Feature HER: Donn Calya
Donn Calya is a local alternative pop singer/songwriter hitting the high notes.
South African-born singer/songwriter by the name Donn Calya has travelled the world to find her sound and returned to Johannesburg on the next leg of her musical career.
The 24-year-old found passion in music because it allows her to express herself. She says she loves that she can express what she is thinking about and feeling in the moment; music is the medium through which she can voice what she really wants to say.
Donn’s sound is influenced by the genres and artists she listens to, such as The Weeknd, Billie Eilish, the Veronica’s, Jhené Aiko, Angus and Julia Stone, Nina Simone and Michael Jackson.
“Their creative, innovative, unique, and emotional way of expressing themselves through their work really inspires me to be more innovative and unique.
“I have a variety of genres I like which are folk, hip-hop, trap soul, soul, blues, jazz, classical, pop-rock, rock, punk-rock, and indie. I have chosen these genres to infuse in my music, as I’ve grown up with them and feel a deep connection when working with them,” she told To EmpowHER.
When Donn was 11-years-old she relocated to Sydney, Australia. However, before her return to South Africa in 2016 she chose to broaden her horizons and move West.
“I had been chosen to represent Australia at the iPop! Convention in Los Angeles,” she says.
According to their website, iPop! is a leading talent event which “promotes emerging talent to leading agents, managers, casting directors, and music industry professionals”.
“I got chosen by a producer Marc ‘M. Doc’ Williams at Indasoul who had worked with the likes of Chris Brown, Tony Braxton and Destiny’s Child. We worked on my first three singles and music video when I was 18,” she says.
The three singles Donn produced with Marc Williams are titled ‘Paint the Town’, ‘Flyaway’ and ‘Rebels’.
The lyrics for Paint the Town are inspired by the pursuit of her dreams.
“I finally finished high school, was pursuing my music career and not caring what the haters were saying about me travelling abroad and wanting to live my dream,” she says.
Flyaway is a love song, influenced by her experience in-love. Donn says she had been deeply in love with her now ex-boyfriend and wanted him to know how she felt about their relationship.
“He dumped me like the next year!” Donn told To EmpowHER.
Wanting to produce an ‘empowering’ call to power, she created Rebels which is “an anthem for my supporters who I call REBELS”.
“I go against society’s norms by sticking to my true self and I hate how people love to deny us that right! I felt like writing an anthem for us rebels who believe in liberating oneself and not changing to fit society’s norms,” says Donn.
Following her singles, she produced her first music video for Paint the Town which was shot and produced by Indasoul in downtown Los Angeles.
“The song is about me stepping into your town and painting it all Donn Calya, leaving a blueprint. The concept was to have me playing around with physical paint, tossing it and spray painting the walls; to visually create this idea that I mean it when I say I’m coming to paint the town,” says Donn.
Upon leaving the party in U.SA, Donn travelled to London with the aim of continuing her studies.
“When I arrived in London, I didn’t really know anyone well so I had no access to home studios or a friend’s studio to use. I googled the most popular studios in London and a couple downtown artists’ studios came up. I hit them up and they got back to me
“Now, you can either just use their facilities or they can sign you. They decided to sign me and I could still keep being very independent as an artist but I would have to use their facilities to record and work with the producers they provided,” she says.
Donn has worked closely with Amy Rosslind, who is the CEO of Count of Eight and a choreographer and brand manager. She represents Fifi Cooper and Toya Delazy.
Amy has managed Donn’s brand alongside Anthony Morgan, who Donn worked with at Amped Africa Festival. The Festival included international headliners such as Omarion and local acts Anatii and Shekhinah.
“I had been an artist Anthony signed to work with. He helped me get familiar with the local scene, access studios and connected me to events to help benefit me as an upcoming artist returning to South Africa,” says Donn.
Donn has performed at Metro Restaurant, Maboneng, Randburg, the Dome in Northgate, and Sandton. She has also performed in Los Angeles, London, and Sydney.
While Donn tries to find her feet on the South African music scene, she balances her time pursuing her passion for fassion.
“I have two loves: I have a passion for music and a passion for fashion. I decided to further my studies in fashion as I would like to own a fashion business in the near future, and also have my label modelled down the runway. I love expressing myself through music and my clothing,” she told To EmpowHER.
Donn pursued fashion first at the Gordon Fashion College when she was completing high school where she received a diploma in fashion design. She is currently completing a degree in fashion design at the Whitehouse Institute of Design.
She used the skills she had learned in fashion design to create her own fashion brand called Barcode Generation Y (BGY) in 2012.
She aims to release the collection in the near future inclusive of high fashion and prêt-à-porter.
The up-and-coming singer/songwriter has more to show of herself. Her favourite song she has written and co-produced is ‘Make a change’ which she has been working on during lockdown.
“I wrote this in light of all the chaos happening around us and instead of complaining, let’s try make change for the better whether it is in ourselves or the world,” she says.
MORE ABOUT DONN
Do you have songs in the works at the moment? Please can you share an excerpt of the song and the inspiration behind it? I do have songs in the process currently. I decided this year I will feature other artists, so they will be coming soon. Also, this article came at a perfect time as I am releasing a new single end of July called ‘Call me’. Heading into Women’s Month, I want a single that is all about women-in-power and owning her ish!
What is the process behind creating music? I usually have to choose a beat I like or I receive a beat I like, then I hum a melody to it and if I get a melody in, like, less than 10 seconds it’s the one I write. Then I jot down the context of the song and how it will fit the beat. Once that’s done, I do a draft on garage band. I then head to the studio and record!
Where do you see yourself in five years? I see myself travelling between South Africa and Australia, performing and moving up the ranks in my music career and fashion. I also aim to have joined a label on my terms.
How do you wish to inspire young girls and women with your music? I hope to inspire young girls and women with my music by showing them to not be apologetic of who they are, what they want to say and do. I would like them to gain a sense of confidence, empowerment and love for themselves.
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