It's a love story. His new album, Dreams, tells the story of love in all its forms – good or bad.
And he's told it with the help of international star Jussie Smollet in one song and Lady Du on the single, Inkanyezi.
Dreams, Donald Moatshe's new album, brings the classic Donald who has his roots in R&B – but it also has a touch of amapiano, he tells us.
We catch up with the singer just days after the release of his fifth studio album.
He's vulnerable in this new body of work in which he sings about romantic dreams that didn’t work out, which were a huge influence in the album.
This album took just over a year and a half to make, he says.
“We started recording the album around last year in August/September. But we had to start all over again in Feb this year because I didn’t like the sound.”
Love is a strong theme in Dreams and throughout his music. “Love is who I am. Not just in the romantic sense, but when it comes to family and friendships. If you’ve noticed you’ll see that when you love someone, you’re more patient and considerate compared to when you don’t. So, I feel like I can’t write about anything else. As humans when if we were centered around love, we'd have a better experiences with each other. That’s why I write about love, not just the good, but also the bad. Because it can definitely have its downside.’’
Donald has also been influenced by house in his music, he says. “Anybody who has listened to my music for a while knows that house music has always been a part of my sound. Amapiano sounds a lot like deep house, which is a genre I love. And so while making this album it was really exciting to see what we can do with amapiano, production-wise, especially because it has so many influences such as kwaito and house music.”
Still dedicated to being a R&B artist, the crooner doesn’t see himself letting go of that, but he hates being boxed into one specific genre.
“I don’t want to be boxed as an amapiano or house music artist either. That’s just really boring. I will never move away from R&B. And amapiano is really popular right now. It also made a lot of sense to go where music is going right now in SA. You’ll also see that one of my most popular songs, “In Denial”, was a house song. It's just that most of my music is relayed in a way that sounds like R&B.”
As an independent artist, Donald wants people to know the challenges that can come with it at times. “Yes, I have my own label D-Exclusive Sounds, under exclusive license to Universal. I had that set up since my career started and it works for us.
"I have a team that helps me bring the vision to life. Being an independent artist isn’t for everyone, you need to have leadership skills in you that will help the people around you not only work better but help you convey your story that you want to tell through your music. You need people that understand you as a human first before you’re an artist or an entrepreneur, because it can get tough.”
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Donald doesn’t see himself letting go of the behind-the-scenes work and letting Universal handle everything, he adds.
“This partnership allows me to be in control of my own destiny as an artist. And our understanding is what’s made me stay with Universal for this long. They understand their part well and I understand mine.”
His music is for everyone, not just R&B fans, Donald says.
“What’s so great is that you can play my music while you’re in the car, or while you’re cleaning and even in the club.”
He collaborated with international artist Jussie on Dreams. Jussie is an actor who played Jamal on Empire. Donald tells us how the collab happened.
“I was introduced to Jussie in 2016 when I was performing at the Red Mic Experience, it was a private concert, and the cast of Empire was here doing a press run in SA for Empire. Terence Howard was quite taken with my music and, through him, I was introduced to Jussie.
"Over the last two years, Jussie and I have gotten to know each other, and the idea of a collaboration came about, and we finally did it for this album. These days collaborations are so much easier you can just send a recording via email and Jussie was able to do his verse and just sent it to me the same way.”
This means he’s looking to do more international collaborations. “That’s definitely a goal for the future. I’d love to introduce more international artists to a proudly South African sound – songs that have a strong SA flavour.”
When asked about his favourite song in the album, Donald speaks about his heartbreak and how he channelled that into Dreams.
"I love the whole album and each song for different reasons. But one of my favourites has to be Dreams. It deals with loss. I was in a relationship with a girl who I really thought I’d spend the rest of my life with and unfortunately it did not work out.
"I saw myself having a family and getting married to her and when the relationship didn’t work out, I lost those dreams that I had for us. In the song, you can feel that hurt, and loss is what I’m relaying. But it also was a way of healing and dealing with it. Music is often like therapy for me," he says.
He also believes in actual therapy and says it is important for men to go, and let go of the stigma attached to it.
“I do believe in therapy, even as a man I think the idea that men should be robots and unfeeling is outdated. As a man it’s important to understand that you’re not a machine, you’re human. And therapy helps a lot with that. I do understand that it can be quite expensive, but there are different ways one can get therapy.
"Some people do yoga or meditate, you don’t have to stick to the traditional ways of therapy. And if a lot more men in SA got therapy, I think maybe that would contribute to decreasing gender-based violence cases.”
Dreams is available on music streaming platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube.