Brazilian Queen of Dancehall Lei Di Dai Talks European Tour: Interview

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Courtesy of Billboard Brazil
Lei Di Dai

Daianne is anything but ordinary. She left the jazz band she was in to follow her dream and invest in a genre that's known in Brazil, but not easily recognized: Jamaican dancehall. She ignored her mother's requests to sing samba and, for 12 years, has been investing in the genre that exploded everywhere last year thanks to the songs of <a href="/music/Rihanna">Rihanna</a>, <a href="/music/Drake">Drake</a>, <a href="/music/Justin-Bieber">Justin Bieber</a> and <a href="/music/Major-Lazer">Major Lazer</a>. She became Lei Di Dai.

Even though the genre is still unknown in Brazil, the country where pop funk is a must and where artists take everything they can from American music, Lei Di Dai is approved and respected by Jamaicans -- those who live for the genre -- and was named Brazilian Queen of Dancehall.

Focused on her international career, she just got back from tour in Europe, where she performed in five cities, including London and Berlin, and is about to travel back to the U.K. to finish recording her new album.

Billboard Brazil talked to Lei Di Dai about her career and the challenges she overcame:

Let's start from the beginning. How did you first get in touch with dancehall, and when did you decide to invest in the production of songs in Portuguese? 

It was back in the 1990s. Dancehall was huge, played at every single party, but back then, people called it "black music." At the end of that decade, I was already a singer, was part of a jazz band. It was my dream. I started to invest in making dancehall songs in Portuguese, but with a Jamaican mix. It was when everyone would post their stuff on Myspace, and many Jamaicans followed my profile. In these 12 years, I met many of them, and they recognize me. They're my inspiration. I hear their work a lot so that what I do is genuine.

You just got back from tour, where you performed in five countries in Europe. What's the biggest difference in the dancehall scene between Brazil and Europe?

In Brazil, people don't know the genre's name, they call it "raggamuffin." In Europe, there are a lot of Jamaican communities, and they play dancehall in their parties. In 2009, I started to focus on my international career. Now, my songs are played in European radio. They talked about me on newspapers and magazines from London.

You've been working on raising awareness to the genre for more than a decade. What's the main difference you've seen throughout the years?

I believed in dancehall, and look where it's taken me. My family plays samba. My mother told me to sing samba because it was more popular in Brazil. Now, she understands I did the right thing. I've had my ups and downs with dancehall. I have my own label; I'm 100 percent independent. I never stop. I'm always doing research and trying to make connections.

In São Paulo, people are starting to like the soundsystems; it's something that's getting more popular all over the country. In Europe, I don't have to explain what dancehall is. I'm known as Brazilian Queen of Dancehall, and I get to work with local producers.
Do you feel like people accept it better now that they've listened to it everywhere last year because of Drake, Rihanna, Major Lazer and others?

Last year, it was all over the place. I think it's great, because it makes the genre more popular, people start to recognize it. In the '90s, they called it "black music." Now, they call it "tropical house." I'm very happy, but I think it's important to call it the right way.

You're recording an album with different producers in studios all over Europe. How has it been?

These trips to Europe have opened up my mind to Jamaican rhythms, and I recorded drum and bass, reggae, jungle, electronic music. This album is focused on Jamaican music in general, not so focused on dancehall.

Jamaican music has allowed me to travel, see the world, and make a living out of it. It's important to believe in your music, your work, show that not only mainstream artists can make a living. You have to believe in your talent.

In this European tour, you performed with the Project Grrrl with other female artists from third world countries. What was it like?

This is the second time I'm part of the project, which was created by University of Manchester. It encourages artists from the third world to invest in music. This time, I was invited to perform as a solo act as well and had the opportunity to show my work in the U.K. The best thing about this experience was opening my mind and meeting Jamaican artists. Performing on the same stage as people that I admire.

Being part of Grrrl has opened many doors. We recorded an album that will be released next year, and then we'll go on tour again. We had a week to produce and create the songs, each one bringing influences. The tour manager has worked with <a href="/music/Beyonce">Beyoncé</a> before. We have this motto to appreciate women. There are wonderful women out there who don't have opportunities. On Grrrl, the entire team is made of women. Our bond and sisterhood are incredible. 


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