Now, what’s cooler than getting music coupled with education and inspiration in times like these? Well, popular reggae artiste, Don Dada gives us just that in an interview conducted via zoom with Ghanaian-American storyteller Oral Ofori.
Starting music at age 13, Menelik Nesta Gibbons aka Don Dada grew up in the Southern part of Johannesburg in a Forest Hill Turffontein from where he later moved to the North of Johannesburg from High School. He revealed over his zoom interview with Mr. Ofori that he got his name Don DaDa from a character in the 1998 movie titled Belly and fell in love with the character of Jamaican actor Louie (Ranking) Ford, leading him to adopt Don Dada, the character’s name, as his stage name.
The professionally trained sound engineer shared that although he started out music with rap, he got more interested in the singing part and that drove him to sing. Together with his father, Moses Moses Michael Gibbons also known as RasMoe or BIGMoe in the industry, he started Ruff Cut Records after school where he produced his first album — AVANT Garde was released in 2016 — after several underground releases.
“And then I did the official Mandela song of 2017 called Viva Mandela which became a multi-platinum hit in some four months. It was such an honor to pay homage to the big man Tata Nelson Mandela (South Africa’s first post-apartheid president) himself,” adds Don Dada who has a distribution deal with renowned Tuff Gong International of reggae legend Bob Marley.
On the heels of his multi-platinum success, he went on to release a 2018 tribute album single that paid homage to Winnie Mandela, the wife of Nelson Mandela after her death.
Blending rap music with reggae music is a toast
Talking about moving from rap to reggae with Mr. Ofori, Don Dada explained he did not see the need for a transfer because hip hop in itself is born out of reggae, a blend of the two gave rise to something he explained is today called “Toasting” which is simply rapping in the Jamaican Patois accent.
He gives more clarity with examples of popular rap luminaries like DJ Cool Herc, the New York-based originator of hip hop, and the American hip hop artiste Notorios B.I.G, both of whom have Jamaican roots that influenced hip hop culture in subtle ways that people today might not be aware of.
“Well, if you have to look at the roots of hip hop, it originally started with a guy by the name [Clive Campbell aka] DJ Cool Herc in New York City. His roots come from Jamaica [today credited with helping originate hip hop]. You look at your favorite hip hop artists; we talk about B.I.G, his mom, [is] Jamaican.“
“…There is so much Jamaican influence in hip hop [that] we may not know about. It is there. You look at reggae music, there is an art called toasting; toasting is basically rapping with the Patois accent. So for me, it wasn’t really a transition, it was more of finding another form but it’s exactly the same thing just with a different language. I don’t see a difference” he told TheAfricanDream.net founder Mr. Ofori.
He has already made some enviable exploits in the reggae industry such as being the first African to perform on a Jamaica Live stage during the prestigious ‘Catch a Fire Tour’ Bob Marley Tribute Concert on February 6, 2019, at the Bob Marley Museum, something his fans are toasting to.
On his inspiration and South Africa’s Reggae scene so far
Sharing his thoughts on the South African Reggae Scene, Don Dada said the scene has been quiet after the country’s independence, alluding to the fact that most of the apartheid-era songs were inspired by the fight against that regime. He however added that the industry has nurtured a lot of local stars who might not be known internationally but are very well respected locally.
Don Dada explained that he has a lot of respect for the late Lucky Dube, one of the greatest reggae legends to come out of South African, although he has been influenced more by people that are in his personal circle. According to him, his greatest influence is his father who first introduced him to the music scene while his uncles played diverse roles in getting him up on his music feet.
“You know the guys I was influenced by, it may be very strange to some people [but] for me, it’s people that were personal… Number one that I will put on the list would have to definitely be my father, RasMoe. My father is not a professional musician but he loves music so all of his friends were professionals. They will come to the house and we’ll have jam sessions all the time, so I’d have to put him at number one because he introduced me to all of this.“
After mentioning his dad Menelik proceeded to add to the list of his early influencers names of uncles including the late Andy Brown whom he labeled one of the biggest artistes from Zimbabwe who was a legendary guitarist. Another uncle was Gustav Smythe aka Gus who played with Dr. Victor and the Rasta Rebels and actually gave Don Dada the first opportunity to record in a studio.
He also saluted his uncle Herbert from the western German city of Bonn who is a metaphysic and the first guy Don Dada saw rapping live in those jam sessions. They were all doing reggae music and “he came with his hip hop music and I guess that I found it so interesting… That was one of my first directions into hip hop,” he said of this uncle.
So what’s new amid COVID-19 for Don Dada?
Talking about his latest album Alkebulan, he shared with TheAfricanDream.net that the name was chosen because of his pride in African history. According to him, the album’s name was what Africa was referred to by indigenes before colonization, adding he uses the name as a means to get people to delve more into African history.
Sharing his thoughts on the novel coronavirus and the response of the South African government to it, Don Dada said measures like the lockdown came in time to help the health system not be overburdened. He believes the move saved many lives especially and economies considering a struggling South African economy could have a regional effect on neighboring countries.
His management told TheAfricanDream.net that they have expanded his Africa footprint by association with Jamaican producer Leroy Scarlett of the Reggae Powerhouse Band so fans can look out for an exciting year and future.
Before this zoom interview ended Don Dada encouraged all to keep positive despite #covid19 and “keep an eye on all of my social media platforms, there’s so much going on there. I’ve got live performances, I’ve got DJing of my radio shows. Plus I’m coming out with a brand new project with myself and daughter Hayze aka Pretty Gurl] for the youth.” Here is a full video of the interview: https://youtu.be/lyflk1zBZH8