me, it’s not that much better on our side of the mic either. Most of us got into radio to play music, not to explain how listener supported radio is superior to commercial radio (it’s true, of course, but still) and whatever other boilerplate we had to whip out once a year.
But Matthew didn’t half-step. If he was going to do a fundraiser show, he was going to put his best foot forward. One time, when I was his co-host, he brought in some Grade A records to playâ€¦I was too lil dude to fully appreciate how much heat he had with him but I remember he had an original Third Guitar (“Baby Don’t You Cry“) and what blew my wig back even more: an original copy of Sugar Billy Garner’s “I Got Some“. I mean, he must have been toting several thousands of dollars worth of music, just for a fundraiser show, but he wanted to make the point that community/college radio like KALX could give listeners access to music they simply were not going to hear anywhere else. That’s just how he carried himself.
That was Matthew.
- My favorite Popcorn story is related here. Just as an addendum, I forgot to include this anecdote, connected to that night: I remember watching the dance floor evaporate, and I turn to Matthew and he gives me this look that basically said, “dude, what were you thinking?” but in a kind way, much like a parent might try to create a “teachable moment” for their child in a moment of fuck-uppery. I have this memory of talking to Matthew about that night years later and we both remembered how badly I played the moment and had a good laugh over it. ↩
- Barnes mentions how Mathew put him up on “Fire Eater” and I had the same experience. Matthew once told me, “play this on your radio show and the phone will light up with people calling in to ask about it. And he was absolutely fucking correct. ↩
Great write-up, sounds like a hell of a guy. Sympathy to his family and friends, RIP Mathew.
Thanks Oliver, great dedication. Hope you are well, miss seeing you around the station. Matthew’s memory will live on forever in the halls of KALX and Oakland. RIP.
Thanks, O-Dub. Gifted KALX alumni like you, Matthew, Billy Jam, Jeff Chang, Beni B.
Jah Bonz, Rickey Vincent, Davy D., Brother Kayumanggi, G-Spot, Joanna Burroughs, Sergio, et. al., have kept
THE MUSIC vital and cutting edge through all of your years of smart, honest, selfless presentation.
Oliver thank you for this. I just found out today and am stunned. You desribed him perfectly. I loved his wit and cool demeanor. Hanging out in those early 90s were special moments in life, whether at the station, parties our dj homies were spinning, or restaurants before or after the club. He tipped me off to a lot of music as well – we all were learning from each other at the station or at Amoeba and there really isnt anything like that sort of geeky musical connection. Wish i could have been at the tribute or fly out for kalx’ 50 th. i listened to one of Matt’s mixcrate mixes today and just felt his vibe all through it. He is so missed. Sending my condolences to his friends and loved ones. Praying for his lady also.
I probably got put on to Matt through your writings here and to a lesser degree from Soul Strut. he always had that head mentality that to a lesser degree is more humble than many dudes that I’ve come across. I still listen to his DJ Rogers mix at least once a month and it still kills me how he sequenced great music without being pretentious and stodgy. May he rest in Everlasting peace
Didn’t know him other than through mixes I copped off the various blogs. He always had a way of mixing and song choice that made you feel like you were listening to something special. Very sad to hear! R.I.P.
Last time Mathew was in NYC I got the chance to meet him. We met at 9th street espresso and connected our random life dots which we sharred many… I’m honored to have met and have my life touched by such an amazing individual. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and close friends.
Thanks for this O-Dub.
-Jordan “DJ Dirrty” Merz
As Matthew’s father I can only thank the writer of this memorial. My son was a better man than I, and I can only say how much he was always beloved within his own family of origin, as well as within the family into which he was fully taken upon his marriage to Ha Le.
My life was changed on Sunday night by a seamless mix of smoky old school soul, the kind of groove I didn’t even know I needed until heard it. I can count on one hand how many times in my life I’ve called a radio station, but that night I just had to complement the DJ, and I was told the man responsible had just passed. It’s a small world; I too volunteered at KALX in the 90s, one of the anonymous stacks sorters, and probably looked on him like I did all the people who had air time, with much awe and respect. I’m so sorry that such a clearly beloved man is no longer with us, sorry I didn’t know of him until now, but I was lucky enough to buy the last copy of Soul Boulders 2 in Berkeley on Monday. Some graffiti I saw in downtown Oakland today says how folks felt about him here: “Matthew Africa For President”.
Been thinking of Matthew as I often do and return here to mourn and be grateful. For him and you Oliver. thank you