NaNa didn’t know he’d be a DJ after his debut performance on CKCO’s Big Top Talent some odd 20 + years ago. His love of singing and dancing brought him to “The Big Smoke”. Toronto has done many things thus far, extracting the only son of Ghanaian born parents living in Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario and transplanting him to Toronto.
With few urban alternative music outlets for a hip-hop DJ, what more could he do but emerge amongst his fellow artists and assist? As a DJ, collaborative work has its benefits and his move to Toronto provided more than a simple opportunity to escape.
“Toronto is very competitive with many things going on-anything can be done…. it’s a positive place…over the years, I’ve had exposure nationally….” NaNa had visited Toronto as a teenager bringing mix tapes and vinyl back to Waterloo for hip-hop hungry friends. He wasn’t a post-secondary student at the time, but was doing various promotions and DJ work on University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier campuses.
He noticed that Waterloo’s music scene mainly focused on up-and- coming musicians from the big cities, he asked himself “Do I want to stay here or try to pursue (DJ’ing) out in Toronto?” In the summer of 1999,he eventually moved to Toronto to attend York University and later graduated with Bachelor of Arts Degree in Cultural Studies.
Over the years dj NaNa has developed a very unique portfolio, lending his DJ skills to various artist projects. Honourable mentions include opening for Questlove, Common, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Saul Williams, working with K-OS, K’naan & Sol Guy during the mid to late 2000s- traveling and collaborating throughout North America as well as South Africa with 2009 Juno nominated Neo-Electronic Soul songstress Zaki Ibrahim.
He has also worked and travelled with D.O., Slakah the Beatchild through North America, Europe and Asia (as a CIMA Canadian International Music Association Ambassador). NaNa was the only DJ to ever appear on Canadian Idol. On Canadian Idol he assisted top 5 finalist Mookie Morris ‘cutting and scratching’ during his rendition of Steppenwolf’s ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ for the show’s sixth and final season.
Not only has he joined forces with other artists but he’s also lent a hand to worthy causes. (He is now poised to lead the way with his signature hip-hop appeal and persona.) This has made him quite popular with young people within local community settings. He has previously volunteered as a DJ instructor (props) for Toronto’s Regent Park Focus and participated in numerous fundraisers; 4 Unity Parkdale, The Loft Bloor West, WaterCan, and ArtBound to name a few.
NaNa places heavy emphasis on the idea of integrity. He mentions this a few times during our interview. When asked on the importance of integrity he pauses and responds pensively; describing it as “standing up for what you believe in and doing things the right way,” he continues… “going cookie cutter is one of many methods – it’s never been the end all of doing things… taking risks, getting up from making mistakes, finding your niche, being a visionary while branding your own lane is what I’m about.”
In 2004, David Guenette created District Six Music – a collective of artists operating as an interchangeable network of entertainers lending skills and creativity to projects. NaNa, was one of many artists that contributed to this collective – CBC Television and Radio Broadcasting noticed this and produced pieces recognizing each member’s contribution.
In May 2008 NOW Magazine (a publication based out of Toronto like New York City’s Village Voice) placed NaNa as the lone DJ to grace the cover along with five emcees. As a whole, the featured artists were recognized for ‘Representin’ the TDOT:Surging on the Hip-Hop Scene Ready to Blow Up’.
Whether in collaboration with others or alone dj NaNa is an active member of many music circles. He is open to all musical genres and has a continued interest to create songs, sounds and remixes. He continues to showcase his skills on mixtapes, guest podcasting or by simply lending his talents to corporate or trailblazing events and venues.
In February 2011 NaNa flew the mother of the late James ‘J Dilla’ Yancey, Maureen ‘Ma Dukes’ Yancey to Toronto for her first ever visit and speaking engagement. Over the years dj NaNa has held residencies in Montreal, Waterloo and in Toronto. His most recent acquired in the trendy Queen Street West area; Brookylnn is where you can find him now every Friday night!
During the course of the interview NaNa talks about the importance of roots from a cultural and musical perspective placing himself separately not only as a DJ but as an artist, DJ, performer, hype man, producer, music supervisor and promoter – but ultimately a DJ.
As a DJ/Producer/Emcee NaNa has released three albums; ‘543’released independently in 2006 (the number five representing where he had grown up; Kitchener/Waterloo’s area code is 519 – four representing his move and transition to Toronto (416) – three for the fact that he is one of three children and birth date July 3rd), the first 100 copies came with a Beat CD showcasing his variety of production styles dubbed ‘The World Inside My Head’.
He was signed by Urbnet Recordings (Classified, Moka Only) for two albums where he released ‘The World Inside My Head Vol. 2’ November 2007 and ‘The World Inside My Head Vol. 3’ July 2008; both received glowing reviews.
In 2009 dj NaNa released ‘Let the Beat Go’ a collaboration featuring some of South Africa’s most prolific MCs; HHP, Tumi and Zubz. The track is infectious and garnered heavy rotation from South Africa’s Channel O.
In 2010 dj NaNa teamed up with two-time Juno Nominated emcee/producer Rich Kidd’s and became his official tour and performance DJ. They released Rich Kidd VS. dj NaNa & Rich Kidd VS. dj NaNa 2.
In 2008 ear2muchcollective was created to specialize in coordination and management of themed events in the Greater Toronto Area. In 2011 the group The Names are Known with wordsmith I.JAMES.JONES was established as a Hip Hop in exploration; equal parts time capsule, time machine and preservative of the present; yet set to move forward. He’s been collaborative, but the work done behind the scenes- recording, mixing, production are standalone.
So what’s next? What can we expect this year? To reach all parts of the globe, to explore other parts of the music industry. 2014 is off to a great start. With a well-earned win last month at the Ghana DJ Awards, NaNa was voted ‘Best International Ghanaian DJ’ proof of how far DJ NaNa can go!
He’s got some awesome pieces out right now: The Names Are Known-Man’s World feat. Rich Kidd (CLEAN VERSION), Props (DATS WASSUP) and lastest single for the J(N)AMES Mixtape – CLOSE2U. Check out other DJ NaNa produced tracks, mixtapes and musings at soundcloud! If you’re not a hip-hop fan you’ll get into it- TRUST me! If you fell off you’ll get back on the wagon! Check him out,
on twitter: twitter.com/deejayNaNa and twitter.com/NamesAreKnown