Matthew Africa, a Bay Area DJ, died last week in a car crash. He was 40. He had been a staple of the Bay Area since the 90s, throwing parities, making mixes, and hosting a radio show on UC Berkeley’s KALX. I won’t try to write an obituary of the man. Nothing I could write would come close to Oliver Wang’s tribute on Sole Sides. Instead, I want to share a few thoughts about how Matthew Africa impacted my life, despite the fact that we never met.
I mostly knew Matthew from his Melting Pot blog, which I found my way through Soul Sides. He would post links to his radio show, which I sometimes listened to. Mostly, though, I waited eagerly to read his “Dig Deep” posts. In them, he’d post a few MP3s from some long-forgotten vinyl gem along with a brief description of the artist and the track. The posts not only exposed me to some amazing music, but also some insight into the mind of one of the world’s premier crate-diggers and students of music. The man knew almost everything there was to know about funk, jazz, soul, latin music, African music, and anything in between. As a DJ, he understood how the music made people move, and he appreciated the magic of unearthing a gem that had been buried by time. Most important, he loved the records because he loved music, not because it was what was cool or hip at the moment.
His wide-reaching taste in music helped me to expand my own palette. I would take cues from the songs he posted, and his blog and radio show encouraged me to dig deeper into old soul, jazz, and reggae. He helped me to understand how hip-hop related to a larger body of music that went back decades and reached around the world. He helped me see that you could find the funk in unlikely places, and the only thing that mattered was if the music moved you. It’s partially because of Matthew’s influence that my record collection has diversified considerably in the past few years. I will forever be grateful to Matthew for keeping me connected to hip-hop’s roots and for constantly showing me just how much amazing music there was in the world.
When I found out he had passed, it hit me as hard as if he had been one of my good friends. Part of it is the fact that we are similar in some ways: we are both around the same age, both came up in the Bay Area, and both had professional lives outside of music. I even discovered after our passing that we share some mutual friends. Maybe it was the way he died, in the kind of tragic car crash that could happen to anyone. But mostly I think my grief at his passing has to do with pure selfishness: I had so much more to learn from him. About Brazilian psychedelic artists to check out, about amazing soul songs that have been out of print since before I was born, about obscure Bay Area rap groups who only put out one limited-run twelve inch. And about how to always find the funk in even the most unlikely places.