Thulani “DJ Fosta” Headman, born and raised in Cape Town’s Langa township, is a respected presence within the South African electronic music scene. He’s a sought-after producer and DJ and also a thriving businessman making waves throughout the industry. For DJ Fosta, it’s not about fame or making money, but rather about inciting change, particularly when it comes to empowering the talented youth in our country, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
As the co-founder of 021 Records, Fosta’s goal is to provide young locals (with a strong call to all young musicians from Langa specifically) with a platform from which to be heard and to help get their music ‘out there’. Fosta is also the operations manager at Bridges for Music and Bridges Academy, a non-profit organisation that embraces electronic music as a universal language and tool for effectively breaking down socio-economic boundaries.
Ultimately, there’s no doubt that DJ Fosta has had a positive ripple effect on the music sector and South Africa’s younger generation as a whole, but attaining success certainly wasn’t an easy feat for this musical force. It took focus, hard work, and the drive to overcome an array of obstacles along the way.
DJ Fosta’s story
DJ Fosta insists that he was born into music. He comes from a musical family where both his dad and uncle were working musicians, so, unsurprisingly, his home was always filled with music and dancing. However, despite this, Fosta’s mother still insisted on him finishing school and finding a ‘real job’.
“She wanted me to become an accountant. She’d seen the difficulties with which my father had been faced and didn’t view music as a viable career choice,” he explains.
Not that Fosta allowed other people’s beliefs stop him from realising his dreams! He continued his love affair with music, first exploring jazz and learning to play the piano, and then discovering kwaito. Unfortunately, before Fosta could take his passion further, he fell in with the wrong crowd.
“There was a lack of role models in the township and, as a result, I ended up getting involved in crime and wound up in prison. It sparked a revelation regarding my talent and the success that I could achieve if I wanted it badly enough. I promised myself that the minute I got out, I would change. Most importantly, I wanted to be the change in my community and be the role model that I never had,” he says.
This new purpose kept Thulani focused while behind bars, and it’s when he first came up with his stage name. ‘Fosta’ is local slang for ‘forcing things to happen’ and it felt fitting considering what Thulani endeavoured to do once back at home. He was released in 2004 and shortly thereafter started his own label, 021 Records.
“The goal was not to waste our time knocking on the doors of major labels. We wanted to reach our own market and, from there, started targeting Cape Town’s universities. The best tools at our disposal at the time were Bluetooth and MXit, so we took our music into our phones and started sharing it with students. Eventually, our first song wound up in Euphonik’s hands when he was a DJ on 5FM. He played it and launched a search for its producers. He found us, and the song went to number one the charts for four weeks, and everything took off from there.”
Fosta highlights this achievement as the beginning of a big change and says he hopes it inspired other independent labels and self-made artists to keep pushing forward.
“I always hope to inspire ‘bedroom musicians’ to go out and make it happen for themselves, just like we did.”
Bridges for Music
Despite his success, DJ Fosta hasn’t forgotten his purpose, and takes his role as a mentor extremely seriously, using Bridges for Music and the Bridges Academy as his primary platform for making an impact on the lives of many young talents in South Africa. He regularly gives workshops to youngsters from around the country and is proud of the all-new learning space, Bridges Academy, that recently opened its doors in Langa.
“It’s a creative hub where young musicians can come for the support that they need to pursue their dreams and develop their skills,” he explains.
DJ Fosta’s most pertinent advice for rising stars throughout their journey to the top?
“First and foremost, find, define, and know your purpose. Always be humble and stay grounded, keeping in mind that it’s other people who will help you grow. Of course, be disciplined and know that it’s not only talent that plays into success,” he concludes.
View this FAME interview here