Producer Dan Vinci on gentrification, latest single & why "The Dandadda isn’t actually reggae music"

Reggae | Friday 10th November 2017 | Patience

Producer Dan Vinci is a man on a mission, inspired by reggae's message of unity & peace he created The Dandadda, a Brixton act to bring people from all walks of life together. This reasoning was behind The Dandadda's debut single 'Heart Attack' in 2016, a reggae-tinted dance track that touched on the dangers of gentrification.

Now back with their latest single 'Last Man Standing' featuring The Ragga Twins, Vinci lets us know what makes the legendary duo tick, future projects & the iconic names to be featured on The Dandadda's upcoming album.

Describe your current state of mind in 5 words or less?

Currently filming in Havana Cuba, so my current state of mind would be one big relaxed, rumtastic revolution!

What was it like growing up in Brixton?

Brixton is pretty much the entire catalyst for this whole project. I don’t think you ever realise at the time, but the area you grow up in has so much impact on the rest of your life. My grandfather started a bakery there and that’s where my parents both met too. I have distinct memories of a thriving market full of worldly foods and smells, Rastas selling reggae cassette tapes and selling incense on the corner. I just thought that was what all of London was like, really. I’ve seen lots of crime and gang activity but you could see that in other parts of London too, I didn’t like the fact that it seemed to overshadow the great community spirit.

It was never boring and the big sound system coming from the old Red Records shop on the high street always had such a buzz. Now there’s a Foxtons…

So in the early days how did it come about that a rasta man saved your life from a random knife attack?

I was walking with my mate down the back streets of Brixton towards his place when a gang started following us. It was at a time when stabbings and robberies in the area were becoming out of control. I didn’t have anything worth robbing on me, but my friend had his phone and some money so we decided to leg it. We split up and he ran into a newsagents but I was on the other side of the road, so when I realised I ran back towards the newsagents but the gang had caught up with us and the main guy landed me one right in the face.

A surge of adrenaline came over me and I managed to defend and deflect any other hit from the gang members but then a bigger gang came from the nearby estate, who started coming towards me making knife and punching gestures. At that moment everything started to happen in slow motion and I instantly knew I was in deep trouble.

Just as they came closer to me though, an elderly Rasta man came flying down on a bicycle from nowhere and immediately started talking heavy patois to them. At this point, I was entirely surrounded in a circle by at least 15 people. But suddenly it went from a crazy and dreadful situation to the whole gang just dispersing and started walking away. I literally just stood there astonished. I didn’t know what that elder Rasta said, but it totally diffused the situation like I’ve never seen before. They were all pumped up 16-20 year olds desperate for a fight. I was just a young teenager at the time but I hung around my local estate every day after school and knew the kind of stuff that went on. I had never seen a situation dissolve as quickly as this though.

The strange thing was that as soon as they all walked off, I went to say thank you to the Rasta man but I looked over my shoulder and everywhere but couldn’t see him anywhere. It was a really long road so I should’ve seen him either at the top or bottom, so I started searching frantically for him but there was no sign of him whatsoever. He seemed to be my guardian angel that day and his sudden disappearance still kind of freaks me out a bit.

Did you ever see the Rasta man again?

No…but if he is still living, he is probably one of the only people on this earth I would genuinely love to meet and properly thank. I would literally buy him the best vinyl player and high-grade known to man!

So is that what inspired you to get into Reggae?

I guess that may have been one of the reasons I leaned towards reggae and Rastafarianism, but it was most probably hidden in my subconscious rather than an active decision to starting liking the music and culture. Brixton was a big hub for reggae music so it was only natural to be intrigued by that sound. I have been drumming since the age of 10 and am a total bass junkie but it was only when I started getting a bit older that I started appreciating the bass line being at the forefront of the music rather than the western culture of guitars being the main rhythm.

But even then you can’t help but gravitate towards the music that makes your head nod. For me, reggae has that undeniable sense of rhythm that can just flow through your body at around a convenient 70bpm, which can feel both fast and slow at the same time depending on what instrument you’re listening to. It’s like surfing a wave, getting a buzz each time. But The Dandadda isn’t actually reggae music, it’s just inspired by its message and feeling. There are so many great reggae records out there, I wanted to try something new and help the scene move forward in an interesting direction.

When did the idea for The Dandadda come about?

Friends and industry around me said I should start making my own records for a long while, but I didn’t really know what my sound would be as I was into so many different types of music. One day I’d be heading to a drum n bass rave and the other I’d be chilling in a blues bar or at a reggae night. I think I have musical ADHD and couldn’t just listen to one genre. There are so many interesting rhythms and styles so it seems that just liking one genre is reading one page of a book. Different music entertains different senses and each genre has its own environment to enjoy it in.

There’s so much good music in each genre when you know where to look. You just have to be willing to be shown or go searching for it. My previous managers loved my production style and told me to give them anything I felt like making. Around that same time, I had already started having a vision for the Dandadda project and already had quite a few beats prepared, so the timing made sense and I finally had a deadline to get something done. So I went into the studio and recorded 4 tracks in a day with a whole load of Rasta musician friends and one of the tracks was 'Heart Attack'. It instantly seemed like the perfect song to get The Dandadda ball rolling!

So where does the name The Dandadda come from?

I worked with many reggae musicians over the years mainly from Brixton and Jamaica, and I was often the only white guy in the room engineering the records. With my name being Daniel Vinci, I was coined with the term the “Dan dadda” from being similar to the patois expression “Don Dada”, meaning the godfather in reference to the Italian Godfather. So it really just went from a fun nickname to being the actual name representing the whole project. I then stuck two D’s in the name so that the second D could be inverted and become a symbol of peace, something I thought was fundamental to the core message of the project. I have an art college background so presentation is just as important as the music to me.

I have also read that The Dandadda stands for unity & peace, why do you think that is so important in today's current world?

Where do I start! The world today is such an increasingly small place as we can openly find out information on just about any place or thing with the touch of a finger. We have come so far from the gruesome horrors of history but still, have far to go. If you listen to The Dandadda music, it’s actually more rebellious than peaceful, but that’s because the aim is to lift people off their chairs and out their beds and be inspired by the world around them.

There’s time for resting, then there’s time for doing. I’m trying to unify people in one big get together to celebrate world cultures rather than build barriers as what is seemingly going on in much of the world. It’s, of course, more a mental change rather than physical. When you can open your mind and experience different ways of life, the world suddenly starts to be so much more enjoyable. I think people tend to dislike what they don’t know, so I’m trying to get all types of people to our show and see how powerful it is when different cultures and people unite. What a feeling it is to be human!

In 2016 when you launched the project The Dandadda you wrote the song 'Heart Attack' which bought a spotlight to gentrification in Brixton, why is that particular issue so close to your heart?

The rapid change of Brixton was (and is) crazy to witness. We filmed and documented the area over a 3 year period and interviewed locals about the change. Not one person complained about the fact that places inevitably go through changes and get developed, but it was the fact that the locals and people who helped make the area grow popular were being totally shut out. As a community and area, we need the fishmongers, the carpet sellers, the handymen etc…their rents were being tripled and businesses which were there for generations were simply told to get to the back of the queue for re-application. Instead, they were being replaced by an overload of fancy champagne restaurants and luxury style flats.

People were newly moving into the area right next to a music venue and then tried to get it shut down because of noise. Did they not do their research or realize where they were moving to? 

All of the things that made Brixton exciting and vibrant were rapidly falling like dominoes. If you care about community, culture and peoples livelihoods, these things are worth fighting for. This record tried to bring a voice to those people. This is not a hate record, more of a positive protest. We created street parties and even when council members came down because of noise complaints, even they said they saw nothing wrong with the party and saw people having a good time. It’s sad times if we live in a world where anything that is a bit of fun or creative expression gets shut down. 'Heart Attack' was about pushing people to the edge, where people all around London and the UK felt they were suffocating and had to protect the life and soul of the city.

So what are you doing to bring awareness to the dangers of gentrification cause it's not just happening in Brixton these days, it seems to be happening all over London?

Exactly. That’s an important point. Brixton is just one of those places that never gives up the struggle easily and tends to create lots of media attention. But it’s rife throughout London and the UK. We’ve gone to a whole variety of protests, street parties and used social media to help London keep its diverse culture. I honestly believe that the youth of today are much more open to a multicultural upbringing and often more open-minded, and we are trying to build the following of trying to convince councils and communities that it is not OK to just trample on the hearts and lives of the many. We have regularly explained the meaning of the project and the story behind 'Heart Attack' at our gigs.

We aren’t against change, it was just the blatant stripping and cleansing of certain areas. At the end of the day, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall

for anything!

Now, let's get to the music, tell us about your latest single 'Last Man Standing'?

'Last Man Standing' still gets me excited every time we play it. It’s one of the best tracks live, gets the crowd going and I usually jump right in there for those drops. The Ragga Twins are personal heroes of mine and it is a total honour to have them on there. I honestly don’t know how they can continuously bring such quality bars to each track over so many years. I am probably biased but I reckon those bars are some of the best they’ve ever spat on a tune. Gets me gassed every time! They are absolute fire both in the studio, out of the studio and on stage.

The last show we played together in Brixton was one of the best vibes we’ve ever had. Such respect to them, and we had an absolute blast making the video despite getting knee deep in British winter rain and mud. Their work ethic and vibe is always great to be around - I can’t believe they both have grandchildren and are still playing mad Bristol raves at 3 am and touring world festivals and jungle raves…I hope they soon get a telegram from the Queen for their incredible life dedication and what they’ve done for the music scene. It’s about time she enjoygood Jamaican patty!

You've worked with some big names but did working with the Ragga Twins on this track teach you something new that you hadn't realised before?

Definitely. Working with The Ragga Twins is like looking into a keyhole into the past when people had that fire in their bellies. When they lay their bars down, it feels like they are just as fired up as they would have been early in the scene. Many of the young or mainstream artists I’ve worked with tend to be a little more on cruise control and lose their spark a bit as things get easier for them. The Ragga Twins have such passion for what they do and such love for the scene, that no matter what job someone has, if they are great at it then that vibe is infectious and will make you strive to be better at what you do too. I did about 30 versions of that record because I wanted it to be the best it could be.

We actually recorded it almost 3 years ago but I was waiting for the project to evolve some more and plan the entire campaign. I’m also excited to release the drum n bass remix and dub version of it. I had so much fun making them and felt compelled to create them, as it was a crime to have just one version of such wicked vocals! 

Is there a particular message you would like to get across with this song or with The Dandadda music in general?

In the forefront, the 'Last Man Standing' video seems a bit violent, but really the whole theme we based it on was a fun and cheeky theme of a Lion representing being true to himself and not falling victim to money and the system, versus the Gorilla, the merchant banker who steals all the money which eventually leads to his downfall. 

'Last Man Standing' is actually a lighthearted play on ethics but staying true to the energy of The Dandadda live show, and I could have made the song a typical trap record, or reggae record, or hip hop etc, but in essence I stayed true to the 'Last Man Standing' theme because those genres are put in a box and may eventually wash away with a certain trend, but I wanted to try something different and make it stand out in its own way.

In each Dandadda tune, you’ve got a whole load of genres mashed together and have saved the more genre specific styles for the remixes. There’s an underlying theme to represent the full circle of life. And sometimes it’s not always roses!

So can we expect a new album soon as well?

You might not believe me when I say this, but I’m actually already working on the second album. The whole debut Dandadda album blueprint has been in progress for almost 3 years now. But the project needed time to grow, it wasn’t the right feeling or timing to just put it out quickly. It will be a full concept album and expect some very exciting features and tracks. I am so overwhelmed with the help and support from artists, friends and the industry. Big artist friends of mine have even asked me how I’ve managed to get the likes of Horace Andy on the album (who they’ve been after for years), let alone the others – to which I am still a bit surprised myself!

But I have combined some luck with extremely hard work and positive work ethic to land each one. These features are absolute legends, but I won’t reveal anymore just yet as the final changes are still being tweaked and swapped round. Expect it around mid-2018 but for the moment we’re just having fun putting out singles and some videos to wet the taste buds and get a feel for the buzz.

As you are in Cuba at the moment what is your take on the current crisis there, what do you see happening?

To be honest, it’s extremely hard to tell anything ever happened here – the Cuban military and organisation of natural disasters are incredible. When there is just a burst pipeline down my road in Brixton it sometimes takes over a week to get sorted, but somehow they managed to get a hurricane load of water filling the Havana streets look like a minor blip…there’s only a few bits of debris around, but other than that life seems back to normal already. We’ve been giving out old watches, wallets and headphones to some of the community and they’ve been super grateful, but really we’d like to do so much more because of the rationing everyone has. A local told us they were only allowed 5 eggs per month and there is such limited choice of everything out here, but the vibe is still great and the live Cuban music is always amazing – it feels a bit like a mini Carnival every day!

So what do you bring that's special?

This is a trilogy movement. Each track comes as a drum n bass remix and a dub version. I don’t think that has ever been done before as an entire record and platform. You often get dub sides on a reggae record but I am providing 3 different versions of each track. It’s an insane amount of work but I have such passion for each genre that I just had to do it.

Live, I think we bring an energy and excitement that you used to see with big rock bands or festival acts that have seemingly turned to a bit more laptop orientated event these days. I don’t play shows with a laptop and fear that one day I might have to, but for the moment everything is mixed live and with live musicians, where we bring a heavy tribal element to the live show that mixes with deep psychedelic visuals that you may see at an old acid house rave.

I’m also trying to merge lots of different exciting elements together so that whatever music or vibe you’re into you should enjoy the show and witness something new and bonkers. We have a younger live team from 18 years old right the way to 60+ years old for the more purist scene - it’s entirely organic and non-exclusive so we’re trying to have a full representation of life at the show.

I think older musicians are often getting elbowed out of commercial radio and the mainstream media, so when people see an elder Rasta move on stage it is so exciting and people’s eyes are glued to them on stage. They can often out-dance many of the youths of today too - no fear, just confidence….and a whole lot of that old magic spark inside them!

What ideas changed your life?

There are so many. But for this project, perhaps the idea that colour is literally only skin deep. We are all made up of almost identical bones, blood, muscles but the thing that seems to divide us the most is the thinnest. I am such a lover of diversity and culture and I am honestly mesmerized when I look into many different faces, whether it’s an old Peruvian grandma or a toddler from the Philippines, or witness the incredible story of a face from an old Jamaican elder.

There’s so much to learn from each culture, and I am just trying to help show the incredible world and people all around us via this project. Also the fact that no one can answer the basic question of where a thought or idea comes literally just pops into your brain like magic. It’s mental!

If you could fill a swimming pool up with anything, what would it be?

Probably seeds. That pool would soon be filled with fruits, trees and much-needed oxygen. That’s a good start. Either that or fill it up with all the biggest corrupt bankers, war mongers and corporations ruining the world...if you could get a pool big enough!

So what's next?

Using The Dandadda as a platform to really inspire and open minds, promoting unity and a voice of the people via music. We are finishing shooting more videos, exciting remixes and a whole load of crazy events and shows with incredible features, musicians and breathtaking visuals. Expect the Dandadda train to get bigger, stronger and a whole lot more crazy. We have big plans for 2018 and beyond. We are just trying to find the right live agent to take the show on the road and get the message out there far and wide. Just know that what is out there online is just a tiny snippet of what’s to come…and man are we all excited!

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