We’ve said it many times in these pages, but it bears repeating — some of the most soul-stirring house music around is coming out of South Africa. One of the best of the country’s current wave of house producers, DJ Couza, has a succinct theory as to why that is. "Most deep house artists from South Africa took the original sound of deep house, and fused it with indigenous African sounds,” he says. “That way, it always stands out and sounds unique.”
It sounds simple, but he left out an important factor: “House is a feeling,” as an old song says, “a feeling not everybody understands.” Judging from the music he’s been releasing over the past few years — including his most recent, ‘The Couza,’ a five-track EP on the on-fire Iron Rods Music label — the man born Bongani Ernest Zweni, 32, feels it down to his bones.
Brimming with supple, laid-back grooves, rich instrumentation, and luscious melodies, ‘The Couza’ is a deep and emotionally resonant record, one that’ll appeal to fans of pioneers like Larry Heard, Jovonn, and Ron Trent, and labels along the lines of Prescription, King Street Sounds, and Shelter. A track like ‘There’s No Way,’ featuring Vic SA & Fako on vocals, could pass for peak-era Blaze at their most sublime, while the rhythmically tumbling ‘Usana Lwam,’ passionately voiced by Lulu, is a hugely affecting slice of Afro-soul.
Couza currently resides in Bloemfontein, the capital of South Africa’s Free State province; he was raised about 260 miles to the north, in Viljoenskroon Rammulotsi. “I grew up in a very religious family, and every Sunday my grandmother would take us to church, and we joined Sunday schools where we sang with my sisters and brothers the whole day,” he says. “But no one really took music seriously as a career.” His path, however, started to become clear at an early age.