Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|November 1, 2020|7 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

How The Vinyl Assassin Brandished Mandela's Spirit To Banish COVID-19

When COVID-19 lockdown wreaked havoc on South Africa’s bars, restaurants and malls millions were lost leaving the music industry playing the blues. Enter entrepreneur and DJ Ashley “Shimza” Raphala who saw an opportunity in making the beat COVID-19 in a virtual world.

It was a case of the musician and the hour for the entrepreneur who sprang from humble beginnings in a township near Johannesburg.

As a bright-eyed 15-year-old Ashley Raphala grew up in Thembisa, east of Johannesburg.  His journey towards becoming an entrepreneur saw him follow his ears to a garage where DJ was mixing tracks on vinyl.

“I’m from the hood and I know the struggles that people go through, so it was a natural thing for me to do,” he said.

So enchanted was Raphala with the music, that he became friends with the DJ and began to mix music alongside him. Raphala never looked back.

This was the root of the sound that made the name of entertainment entrepreneur Ashley “Shimza” Raphala. It influenced his distinct ‘Afro-tech’ sound on stages that he plays to thousands on stages from New York to Ibiza.

It wasn’t an easy road for the determined Raphala. He started off with crowds of 300 in the audience which has now grown into crowds in the thousands. His singles ‘African Woman’ and ‘Uwrongo’ have established him as a rising South African talent.

His music reflects a new and connected Africa. According to British electronic dance and clubbing magazine Mixmag, it is layered with tinny industrial techno sounds that fold with ancestral whispers of Africa amid tumbling drumbeats.

His stage name is Shimza but his followers call him the ‘Effect Master’ or ‘Vinyl Assassin’.

He’s been doing it for quite some time, starting off with a One Man Show. As far back as 2009 he was big enough to raise money for charity to buy stationery and shoes for children.

Over the years, the event has showcased some of South Africa’s hottest artists including AKA, Cassper Nyovest, Riky Rick, Black Coffee, Mi Casa and Black Motion.

It was all going so well. Then one miserable March day COVID-19 hit.

Much like the rest of the entertainment industry, he couldn’t concert days were over. He was stuck at home losing money.

“I would’ve been in Europe trying to crack that market,” he said. “The strategy was always to dominate globally and that is what we were working on before Covid-19.”

COVID-19 threw in the bin years of work for many in the music business like Raphala. But instead of throwing in the towel Raphala refused to sing the lockdown blues and saw an opportunity.

As the lockdown eased Raphala began running 10 kilometres a day and started to learn to cook as a gesture of defiance. Through it all, he got the idea of hosting Lockdown House Parties – a collection of DJs playing online to a lockdown audience that morphed into a six-hour twice a week show on Channel O.

The show kept house music fans grooving and DJs performing at a time when most South Africans were down and depressed at home. Despite COVID-19 the beat went on.

Raphala was to take the lockdown parties further thanks to a sprinkle of Madiba Magic. In tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, the first president of the democratic republic of South Africa, they took the live streaming of the lockdown to the steps of the great man’s statue at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

He took it a step further to the place where Mandela spent years in prison. Raphala became the first ever DJ to play a gig in the island prison off Cape Town, Robben Island. He performed in the stone quarry where Mandela lost part of his eyesight in the glare as he spent years breaking the limestone rock.

“I think people understood the meaning behind the shows – which is obviously about raising money – better through the streams than when they might just come to watch you perform in a usual live show,” he said.

The next problem in the lockdown was work. Raphala could no longer leave the country to play his music. Again, he had to run 10 kilometres and think. The answer this time was to tie up a deal to join a virtual stage with the BBC Radio 1 in the United Kingdom so he could get his music out there.

At the very least like the music world that was paralyzed in the COVID-19 lockdown, Raphala proved that the beat can go on, come what may.

It may have been lean for him for the last six months. You’ll be sure he’ll be making money from his talent because he’s spotted a way in which he could keep them relevant when the music world was closed.

The strategy was always to dominate globally and that is what we were working on before COVID-19.

- Ashley “Shimza” Raphala