In a climate where “hot” new music trends seem to be introduced to the world every few months like a high-street store’s new fashion line, artists who are steadfastly doing their own thing stand out like a properly-tailored suit in a realtor’s office. N’Dinga Gaba is one such producer, with an idiosyncratic and instantly recognizable sound that’s somewhat difficult to pigeonhole. Although clearly Afro-centric, his music takes in a wide variety of influences – soul, jazz and even classical – set over distinctive drum patterns that touch on something ancestral, making his work feel both hypnotic and spiritual.
A few brief questions about Gaba’s background go a long way toward explaining his unique style. Born to a diplomatic family in Washington State with Central African and Jamaican parents, his upbringing gave him a unique perspective on the world, not to mention an understanding of music and art’s power to bond people across both border and language. His comprehension of the world in terms of both art and politics led to the name of his record label, Global Diplomacy.
It’s obvious from our conversation that his mission is about so much more than making and selling records; it’s about cultural exchange and empowerment through music. When discussing the unrest in Central Africa, he simply says: “I do hope to go there as soon as the tension dies down and contribute more to bringing back its rich musical heritage.” Think about that statement for a moment. Due to the way music (and particularly dance music) is marketed these days, it’s all-too easy to separate it from other forms of art, to remove its wider significance and belittle its ability to effect positive change. N’Dinga Gaba is one artist who understands the music’s true place in our cultural landscape. I sincerely hope his special brand of Global Diplomacy catches on…
Where in the world are you?
Right now I am on the UK stop of a mini tour of the UK, Austria and Italy, working on songs with singer/songwriter Natasha Watts who just dropped her new album 2nd Time Around. [Editor’s Note: These two interviews appearing in the same issue is an interesting but complete coincidence.]
Which came first for you, DJing or producing?
I was a DJ first, although I did do a lot of music in a “band” setting prior to DJing and production.
I just think America in general is in need of a renaissance of it’s own. It’s not as progressive and revolutionary as it once was as a nation.
From your productions I guessed you were a musician. What do you play? Do you feel that “real” musicianship is lacking in the current climate?
I do play trombone, although I am a bit out of practice… I mess around with keys a bit but I not a “keyboard or piano” player. As for the current climate, I can’t say that “musicianship” is lacking because I think that is subjective. I think creativity and risk taking is lacking at the moment. Too many people are following trends and not taking chances.
What do you think about the current social and political situation in the USA?
I think the situation in the US is quite sad right now. Race relations are tricky, the political climate is awful as I think there are no strong “presidential” candidates running for office compared to years past. It feels like a reality show where people try to be loudest person in the room just for the sake of being heard rather than saying something of substance. There is just no respect for each other or the political process. I just think America in general is in need of a renaissance of it’s own. It’s not as progressive and revolutionary as it once was as a nation. Hopefully future generations can change that.
How much has living both in Africa and the USA dictated your art?
Everywhere I go and everyplace I have lived, I draw from the culture and the experience. I am a sponge for things like that. I get fully immersed and I try to incorporate it into my music.
Early House Music tended toward African & Latin rhythms. You are one of the artists who are bringing it back (and thank goodness you are). How, when and why do you think that dance music lost touch with its roots?
I think the rhythms are still there, they are just interpreted differently. Music is ever-evolving so changes are bound to happen. I try not to focus on why dance lost its touch, I just try to make honest music that can resonate with people.
Tell us about your label, Global Diplomacy? What does the name represent? When and why did you start it?
Global Diplomacy is a label I started in December of 2014 with the help of Azira Zuberi of Austria. It had been almost 20 years in the making but I never felt like it was the right time. After putting out music on other labels with a bit of success, I felt ready to make the next step. The name draws from my life in a diplomatic family and how music always drew family and global friends together. So the idea of the label is to bring people around the world together through music and sound.
South Africa is becoming recognized as the new hotspot for Deep House music. How do you feel about this?
South Africa is a hotspot for more than just Deep House. There is quite a healthy music scene there. I’ve seen people react to Hip Hop, Reggae even Rock or Pop tunes the same way they would react to a great Deep House record. It’s still a raw emotion thing there. I feel like the music coming from there is honest and heartfelt.
I just hope that with this new so-called “recognition,” people don’t take advantage until there is nothing left and move on. But I do think the recognition is great and well deserved, and is just the beginning of exposing what all of Africa has to offer musically and culturally.
Name your favorite places on Earth to play records.
Southern Africa, Italy, Croatia, Jamaica to name a few, but to be honest, I really enjoy everywhere I get to play! I’m blessed to be able to do this as a living.
What’s coming up next for you?
We are very busy at the moment with releases for Global Diplomacy. We just released our third “Unity Through Sound” series and had the likes of Eddie Amador and Marlon Saunders (US), Danny Cohiba (Spain), Mario Bianco and Vittorio Santorelli of Italy, the UK’s Sabrina Chyld and Tai Malone, Austria’s Patrick Bo, Ukraine’s Max Nalimov and Japan’s Namy and Miwa… this was a truly “GLOBAL” experience. We have a number of singles dropping over the summer as well as an end of summer compilation and finally I hope to drop my debut album in the fall.
In a few words, how would you sum up the current state of the music scene?
I think currently music is at a crossroads waiting for the next big thing, which I think is a good thing. Now people are more open to searching for something that appeals to them versus being force-fed and being told what to like because it’s the cool thing at the moment.
Celebrate The Beautiful One in 5 Magazine Issue #131, a double issue featuring Prince, Kenny Dope, Ralf Gum, N’Dinga Gaba and Natasha Watts. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full access to everything House Music and save 66%!