A Sit Down With…Shola Ama and Donae’O

0 A Sit Down With / Music

Shola Ama was discovered outside an underground station back in 1994, when she was only 15 years old. Quickly she rose to fame with her single You Might Need Somebody and slowly but surely established a status as a living legend throughout the years.

Also Donae’o came a long way ever since dropping his first single Falling back in 2002. Growing up to the sounds of 2Pac, D’Angelo and Biggie, the artist finds his main influence in Hip-Hop although his songs heavily contain funk elements as well as pop. Just recently he released his new project Sixteen, which celebrates his successful musical journey so far and also marks his very first major label release.

PMB sat down with both of them to chat about their new collaboration, the current state of UK music and Drake.

Hi, nice to meet you guys!

Let’s start with your collaboration! How did that come about?

Donae’o: Yeah that was our first collaboration. Actually no, we’ve worked together before!

Shola Ama: It’s the first song we’ve released together. We worked together in the past, I forgot about that! We’ve known each other for years though. We emerged in a similar time. For the track they reached out to us after they tried out other voices and it just worked.

So Shola, people call you a Living Legend. Do you feel any pressure?

Shola Ama: Yeah I do, definitely. I understand where it comes from and I’m flattered by it. I just don’t think that. I always wanted to just keep going, maybe in ten years then I’ll feel like that.

When you emerged there weren’t many female artists out there, right?

Shola Ama: I mean there were a few but not really. Gabrielle was the first, she opened the doors for us. You have to pay homage to her, Beverly Knight and so on – who opened the doors for me. But at the time no-one was here sounding like American R&B.

Donae’o: Shola was the first to do street music. That’s why a lot of us see her as one of us, you know? This underground institution, Shola is a part of that. Of course there was lots before us, the Jungle Era, Acid crew and all that. That was the foundation.

Shola Ama: My success was in R&B pop. When I started doing UK stuff it made it more visible. Me working with different people back then helped make it more visible.

Donae’o: Same with what Drake is doing!

Oh, I wanted to ask you about Drake anyway! What do you think about him getting more involved in the UK scene and exposing artists like Giggs across the pond? Do you think they could have made it without him?

Shola Ama: I don’t know about Giggs in America, because they take long to get into the English thing. I think he would have gotten there eventually but I don’t know the length of time it would have taken. He has worked with international artists before Drake. He has done bits and bobs, even with B.O.B. It takes time to get your head around an artist you haven’t heard before. We have known him for a long time and respect him a lot. But others might find it hard at first to understand his flow.

When did you guys meet Drake for the first time?

Shola Ama: I met him 10-11 years ago.

Donae’o: I have never met him! But to be honest, Drake was part of why I came back to the scene! After One Dance, the whole country tweeted me. They were like ‘this is what you can do’. I already had My circle ready. So when I was just about to launch my career again, Drake and Kyla created all of this energy! So I waited for about three weeks and then I put out My Circle. All the energy was transferred into me. So indirectly he helped me as well. My Circle was blowing up!

Shola Ama: It was a big tune, I love it.

So Donae’o, being King of Funk, your music style must have developed over the years. How did it change?

Donae’o: I got into music because of rap. Then I fell in love with Dance, but rap was the foundation. But now, I decided to learn how to do pop music. Now my music is rap music.

Shola Ama: Production-wise it’s very much on point! When Giggs played me Lock Doh way back, when we were doing shows at Jazz Café, I thought, Wow! It just had the simplicity and the vibe. American producers are amazing but there is just something about this British edge – the energy, different elements and sounds.

Donae’o: When I was developing my Hip-Hop style, America did like it but they thought it was synthy.  I found a way to take our culture and put it together in a way.  Lock Doh was the first record that actually blew up! Lock Doh was actually the first Hip-Hop record I made and put out there and worked!

Donae’o, you recently released Sixteen, in which way does it portray your success?

Donae’o: Sixteen was about me doing music for sixteen years. When I got signed to Island Records that was the end of my independence. I wanted to put out a project for my fans, and also one that me and Island worked together with. Before that it has always been just me, and now this project is us.

I see. Why did you decide to sign at a label though?

Donae’o: Because I have been a business man for 16 years. The problem is, I’m great in doing music and I’m good at being a business man. At the same time, it’s 50 percent music and 50 percent business so it isn’t 100 percent for each.

Shola Ama: This is the same with me. I have been handling my own stuff for a long time and you can’t give 100 percent to either side.

Donae’o: Something’s gotta go. Last year I decided to do 80 percent, and since then everything started working. I changed my way of thinking. If I did 100 percent then I’d have to find people I trust, that’s why I signed.

Shola, you parted ways with your label ages ago, did that make you want to stay independent?

Shola Ama: To be honest, back in the day it wasn’t a thing. It was my only experience. I met someone when I was 15 years old who had their own label, they signed me to a development deal which led to a major deal two years later. I spent years doing shows in clubs, writing demos and so on. Then I was with a major, being a teenager it was really scary. The industry was about to change a lot, and at the time I took it in. I like handling my own stuff but I’m a creative person. My head is always creative. I think it is about building a solid team.

I think it’s different for each artist!

Shola Ama: Yeah, I mean look at Bugzy Malone, what he has done by himself. There are so many artists that have taken the independence way. What Giggs is doing now is the same. You have to have some connections to make it big.

Shola, who would you give your Queen status to if you ever retire from music?

Shola Ama: There are many great female artists out there. I love what Ray BLK is doing, Mabel is also great. But I mean you have to earn it, you have to strive for it. It takes a while!

Donae’o: Trust me, that strive is hard work! It’s like when you’re there, nobody expects you. I came back several times but I don’t care about what people think of me. Anytime I will find a way to come back.

Shola Ama: I would rather be heard than seen. The way that I came out in the beginning I had people offer me Reality TV shows. I always turned it down because the celebrity lifestyle isn’t for me anymore. I had that when I was 18. If you don’t see me but hear me and think it’s amazing, then I’m happy with that!

One last question, what are your thoughts about the future of the UK music scene? What improvements need to be made in your opinion?

Donae’o: There is lots which needs to be improved. Anything! If Giggs becomes the next Jay-Z there will still be stuff that needs to be improved. As soon as we start to think nothing needs to be improved, that’s when we start losing!

Shola Ama: A lot of younger people behind the scenes, that’s what I would like to see! I think I’d be a sick A&R! The nostalgia oft he younger ones is impressive. Nowadays people don’t listen to albums the same way as we did. Back then you had to go to the shop to find out what was going on in an album! Back then there was more anticipation. I deliberately don’t like to have a big online presence.

Donae’o: When you are young, you are fighting about to be heard. I don’t fight about that no more. I don’t wanna talk as much. The younger generation want to hear what you have to say so that makes it easier for us to understand and help them!

Thank you for your time!

Check out their new single Work U Out below:

Words by Antonia