Exclusive Interview: Donae’O – “DON’T YOU DARE, DON’T EVEN SAY IT! JUST GHANIAN JOLLOF”

Ahead of his performance with the Casa Bacardi 'Sound of Rum' crew on Saturday in Leeds, Donae'O speaks to us about his legendary run in the scene

Denzil Bell

23 days ago

By Denzil Bell

Everyone knows it. When it comes to UK funky, Donae’O is the connoisseur.

For the past 20 years, the funky house don has gifted us with musical gems spanning across various genres including garage, grime, UK funky, soul, Afroswing and trap, with the rave Don gargon also building an impressive catalogue of club anthems like ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’, ‘Party Hard’ and ‘I’m Fly’. But it doesn’t stop there for the executive chef of vibes, as he’s recently been able to deliver us the absolute banger that is ‘Chalice’, as well as his most recent release, ‘Bonita’, featuring Stylo G.

So ahead of his performance with the Casa Bacardi ‘Sound of Rum’ crew on Saturday in Leeds, Donae’O speaks to us about his legendary run in the scene.

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How did you get involved with the ‘Sound of Rum’ crew?

It was my agent that organised it. I just got told one day that you’re going to be doing this thing with these guys and I was like “Okay, wicked”.

Out of the squad who are you looking to collaborate with?

All of them to be honest, everyone I’ve met. Maybe at first it would have been just One Acen, but now that I’ve started to get to know everyone; they’re all really creative, so collaborating with all of them would be great.

Your most recent track is ‘Bonita’ with Stylo G – how comes you decided to go with a reggaeton sound on that one?

When I went to the the studio with the producer Jonas Blue, that was the record he came up with and I really liked it. I just do records that I like doing. I’m not fussed what genre it is, I’ll just go in the studio and if I like it, I’ll do it.

How did the Stylo G link up come about?

We’ve always spoken, but my PM Akusuwa was the one who thought that Stylo would really fit on this record and I was like “you know what, you ain’t lying”.

One of your biggest songs of recent is ‘Chalice’ – the production on it is crazy! – what did you think when you first received the fire beat?

Me and Calvin Harris produced that together at the studio. I put down a basic of what I wanted. The best way to explain it is, that me and Calvin made the beat together, but he produced it. The guitar riffs weren’t in there when we made it and neither were the chord arrangements, me and him just mocked up a quick drum pattern, as well as the bouncy synths you hear in the song, then Calvin put all the finishing touches in that you hear in the final track.

Over the years you’ve made classic club anthems such as ‘Devil In A Blue Dress’, ‘Party Hard’ and ‘I’m Fly’ – when you’re making these songs, is there a formula you use or is it an organic thing?

It’s a bit of both. I’d say my main formula is that I like to make the beat first, then I live with the beat for some time and then I’ll write some lyrics, then I’ll put some melodies in, listen to them for a while, live with it for a bit more and THEN I’ll probably put something down. All of my best records have come like that. All of my tracks that have ended up being hits, were records that I’ve taken time with.

With ‘My Circle’, I wanted to make a trap record mixed with a funky house tune. I had that concept in my mind for like a year before I even made it. I didn’t know what the beat would sound like, but I knew that I wanted those two styles of music to be meshed together.

You’ve also collaborated with the crème de la crème of the music scene over the years, who’s been your favourite?

Me and Giggs have probably made the most Donae’o type records, because Giggs really likes my music. With him, he just really loves the music, whether anyone else likes it or not. If he’s into the tune, he’s into it and that’s what I love about working with Giggs.

In the studio, Shakka probably. I enjoy being in the studio with Shakka, I can be in the studio with him all day. Shakka’s got very good energy.

Whose that one collaboration you need to get before it’s all said and done?

It’s funny right, because I’ve changed my mind on collaborations and I’ve started going with people I really enjoy and buy their music from. Young M.A is a collaboration that 100% needs to happen. She’s haaaard! anytime Young M.A has put out something, I’ve always clicked on her page and I thought to myself “raaaah, I’m a proper fan of this girl”. I proper rate her, proper! so she’s one.

O.T. Genasis. Again he’s another one. Go listen to his music. I bet you love it and you don’t even know it yet! like ‘Cut it’. ALLOW IT BRUV!

In terms of the U.K., J Hus. Actually no. I would like to collab with J Hus, but NSG I’d really like to collaborate with. Because I feel like I would be that uncle that they’ve always rated. I think I’d be respected and looked after (says laughing). In my old age, they’d be teaching me new dances. They’ve got their own sound, they’re really great at what they do.

Also Tion Wayne. And there’s this new kid called Pa Salieu, go check him out!

You’ve been doing bits in the scene for 20 years now; if you could go back and give yourself advice when you first started out, what would you say?

My life has been very unique and it hasn’t followed any typical path and I would say to my younger self; get used to that sooner, rather than later. Just understand that the way things work for you, won’t be the same as for everyone else. So when life is like that for you, you have to be proactive working out what will work for you. No one will be able to tell you, because there is nothing out there like you, for you to go this is Donae’o and this is the path I should take. There’s no exact blueprint, so you have to create your own. I would have gone back to myself and just said get used to it, because it is quite a lonely thing. Creating my own path is something that resonates strongly with me in my life.

Quick Fire Five

Bacardi Spiced Rum or Pineapple Ciroc?

Bacardi Spice Rum. You’re trying to get me fired off the ting, alright. I see what you’re doing (says laughing). But, honestly, I don’t like vodka anyway. I call it vomit juice.

Garage or UK Funky?

UK Funky. You’re trying to get me cancelled bruv, wow!

‘I’m Fly’ or ‘Chalice’?

‘Chalice’. It was more fun making it. I just prefer it.

Party Hard The Album or Indigo Child?

Oooouuuuu, Indigo Child. I’ll be honest with you, Indigo Child is a better album, it flows better, whereas Party Hard was just a bunch of bangers that I put together. I could have executed Indigo Child better, because I had the hits: I had ‘Move To Da Gyal Dem’; I had ‘I’m Fly’, I just didn’t execute it how it should have been done.

Ghanian Jollof rice or Jerk chicken with rice and peas?

(before I can even utter the second choice) DON’T EVEN SAY THE SECOND TING! DON’T YOU DARE, DON’T EVEN SAY IT! JUST GHANIAN JOLLOF, ARE YOU MAD! wooooow, we were having such a good conversation man. (after I say the second choice) it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, but still.

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Interview by Denzil Bell

Follow Donae’O and catch him lighting up the stage with the ‘Sound of Rum’ crew at Freedom Mills in Leeds on Saturday