Don Dada’s booming baritone towers over every beat on his debut album, Avant Garde. It’s a commanding voice that saw a journalist, taken aback by its throaty depth, label the Zimbabwean-born rapper as the “Barry White of hip hop”. The long dreadlocks running down the side of his face and all the way down to his midriff make Don Dada, who has a tall, lean frame look more like a Reggae artist than a rapper.
Don Dada isn’t a newcomer, he’s been in the game since he finished high school in 2006. He’s worked with the likes of Da L.E.S, Maggz and formed part of Bonganie Fassie’s Fassie Records for a couple of years. After struggling to break into the mainstream, Don Dada and his dad decided they would establish a family company under which they’d push his music. And so they founded the record label, Ruff Cut Studios – his dad handles the paperwork while he handles the artistic side.
Don Dada came to South Africa when he was in grade two, and has been living here ever since, occasionally visiting Zimbabwe where some of his family still live. As a kid he got drawn into music when he heard Herbert Qwela Schwamborn, an old school rapper who now goes by the name Metaphysics, during some of the sessions he attended.To hone his craft and advance his prospects, he studied Sound Engineering and Music Business Law, giving him valuable insight into the production process and the business of music.
He credits the likes of American rap legendsJay Z and Max B as well as South African kingpins Skwatta Camp and HHP for influencing his style.
As a follow up to Avant Garde, he's currently working on a mixtape titled The Afro Samurai. “This year, I need awards man, I want recognition. I’ve been working long enough. I know that I’m hot man and my stuff is good enough. I just need awards now.” He’s also been working closely with Seed_Under, a female rapper his label recently signed.
“I also take her journey personally now. I wanna see her blow this year. I wanna grow the company and see us making moves. I took her to perform in Durban, her hometown, to open to her own people and now we’ve been doing radio interviews all over the place.”
Don Dada is Jamaican patois for “the most respected” or the “the original boss”. It's a name that he lives up to with his knack for reinventing himself and pushing boundaries.
But despite this and his progress over the years, one of his biggest challenges has been getting performances. “It isn’t easy, especially when you’re an up and coming artist. Usually you must have a proper foundation and a new track out that’s starting to cause a buzz. But one thing I know is perseverance. I’ve been doing this music thing for a while now. My first professional contract was in grade nine. I don’t know about quitting.”
His album explores themes of prosperity and the challenges of life, while still maintaining his signature bravado. I ask him how he came to choose the name Avant Garde and what it represents. “The name Avant Garde is from art,” he explains. “It means forerunner and the leader of your particular industry. I liked it when I read it because I was checking up on the different meanings of Dada and I came across an 18th century movement of writers, painters, politicians in Europe. It evolved and became Avant Garde art, which means that it’s not your regular. Nobody can make what I make.”