It took six long years to get a record company to take a chance and offer him a recording contract.
But Danny K - that is, Wits graduate Danny Koppel - was born to be a star.
Since topping the charts with “Hurt So Bad”, his breakout recording, he has come up with a string of top 10 singles and gold albums, and has written and produced songs for artists like 101, Jamali, TK, Kabelo, Mandoza and RJ Benjamin.
He was the first South African musician to perform on The Oprah Winfrey Show in Chicago, with guests Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Josh Groban and John Travolta.
His awards are too numerous to detail, but include four South African Music Awards. In 2011, together with kwaito musician Kabelo, he won the ABSA Jewish Achievers Humanitarian Award for SHOUT, the non-profit anti-crime organisation they co-founded to mobilise musicians for a safer South Africa. The SHOUT Foundation also won a Generation Next Award for best online social responsibility campaign.
Danny K has toured and performed with international acts – Usher, Craig David, P Diddy, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Eric Benét, Bob Geldof, U2 and Beyonce - and is one of only five South African acts chosen to perform at Nelson Mandela’s 46664 concert, broadcast to three billion viewers worldwide. He also performed at the opening of the ICC World Cup.
Danny was born in 1977, the eldest of Gavin and Pam Koppel’s three children.
It was a tight-knit family, in which the parents inspired and encouraged their children’s dreams. Danny’s parents must have recognised his exceptional singing talent from the time he sang his first nursery school rhyme, because he was encouraged to participate in school musicals from a young age. He believes this instilled music discipline in him.
To this day, Danny’s mother is his manager, and he attributes part of his success to his father. “He is a great singer. I got my talent from him. He managed a big band in the 1980s called Cinema. I went on a tour with them and I loved the idea of being a star.”
Danny’s introduction to pop came at the age of five, in 1982, with the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It remains his favourite music. “He was a major influence in my life,” he says.
A learner of note
He matriculated from King David High School and enrolled at Wits. At this time, he was already a trained songwriter though not yet a recording artist.
He reminisces: “After school, I couldn’t get a recording contract, and anyway I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I wondered what else I could do.
“I was interested in law and business, so I enrolled at Wits for a BA Law. Then I went to Wits Business School, where I obtained a postgraduate diploma in management.” “Wits was an interesting time, because I was torn between academics, song writing and music practice. I would be either at a music studio or at Wits lectures. In any event, I am thrilled I got a degree.”
In 2000, after years of perseverance, a record company named Electromode took a chance and signed him up for a recording deal. “They were a small label, but had a lot of talented producers who taped my songs and breathed life into them. The sound was so good, really of an international standard. This was pop music when there was not a lot of pop out there. Radio stations welcomed it and gave me lots of support.”
“Hurt So Bad” hit the airwaves.
But success and tragedy came in tandem, marring the singer’s life - and that of his family - forever. His brother, Jarren, who, at 23 years old, was Danny’s role model as well as his manager, was killed in a helicopter accident. Danny tried to reach some form of healing the only way he could, with music.
It was then that he wrote and recorded his favourite album, aptly titled J23, and best song, “I Can’t Imagine”, as a tribute to Jarren.
Tragedy struck yet again in 2005, when music legend Lucky Dube was murdered. This spurred Danny and Kabelo Mabalane to form SHOUT, a non-profit, anti-crime initiative which partnered with Crime Line to encourage South Africans to take a stand against crime.
“Lucky was an icon worldwide and he was struck down prematurely,” says Danny. “I decided to get 50 singers together and we released SHOUT, a song, and a charity movement to fight crime. We have managed to raise a couple of million rand for organizations that support children and people affected by violence and crime.
“We want this to have a ripple effect on our country. I am passionate about bringing the crime rate down. Many people leave this country because of crime. It would hurt me terribly to live anywhere else. I lived in London once, and I pined for South Africa.”
The song which launched the SHOUT campaign won the 2011 SAMA award for best-selling full track download.
So what is Danny working on now?
He has just been appointed Samsung Brand Ambassador, which entails appearances and promotions nationally. He has written a song for Samsung, which he hopes will form part of its national and international advertising campaign.
He is involved with TV and radio interviews for a newly released SHOUT song, You’re the voice and is working on a new album. He has also put together a band, Toy Soldiers, which is making a huge impression on the party scene.
Somehow, amid this success he is a regular guy. He spends quality time with his soul mate, advocate Lisa Gundelfinger, whom he proposed to last November at Londolozi game reserve. “It was perfect. We had a view over the river and there were rose petals on the table. There was even lightning but no rain.”