MOXIE Chats … w/ Don Calya

Alternative, rebellious, cheeky and honest. These are all words used to describe our featured interviewee for this month, Don Calya. Full disclosure, she’s also my bb sister so I did not have to go too far to catch up with the rising artist.

Sitting on our balcony, sipping on some tea our mother made, we caught up to discuss her journey so far, next moves for 2020 and just what we can do to make sure I get to head on her national tour.

Michel’le: So Don Calya, welcome to MOXIE Chats. Finally, you’ve made the cut …

Don Calya: I know right, finally…
M: … not that this has anything to do with the fact that you’re my sister or that mum asked me to …

DC: Wow, that’s so rude.

M: I joke … anyway it’s been a crazy and productive past two years for you. You’ve really taken on the role of an independent artist and trying to get your music heard and yourself seen. If you think back to your first performance as Don Calya, what was that like and what did you learn from it?

DC: Oh my gosh, so it was The Night Show … you were there and you saw how I panicked … I looked at you …

M: … yah you lost all colour in your face just before you were meant to go on.

DC: (Laughs) Yes, I think the first few minutes I was definitely terrified. This was the first time I was performing my own music, doing my own choreography in front of people who may not necessarily listen to my genre of music. Remember, all the other artists on the line up were trap artists. So, I was worried but then I started feeding off the crowd and saw they were responding positively. Like a crowd that wouldn’t usually listen to this music, and some told me this afterwards, so to see them actually dancing and moving to a song I had co-written with my producer made me think like “yes, I can actually do this. This is what I want to do.” Because you know when you hear things like: Oh you think you’re the next Rihanna it can be discouraging …

M: Which is also really strange, like why can’t you just be the next you …

DC: Exactly. I mean when I’m in my room, writing my songs and thinking what I want to do and what I want.

M: Which may also be difficult because you’re doing this all on your own right, I mean you fired me as your manager so …

DC: I didn’t fire you, you just don’t like going out … you say there’s too many children …

M: Do you know how old I am? If I’m going out I need free food, okay. I want chips!

Both: Laughs

M: So yah, you’re doing this without a label and no formal management. How is that? What advice would you have for young artists who might be doing the same? Like what makes you move every day?

DC: Lawwwd … it’s tough. I mean at the end of the day we’re all human so it’s hard to be in different places all at one time. Of course, personally, if there is a label that came along and we were able to agree to terms that I was 100% on board with then yes, I would take that because working with a team is so helpful. At the end of the day we’re all human, help is good. But I mean yes, if you are doing it on your own there are ways. I’d definitely recommend they do their research.

Like distribution online, research everything! Right now I’m working through music contracts, like understanding how to write up my own contracts. Royalties, I had to understand how that all worked. The most difficult thing is definitely studio time. Mingling. Especially, as a female artist, working with mostly male producers. Oh my gosh, they can be trash. I’ve personally been okay, like when I am strictly business they’ve been okay but I’ve also heard some stories that just make you go, wow.

M: Do you find there are many womxn producers or is it mostly male-dominated?

DC: I’ve really only met male producers and like it’s something I’ve had difficulties with so I do say that if a team or label could come along that would be nice. Don’t get me wrong, I am loving the independence and all the learning I’m doing. At the end of the day I get to see everything I’ve achieved and knowing that I’ve done it by myself is nice. I have people telling me like, wow your team is really pushing you, and I’m like “I am my team.” (Laughs).

sister sister

M: Would you say having a good presence on social media and knowing how to use it is an important part of making music today?

DC: Definitely. If you’ve got a following then you’ve got people who can listen to your music.

M: Going back to your first performance and the fact that you were aware that your music is not what would be considered mainstream in South Africa. How would you describe your sound? I know you’ve said you don’t want to be boxed into one specific genre …

DC: … yeah no. When I first started out I was doing what people told me I should do. Very bubblegum, very Pop-R n B and it actually backfired on me because it was not connecting with anyone. This was not music I listened to myself, I was more into The Weekend, Jhene Aiko, Willow Smith, Tyler the Creator, The Veronica’s and Che Ecru but when I was recording I was singing music I didn’t even like. I mean growing up we listened to everything and I love a number of genres so I was just like why can’t I do everything.  Because then I can work with any artist, you know.

M: Okay, so what I’m hearing you say is you’re quite flexible with the music you want to make and the people you want to work with. Do you think this could make it hard for you to find one specific fan base then?

DC: It’s either people will think I’m not “real” because I’m not sticking to one thing or they could think that I can relate to them and someone else because I’m making music for different audiences. I guess the main thing is that I’m just doing what I want to be doing right now because the more authentic you are the more people will connect with you.

M: Yah I hear you but you have mentioned you enjoy making alternative music, which is mostly a white-dominated space. Does that concern you at all?

DC: Yeah I mean, even now people will tell me like they didn’t expect me to make this kind of music because of how I look, especially here in SA. But for me like, I don’t care. This is what I want to do so I’m going to do it. I shouldn’t be confined to making certain music because of the colour of my skin or how I look.

M: Snaps, snaps. Now you released your first single, Waiting, last month. What has the response been? I mean dad plays it every morning so I know he loves it but what else have you been hearing?

DC: (Laughs) Honestly it’s been better than anything I imagined. I thought people may be like eee, but I had one rapper tell me the single moved her because she had just gone through a breakup and it helped her and that’s exactly the kind of response I want from my music. I mean I was sharing my feelings over a breakup with my ex, Jack.

M: Oh wow, Jack. Shame.

DC: Yes, Jack.

M: I’m sorry but he was trash so …

DC: Laughs. Let’s hope he doesn’t read this.

M: Let’s hope he does (laughs). But it really is a great track and is different from what’s on the scene right now. What does 2020 have in store? What are you hoping for, what are the plans?

DC: Well this year I’m hoping for more gigs, obviously. More singles out, radio play. If the singles are doing well then an album would be great. I’m open to doing a lot more features with artists I’m comfortable with. And if possible, working with a team that is completely behind the Don Calya brand.

M: You’ve also been nominated for two 011 Awards, tell us about that.

DC: Yeah, so these awards are mostly to highlight young and upcoming artists. I’ve been nominated for Best Newcomer and Influencer of the Year.

M: Congrats.

DC: Thank you. It’s really great and unexpected. I went to the awards last year and they were so dope. I just hope it will help open some doors for me and I want to use it as a springboard. The winner also gets a national tour …

M: We’re going on tour? Okuur so when is this tour because I’ll need to make sure I’m available.

DC: I haven’t won yet …

M: I know but if we speak it into existence … don’t take this away from me.

DC: People have to vote first, haha. But I really want to use the opportunity to open even bigger doors for myself.

M: So what can we do to make sure I can go on the tour?

DC: Everyone needs to vote via SMS. So you can SMS Don_Calya to 043 … Oh shit, I forget the number.

M: How are you supposed to get people to vote for you if you can’t even remember the number?

DC: I can’t remember random numbers. I’ll send it, and post it on my socials.

M: For some reason, I thought it was 678 999 8212 …

DC: That’s the Soulja Boy song …

M: Oh yah!

Note – we then broke out into the 2010 hit single by Soulja Boy for a minute.

M: Well thank you for chatting to MOXIE, it’s been a pleasure. Good luck with the rest of the year, I know you’re going to do amazing things. Now wash these mugs before mummy yells.

DC: Laughs, no respect.

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