Donald recently delighted fans with the arrival of his latest album, Her Name Is?
The 20-track project, which boasts high-powered collaborations with the likes of DJ Tira, Thabsie and amongst others Mlindo The Vocalist, marks the singer’s triumphant return to the zeitgeist. “I’ve done this five times”, he says of the gruelling schedule that comes with album releases.
He’s a Pro by now, but those early mornings just never get easier. The machinations that come with promoting a new album require an element of athleticism.
What most find intriguing about Donald is his evergreen presence in the culture. He’s managed to stay on top of his game without switching his sound to appease the market. “I don’t try to be relevant, I just do what feels good to me”, he tells QuenchSA, explaining how he’s kept true to his sound despite the ever shifting landscape.
We caught up with singer and conversed about the new album, the tricks of the trade sustaining his relevance and the pains that attend to being an artist.
The album recording process is done and it’s onto the promotional aspect. I imagine your schedule is different right now…
Yeah, which means few hours of sleep!
…But I hear artists are very nocturnal, creating mainly during the night. Is that true?
Yeah, but now I am not creating much as I’m in the promo phase. It becomes harder because I have to try and sleep early, which I’m not used to.
Because it’s performance season?
Yeah, like you have to wake up early. Sometimes I will have like 6’o clock and 7 o’clock call times. For me it’s tough, but I think so far I have received great practice because I’ve been doing this for a while now. This is my fifth album. So I have done this five times already in the past ten years.
I mean, you are an expert…
(laughs) I am getting better!
You have been around for a long time and you are still creating. People blow up and disappear. How do you do it?
Ey man… I think one of the things that are mainly important is to keep the main thing the main thing. I try not to do too many things because I want to focus on one thing and make sure I do it perfectly. I think knowing what your bigger goal is helps you to be able to deal with the every day movement. I know my bigger goal is to be a South African music legend and have a legacy.
When I am gone people can look back and be like “Eish! mara this guy, this guy’s career was such a story…” You know? I really want to be that guy. I want people to look at me the way they look at Oskido, Hugh Masikela, Jonas Gwangwa, Mariam Makeba etc…
You’ve stayed true to your sound. How are you able to be so resilient to the obvious temptation to jump on a new wave that sells?
I’ve noticed that trying to stay relevant is not easy to achieve. So don’t try to stay relevant, just focus on having a story to tell at that moment. Tell it the best way you know. Artists who are known for what they do specifically are those artists you will always remember.
When you say a name like Thandiswa Mazwai, you don’t even have to ask. You can just tell through her voice even, if it’s a new song. How she achieved that was by always being herself and not trying to fit in. I think I’m that type of artist. I don’t try to fit in, I do what feels good to me…
I think you’ve reached that level too, in some ways. One can look at a young artist and be like, ‘Oh, he’s the next Donald’. There’s definitely a distinct identity you have.
I hear those conversations a lot, especially when Idols comes on air! Like, I always hear a Donald reference. I think last week Somizi was commenting on a contestant and made reference to a ‘Donald-like thing’ in the conversation. It’s always humbling and encouraging to hear people saying stuff like that. That there is a thing about you that you have that everybody knows. It tells me whatever I’ve been through, including the pain, was not in vain.
What kind of pain have you been through?
Things don’t always work out the way you have planned, you know? You come across challenges, and I have came across a lot. You can ask anyone who sings and who is successful. They will tell you about the challenges because to be successful, you have to be challenged the most and the challenges don’t determine who you are but they make you strong and you always get better, no matter how hard it is. I am inspired by people who go all out to be achievers… like Bonang. I can relate. Like, I see myself in her and I know how much pain that woman has to go through. The struggles and challenges you don’t see.
You’ve have kept a very clean brand’, is that intentional or is that like are authentic reflection of you character?
I mean, a part of it is…the intentional part of it is not to share too much of my personal life. That is intentional. The simple things that I do on a daily basis… I don’t think that is of interest. Like I don’t think that is why am here. I kind of try and figure out and find why I am in this industry. What is it that I have to offer? I offer my message of love, not what T-shirt I prefer to wear when we get home at 7 o’clock…
Do you have any feud with anyone in the industry?
No. I have learnt to accept that people are just the way they are and have their own choices. It’s not worth me even sharing it on social media. Conflict does not grow the industry, it holds us back. We grow when we actually encourage each other…
You have a neat discography with hits and well received albums. Do you still get nervous before releasing new work?
I think being nervous of how people will receive the music is the natural thing, and it shows that you care. Yes, I do get nervous and worry sometimes! Like, when the album dropped you know that is why I tweeted something and people just made a big deal out of it because Twitter is Twitter, but I tweeted ‘I haven’t seen even one negative comment about my album’. People were responding like, ‘why are you looking for negative things?’ and ‘This tweet is so negative.’
All I was saying was in this world there is so much negativity, especially on Twitter. It’s very rare that you release an album and not hear someone say ‘this is a shitty album’. I was like humbled that after three days I had not seen any of those negative things, you know?
Is there any song that has an important meaning to you or is closer to your heart on the album?
Mina Nawe is very special for me because I think it ticks all the boxes. I rate that song as probably the best song I have ever recorded. From a songwriting point of view to the production, the mixing… like everything for me… I would admire it if it was another artist’s song…
Then there is another song called Ngiyazi. That song is little bit more personal. The story is quite personal, but I also listen to it like a fan of music. I hear it and I think that is definitely it is my most relevant songs in the album. I do love every single song that is on that album though
How did you decide on the collaborations in this album?
Most of it was just organic. I would start a song and then hear someone’s voice in it. That’s how I would be inspired to get someone on it. The Zanda and Thabsie collaborations happened when I was working on the songs but kept on hearing these artists on the songs. The Mlindo collaboration was not even planned. I met up with him at a club and then asked him if he was busy the following day. When he said no, I was like ‘ntwana come to the studio…’ It’s magic.
What’s the one thing that shocks you or your fans about you right now?
One that people don’t know about me is that, do you eat noodles? Those two minute noodles. Does it make sense to eat noodles with eggs? I eat noodles with eggs and that is one of my favourite meals of all time!