You don’t often get the opportunity to speak to one amazing musician so the chance to interview two at once was like Christmas in July for me. Especially two icons who’ve helped pioneer the UK underground scene. The two musicians in question are none other than Donae’O and Shola Ama; both are staples in the UK Garage, Funky and pop scene. The two recently collaborated on FTSE’s “Work U Out” and in the promotion of the new track grime DJ YV Shells caught up with the pair for Bespoke talking UK Funky and garage, today’s music, Drake and more. Read the interview in full below.
How did you both end up on this track?
Donae’o: The record was being thrown around a few people on it
Shola: I think Craig David was on it and then like nobody… No, I’m joking
[laughter breaks out]
Donae’o: Nah the real story is the record had some bits on it already but me and Shola connected the most, we were the best fit for the track.
I agree, you guys really compliment each other on the track. It’s mad that you don’t really hear that much garage these days.
Shola: New Garage? No, not really.
Yeah, you’re right, the old school bangers still get a wheel in the dance. Donae’o, I remember reading that you said there should be a “21 seconds” day as a national holiday?
Donae’O: Yeah of course. So solid crew changed it for us. Garage was a way to be from ends but also on Top of The Pops.
Shola, you are on some legendary Garage tracks including “Run To Me“ and “Imagine”. Do you both think your love of garage was involved in getting you on the track?
Donae’O: 100 million%!
Shola: I heard it and knew it was a good song.
Donae’O: Same with me. I was ready to be on it before I knew who the other vocalist was and when I found out it was Shola it just made sense.
Shola: I heard many different names for the male vocalist but when I found out it was definitely Donae’O, I was like “perfect”. I didn’t even need to hear his vocals, I knew it was gonna be great.
The likes of TQD, Moony, and Conducta produce good authentic garage music but even though garage and UK Funky House are blossoming, it’s mainly underground. How does this affect you guys personally?
Shola: For me, it’s great. I always have work. Every weekend I’m doing shows and garage raves. The scene is still vibrant in the clubs so for me I don’t even really feel like it’s gone back underground.
Donae’O: For me, it all started with “My circle”. The fact that there is still a platform for me is sick. If you look at Drake’s “One Dance” it shows you it has such a personality in our culture that I can still release funky today. Look at “Polo” and “My circle”. I even did a record with Chip and he asked for a Funky record. Like the new thing I’m doing which is a mix of trap and funky. And inch wants a funky record. I’m getting calls for that “My Circle” type tune now.
Because it popped off?
Donae’O: Nah cos people like it. Before people might have heard it but couldn’t really get into it but now but they can get into it at their own pace.
That’s sick because Funky House has so much breadth to it. You can look at Crazy Cousinz and Champion who both make Funky House but are so different in their sound.
Shola: It’s weird that you mention Champion because my next solo song is produced by him.
Oh, is it? I think anything that champion puts out bangs, to be honest.
Shola: He’s got this way of making future R&B with pace and drums. He gives it a UK sound.
That’s something characteristic of Funky as well. It’s fast paced and has a distinctly UK sound. Same with garage
Shola: Yeah it’s got a specific energy
Let us segue cleanly to another topic. Both of you started your music careers quite young and both of you have seen the game change and grown with it.
[They nod in agreement]
And, I think with age there comes a calmness to a person but since you guys create upbeat music, do you think this translates to your music?
Shola: For me, I think you change anyway, whatever happens. I’m a mum and that’s going to make you change. I’ve grown up since when I first came up because I was a teenager and at some point, you’ve gotta get it together. But I still enjoy it. If I’m on stage and seeing the crowd enjoy it, it takes me back to that. I like to separate my personal life from my music. There’s a lot of things I won’t post or you won’t see because you need to keep some part of yourself for yourself. Let your music talk for you.
Donae’O: So I have ADHD…
[I also have ADHD so I interrupt him quickly to let him know we have something in common]
Donae’O: Yeah, so you can understand I always have a lot of energy in me and I think that comes out in the music.
Shola: When you’re working, definitely!
Donae’O: Yeah when I’m working is the one place I feel like I can actually be myself. If I’m producing I can control the environment, everyone is dancing and is sorta on my level but if I can only half control the environment then I still have to half hold it down.
Shola: When we first worked together you were like boom boom boom boom. Then you were like next song next song. Then you were like next vibe. There was so much creativity it was like whoosh whoosh. [There were speedy directional hand movements but you sorta had to be there to get it].
Donae’O: If I’m in control of the session I can still do that but I can manage it so it can make sense to whoever I’m working with. But if someone else is controlling the session and I still do that, it just looks like chaos but to me it makes total sense. Once Toddla [T] called me after a session and asked me “how do you finish records like that”.
Shola and I laugh
Shola: do you remember when we ended a session and someone said lights out and you just went into the booth and started saying lights out and created a vibe off it. You have so many ideas. One thing to the next to the next. I admire it. I can do that but it’s more like a hippy thing for me: It’s gotta be natural. I don’t have that thing where I can whoosh whoosh (again accompanied by explanatory hand movements). I think what you have is a gift
Donae’O: Yeah definitely. It’s like when I realised I had ADHD, I realised why I got bullied at school; why certain people would avoid me. Because you see how I was acting in the studio, I was like that in church or when I met a girl. In all aspects of my life. And I just thought I was being normal cos I was being like me. I couldn’t understand why my parents might be off with me some days. When I was diagnosed I looked back and I was like okay. I don’t believe in this medication ting cos I don’t know anyone who’s got it as bad as me and I’ve been able to manage it so I just channel it in studio cos that’s the one place I can be.
Donae’O: Yeah be free. I don’t even think about it
I feel like that when I DJ, you know. Like I’m not even thinking about anything.
Shola: So you DJ?
Yeah, I am not thinking when I’m on decks; the music runs through you and takes all your energy.
Shola: I think music is a healing space. Like I can tell you I don’t know how to be a good friend or mother but I am trying. There is one thing I know how to do and that is make music. That’s the one thing where no matter what else is going on I know that I can do that.
Donae’O: You see that, my dad said if you were the way you are with music you’d be alright. I never understood it until I was diagnosed with ADHD. Cos I treat my music with care and respect. Shola, what you saw that day was stage one. There are two stages to music making for me: vibes and logic. With the logic, I need to sit down and craft, cultivate. You see with people you meet them and you get a vibe and afterwards.
Shola: You cultivate a relationship
Donae’O: You get it! One of the reasons why I make bare different tunes. If I’m into it I have to move cos it may give me a vibe
Shola: Yeah I have gotta move. It’s not just in the studio in life I’m one of those people who has to move. I have to move. I don’t like staying in one place. I gotta just keep it going.
Donae’O, you were talking about your dad and I think it’s quite interesting that both of your mothers were actually singers.
Shola: Yeah! That’s True!
Donae’O: Rah I didn’t even know that!
(My research bangs)
I know a lot of people’s musical influences stem from what their family play and listen to and it effects the way they make their music. I think that’s why you get a richer and rounder sound from people like yourselves
Shola: Yes. 100%
But kids like my brother who is ten years younger than me, seem to not have that variety in their music. I asked my brother if he knew what garage was and he thought it was the place where you park your car. (This actually happened. SMH.)
Donae’O: How old are you
Shola: So your brother is my son’s age. My son listens to a lot of drill.
Donae’O: That’s all I listen to now
Shola: He also listens to a bit of alternate music. Every now and again he throws in a bit of Linkin Park.
Do you think that will affect styles of music making from that generation?
Shola: So I grew up in a house full of Caribbean women and I heard reggae, soca, rare groove, lots of different music but I think a lot of young people look towards older genres, they just don’t necessarily understand the culture behind the music. Like I understand what happened during the soul movement, I grew up around the soundsystem culture and maybe they won’t understand the culture behind these genres they will be looking at.
Donae’O: I think this generation isn’t as sociable as we were
Shola: Yeah they all snapchat each other
We can’t blame them though. There are fewer things to encourage social interaction. Fewer community centres, you know?
Shola: Yeah my mum worked in a community centre. I grew up attending a community centre across the road from my granny’s house. Kensal Green Centre. I had a strong sense of community and I think it’s a shame we’ve lost that. But I see my son is kind of clued up, so it might change
Donae’O: You can never tell what is gonna happen in music. One person might release an R&B track and everyone will start singing again. No-one would’ve thought that rappers would be singing but so many do. You can never tell where something is going but the only thing I know is that an independent mindset and businesses are being built more cos of the internet. So now more than ever it’s gonna be unpredictable.
I think that’s one of the benefits of the internet, you can meet people and collaborate with people on the other side of the world. I think I read Drake met you through Myspace, Shola?
Shola: No he got that wrong. He’s such an idiot.
Shola: I asked him after why did you think we met on myspace. I was in new York when I met him and my girl who knew him brought us together after introducing me to basically everyone as ‘The girl he mentions on the song on “Closer”’ and then he took my number.
So is it true that you introduced him to Giggs’ music?
Shola: Yeah I introduced him to the music and he went and found him
And you’ve both worked with Giggs right?
Shola: Yeah we’ve done two tracks together “Blow Me Away” and “Cut Above the Rest”
So what do you look for when you work with other artists?
Donae’O: A bond. Not even a bond
Shola: A vibe!
Donae’O: Yeah a vibe. As long as I see you’re putting out good music and are consistent with it, then cool I’m on it.
And have you guys got any collabs planned for the future?
Shola: Yeah I’ve got one with Buggzy Malone coming soon. I’ve got loads. I’m always doing collabs. I love working with other artists
Donae’O: Yeah same. I love collaborating. I don’t know who’s coming next but I’m open to it!
You can stream or download “Work U Out” here
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