“Do you want something to eat?” says the voice saved as “D” on my phone. It’s Donae’o and he’s 45 minutes early for his interview. I say no and proceed to rush quickly to our meeting point, the lovely surroundings of The Roundhouse Café. I was intrigued. I’d never heard of an artist showing up extra early and being gracious to a journalist, so before meeting him I decided to make it my mission to find out who is Donae’o, from the beginning.
“I wanted a name like De Niro, but obviously if you’re not De Niro you can’t pull it off, so I asked God for a name, and there was this group called Donae’o. I asked to join the group because obviously if you can’t beat them then join them. That was when I was about 15 and the group broke up and I asked if I could have the name Donae’o and they said yes. The weirdest thing about the whole situation was that after I asked for the name, someone told me what the name means and it means ‘Gift from God’.”
Although he received his stage name as a teenager, his gift from God was apparent to Donae’o from an early age. “The first album that I remember that got me into music was when I was 6. My dad played a tape and it had artists like Slick Rick and Kool Moe Dee on there and I thought ‘yeah, I want to do this for the rest of my life’ and then after that, slowly dance music took over.”
By dance music we’re talking about UK Garage singles such as Falling and the classic My Philosophy (Bounce), but since the early noughties Donae’o’s sound has moved away from UK Garage and into funky house, so was this a conscious decision to keep up with the times?
“I don’t sit down and say ‘I’m going to change genre now’, I just like everything and I mainly like dance music. There are so many different genres and styles in dance music that if I like a tune when I make it, then I’ll just do it. After UK Garage, I studied how dance music is and drum and bass, jungle and house, were heavy influences in my music. What you find in the UKmusic industry is that scenes come and go, and they come and go a lot quicker than you think. I was doing UK Garage, then grime and then I did bassline. After bassline I made funky, and I’m working towards the drum and bass side of things which you can hear in Riot Music and slowed down, 140, 128 beats per minute type of stuff, and I’ll always do that, and it’s what I’m known for.”
Riot Music, is his latest release off the Party Hard album. With lyrics such as “see I want peace, it’s like we’re living in a war zone here” and with an accompanying music video featuring images of Martin Luther King Jr, Bob Marley and John Lennon, you could be forgiven for thinking that Donae’o had been contemplating the world’s ills when he penned it. “At the time I wanted to make slow-down jungle, a slower version of drum and bass and I wanted the song to be gritty, but the words just came and I don’t know where that comes, maybe God just drops stuff on my head and I pick it up.”
So what does get the north-west Londoner riled up? “I don’t like ignorance. I think ignorance is the worst thing the brain can create. I can’t take it when people don’t have an understanding of stuff and what people do, and feel like they can dictate and treat and act as such, without finding out the whole situation first, before they jump in, deep in.”
Describing himself as passionate and enthusiastic, as I get to know Donae’o he reveals that he has ADHD. “I find that to people I don’t know it can be overwhelming, but my friends, they get it. I’m very aware of who I am and my surroundings and I’m hardly hyperactive around people I don’t know and I’ve met for the first time. I think because I’m so hyperactive, that’s why I do everything, produce, sing, write songs.” A master-of-all-trades, but where does his passion truly lie? “Producing. I like creating drum patterns, working out melodies, it’s like Meccano, fixing stuff together”.
On the subject of productions, anyone who’s heard African Warrior or album title Party Hard would find it hard not to bust a move, so how about the man himself? “I like to enjoy making the songs, so yeah there’s definitely times when I’ll just be ironing and I put on one of my songs and just be skanking, yeah definitely, 100%. Devil in a Blue Dress took 6 months to make because I couldn’t get past listening to the drum pattern. I’ll be producing something and then I’ll turn that off and put on…” (Donae’o proceeds to imitate the drum pattern of DIABD).
Having a former cabaret singer from Ghana as a mother, it’s no surprise that Donae’o also takes inspiration from African styles. “I find more now African beats, like High Life and Hip Life influence me. I find that the drum patterns are quite funky and similar to house music.”
Family is very important to Donae’o “my mum, my sister and my dad are my most prized possession” and it seems that his army-serving father may be the reason for his disciplined approach to his music. “I think preparation is the key to success, so I am just always constantly thinking about what I’m gonna do next. I kind of know 2, 3 years in advance where I’m going to go, who I’m going to work with, where my next move is, I’m always planning.”
When he does take time out from music though, there’s only one place you’re likely to find him. “The Maldivesbecause it’s quiet. There’s no jollof rice but that’s okay, The Maldives is banging. I’ve always wanted to do music, nothing else. There is no if I couldn’t do music. I will always do music. Even if I stop and get a job, I’ll only get a job for a small period of time, and then I’ll be back on it again. It’s an addiction.”