Like the flavours they’ve chosen for their name, Don Jobe and Skhumbuzo Radebe have always worked well together – ever since primary school, in fact. “Even then we had the same likes, the same creativity, in art classes and music classes,” says Jobe. “Then during our uni days, we got into house. In 2006 we started playing around with production software, and since then that’s what we’ve been doing.”
“Don played the keyboard in church, that’s his musical background,” explains Radebe. “We didn’t have any formal training, it was learning by ear. We’re just inquisitive people; during high school we used to attend talent shows, whether we were rapping, playing the piano, doing remixes of popular songs or singing. I grew up with a father who collected hip hop and Marvin Gaye, and my grandfather, who played in church as well, got me my first keyboard as a gift.”
The pair – who were a trio with Thamsanqa Ntintili until roughly a year ago – studied engineering at university and were influenced by the mixtape boom of the mid-2000s, especially the resurgence of kwaito. “It was the closest genre that made sense and felt relevant to me at a young age,” says Jobe. “We listened to the rap parts, yes, but the beats were the main thing. The sound was electronic, and compared to jazz or r’n’b, kwaito was a more electronic sound. We grew up with that.”
Lemon & Herb released their first music in 2010, and have since made a wider impression – for example, their well-named Uplifting mix of Atjazz & Robert Owens’ ‘Love Someone’ in 2010. Key tracks, say the pair, include the dreamy ‘Velani With Moonchild’ from 2015 album ‘Tomorrow In Detail’ and the moody afro-tech of last year’s ‘Ivory’, a hit when Black Coffee played it at Tomorrowland. That was an experiment, a reach for the new sound of electronic South Africa.
“Thinking about the way different countries experience music, in Africa I think there’s a swing to it,” says Radebe. “It’s not as direct and forthcoming [as European house], it’s almost laid-back, more, swaying back and forth… it’s hard to express it! But the only thing that might be on time is the kick of the song, if that makes sense?”
Even more than the sound, says Jobe, it’s the attitude. “I like the vibe of the artists Black Coffee is pushing in South Africa, in terms of communication and the relationships we’ve created. It’s all positive energy, it’s all about growth, it’s about expressing ourselves and spreading this music all over the world.”