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Jamie Prado Talks 'African Sun' Viral Hit & Finding His Sound in Colombia
American listeners' infatuation with featherweight pop hits – which often borrow rhythms from overseas – continues to grow stronger. Drake's "One Dance" has been the country's No. 1 hit for 7 weeks, while Sia's collaboration with Sean Paul, "Cheap Thrills," recently cracked the top 10. This is not just a summer fling anymore, either: Justin Bieber's "Sorry" held onto the No. 1 spot for three weeks starting in January, and Rihanna's "Work" started a lengthy run beginning in March.
As listeners crave music that scratches a specific itch, smaller names have a chance to earn notice. In June, a song titled "African Sun" shot into Spotify's U.S. Viral 50 chart. It's a breezy track with all the elements of a warm weather pop hit: marimbas and a gentle but firm beat that won't scare off those who want to sway rather than commit fully to dancing. But its author, Jamie Prado, is relatively unknown.
Nathan Hayes, the man behind Prado's music, actually entered the world of DJing through the subgenre known as drum and bass. When he first started attending raves, he was drawn to the more extreme end of the experience. "There's always the jungle room at every party," he tells Billboard. "It was usually in the basement, three flights down, dingy and dark and nobody cared. That's always where I ended up."
At the time, the sound in these rooms appealed to several of his musical interests. "I was a big reggae head, a big ska head," Hayes says. He also liked the energy of punk. Drum and bass maintains a strong connection to reggae while also incorporating the ballistic energy – the music often hovers above 170 b.p.m. – that Hayes enjoyed in his high school punk bands.
A chance encounter in a used CD store led him towards the softer edge of the genre. "I ran across LTJ Bukem's Logical Progression 1," Hayes recalls. "[Bukem] really kind of pioneered the atmospheric, intelligent, whatever you want to call it drum and bass scene. It was a lot lighter in sound and energy and rhythm compared to what I had been hearing."
In North Carolina, where he was living at the time, Hayes found a group of likeminded DJs to form what he calls "a little crew of drum and bass heads." Working under his own name or the alias Atlantic Connection, he also put out a series of releases through labels that specialized in the genre, many of which were based in the U.K., like Renegade and Spearhead.
Hayes' drum and bass trajectory was interrupted by a mission of self-discovery. "I was adopted from Colombia," he explains. "Three or so years ago, I decided I wanted to retrace my ethnic roots and maybe take a trip to Colombia. I went back to North Carolina to my family's home and started going through old adoption records."
Though Hayes suggests that the birth names of many adopted children are not disclosed, he was able to find his in the old adoption papers. "There was actually a name that was attached to me before I was adopted," he says. "That name was Jamie Prado." The discovery of his original title gave him extra impetus for a trip to Colombia; it also served as the name of his new creative endeavor. "This was a perfect opportunity to explore the house sound that I've always wanted to do," Hayes notes. "But also in the process of writing that music, understand who I am as an artist and wrap my head around this name."
Hayes sees little difference between drum and bass and house. "When I made the transition, it was really easy," he explains. "A lot of the sounds are the same. An organ bassline – that's a sound that originated in house before being adapted into drum and bass, but I didn't know that at the time, cause all I listened to was drum and bass. It's like I just slowed it down a little bit, but I still pull from the same sample collection, I still write with the mentality of intro, breakdown, drop, second breakdown, outro."
The DJ now returns to Bogata "every couple months," and he believes this benefits his music, largely by exposing him to music that his peers – and competitors – aren't hearing. "There's a lot of hyper enthusiasm in the Colombian music scene," Hayes says. "And a lot of experimentation and incorporation of native sounds: salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, samba, bossa nova, calypso. They all get stirred into the pot."
Despite having more distance from the American electronic music scene, "African Sun" – which quickly became Hayes' most popular tune on Spotify – is squarely on-trend. "I started playing around with some marimbas," the producer remembers. "Obviously that's a very popular sound right now in dance music and has been for the last couple summers. I ran across that riff in 'African Sun' – what grabbed me about it was that it wasn't unlike the popular tropical house stuff that's happening, but it had a different chord progression. It had something a little more native-sounding to me." He later added electric guitar riffs, which bring a light serration to the soft pulse, and vocals sourced from a cd of African samples that he acquired in the '90s.
Though "African Sun" was signed by Artist Intelligence Agency's label Ivory Oasis, Hayes seems pleasantly surprised that it's bubbling on a streaming platform. "It's great to see it still have some life after several months of being out," he says, confessing that he has "absolutely no idea" why it suddenly garnered a burst of interest.
But "African Sun" listeners aren't the only ones eager to hear Prado's work. After the producer fell in love with the band Bomba Estéreo, he managed to land two remixes on the group's official Amanecer remix album, which is coming out through Sony Music Latin by the end of the year.
Hayes believes his trips to Colombia played a key role in his recent successes: "It really helped my sound take on its own life," he says. As a result, a new audience is taking note.