It was once believed that music should be boxed, categorized, organized for the masses, and for some reason, this made sense. The idea that musicians stick to a known, familiar sound that could immediately be grouped with other musicians was pleasing, especially for those looking for success in the commercial arena. It meant some kind of certainty in terms of an audience and following. But with time, this died. It became boring. Among the new wave of artists in SA that are defying the idea of creating music strictly within the borders of how one particular genre is traditionally understood or accepted is Dada Shiva. “My family used to take long road trips through SA whenever we were this side,” is his introductory statement when I ask about his inclination to music and his unique blending of sounds, producing a rare kind of audio experience. His family was continually on the road, making the car drive experiences, family old-skool musical bonding and the picturesque landscapes he’d been surrounded by which allowed for him to grow his musical palette and overall outlook on the world. “Every sound was moulded to that changing landscape outside the window. With that clean natural childhood high, it was insane. So that visual fluidity is really what I began to associate sound with, I think that’s the reason my earliest beats made were mocked by homies for sounding too ‘video-gamey.’”
“My changing environment definitely played its part [in influencing me], but the thing about connectivity is that you can pull around any environment you please. I was deep into a hip-hop mindset for the majority of my life, and I probably still am. I listened to Royce da 5’9″ and Eminem, Slaughterhouse as a whole and individually. When I started listening to rap, that’s what caught my attention. With my focus being there, the beats I was listening to were either by [Dr.] Dre, or driven by the ideology of his studios.”
Shiva later became fascinated with Lil Wayne, a testament to his word play, and “contrasting style of delivery whilst still adherent to the need to be lyrical.”
“When I got more developed in the beat game I started searching for samples, I’d raid my parents cd racks and find what I told you about, and I’d raid deeper and find brook benton, Otis Redding, James brown, and more deeper than ocean soul. While I was doing all this I was watching Sci-fi and reading fantasy, which greatly morphed my thematic goals. I started to try create my own world, something like the universes I had visited countless times.”
It’s clear that he started out young, an upperhand that not many people have in terms of being exposed to different phases as their life experiences change. “At 15, in Abuja, I started out on FL Studio concentrating on hip hop beats that were led by brass, the reason for the brass-mania is easy to spot, I had played trombone for 3 years until that year, I was playing everyday and jamming in the middle school band in Kinshasa. Right now I was in Abuja and the homies needed beats so beats had to come. It was really more practical than anything, I knew we couldn’t just keep doing Recess cyphers and Young Money remixes.”
I first came across Dada Shiva a couple of months ago on Soundcloud on a song titled Elephant: “Game look shook and it’s exciting us,” he calmly raps and, not long after this, the hook breaks in with double vocals and Shiva later spitting “Don’t treat me like I do this shit for fun / I am not your average overweight Joe flipping puns” The 5-minute long track intrigued me, both in production and lyrics: The production was perfectly mellow at the right points, yet it’s overall energy didn’t wither; the song had the kind of imagery and quotables that most rap fans would love to be submersed in, but it wasn’t overbearing. He painted such vivid scenes.
A few months after the release of this track, the Fire Water EP was released, and this was different. While the same Dada, he sounded like he had more of an agenda, more purpose, more of a story, and more enthusiasm and vigour with which to tell this story. Fire Water is decorated with Dada Shiva’s fierce, animated delivery over his own production – something I hadn’t fully experienced from an artist in a very long time. Some time prior to Fire Water, The Meditations was created, a mixtape which formed the blueprint for the high-energy EP that would gain popularity and formally set Dada Shiva apart from many. “The Meditations were born of a period in which I was steeped in James Blake’s universe,” says Dada. “As such, he was probably the biggest sonic inspiration for both that unreleased mixtape and Fire Water.” James Blake’s smooth synths, drum breakdowns and his variations of themes make sense in the context of Dada Shiva. “When I made The Meditations I was taking introduction to philosophy, so it was parallel to some Cartesian ideas. Mainly that of destroying your previously held knowledge in order to ascertain whether knowledge is possible and possibly gaining new, real, true knowledge. I feel like that theme of destruction for creation is just like the universal theme, and that theme is exemplified by both fire and water, both of whom destroy and facilitate life simultaneously. That’s what defined the strategic outlook of the production. What manifested itself in the tactical approach to expressing strategy were the environments and sensations I was experiencing. The Sound of Silence was born out of feelings of solitude, solitude with masses of people.” The features on Fire Water include Matt Davies and Julia Church, on the production side of the EP, the piano and some of the vocals as well, that beautifully accompany the vigourous rapping of Shiva. “They were in the east coast doing this and I was in Cape Town so even the practical approach involved solitude within a group. That theme carried over into the rest of the tracks, in fact, looking back it feels like each one was influenced by an instance of solitude within a mass of people.”
“Experiences at festivals in SA tend to be like that too, and those sort of moments really tend to bleed into my expression.”
Dada Shiva’s story is that of many artists: beginning young as an amature trying to create out of passion, and slowly becoming more knowledgable about the field that he’s entered, and equipped with the right resouces. One of these resources being the vital vast and endless opportunities that come with the world wide web. We’re slowly approcahing the point in music on a global scale, where the terrors of what the internet may do to music are falling away. Instead, there’s a been a revolution in the perspective of the audiences, making rising talents that much more easier to spot. People now view this development in the way that music is shared as just as important as the traditional ways that they valued so much. “As far as music sharing is concerned, I see the new developments as being an immense boost that will not only continue allowing for new artists from previously under appreciated regions to carve out their own worlds,” Dada Shiva says. “But it’ll also allow the blossoming of new tastes which will in turn lead to new sounds. As an artist, though I know you’re not supposed to say this, the best decisions on how to move forward are made by analyzing the effect your music has in others. That doesn’t mean you necessarily look for feedback per-se, what it means is you use reactions to understand the mental or spiritual or emotional state in which your music is digested and how that digestion differs from state to state. This information, coupled with what you know about your creation and the state you were in whilst creating, should tell you a lot about what you’re doing and how it’s going. I’d say that information is crucial to begin building your own universe. Since I see building a universe as the point of everything, the internet presents itself as a perfect tool or step on the pathway towards realizing that. It’s immensely positive, but may grow to be negative. ”
“Negative when it comes to the perceived artistic value of so called ‘sound-cloud artists’ and the like. People just don’t seem to value expression that isn’t also available via hard-copy, which is crazy when you consider how few of them dabble in hard-copies anyway…”
As 2017 begins with an arm stronger than a mayweather punch, Dada Shiva isn’t missing the train. This year, an “upward spiral,” as he puts it: his label is going to be putting in the work needed, he’s got a couple of collaborative EPs on the way and his attempting to get more noise in the mainstream space. “I always say I’m a flower, I feel like as people we’ve gotten really wolf-like. It’s cool but we’ll never be the forest, we’ll just be warring packs. I want to let go of that and I want everyone else too as well. That doesn’t mean I’m not angry and half-mad from the way things are, I really am, I think it shows. I still know the forest is better. So I guess I want to leave that feeling in people.”
“I just want people to startseeing what I see, and that happens in stages, I think, I hope. So we’ll just be letting the stages play out…”
Stream Dada Shiva’s Fire Water EP below and keep an eye on his website for more news and drops.
Feature image by Imraan Christian