Di'ja: I'll always be a Kaduna girl at heart by Aminat Alhassan
Di’ja is a Nigerian/Sierra Leonean music sensation who’s signed on to super-producer Don Jazzy’s Mavin Records. Born Hadiza Blell, she bagged a double degree in Biology and Psychology but decided to pursue her first love: Music. Weekend Magazine cornered the charismatic artiste, who’s in Manchester, UK, for a concert at the moment, for a chat. Excerpts:
How did you come up with the name Di’ja? Di’ja: My name is Hadiza Blell, so I extracted my stage name Di’Ja from my first name. My father is half Sierra Leonean/half Lebanese, while mum is Nigerian, from Zaria in Kaduna State. They’re amazing people who have contributed in making who I am today through the upbringing they gave me. My childhood was colourful, which has translated to my life at this stage always being colourful. I have an older brother who’s my best friend. Family, for me, is priority.
You were based in Canada before you relocated. How has the Nigerian music industry been for you so far? Di’ja: It’s been a crazy experience. Words cannot be put together to explain the ups and downs but it has definitely been an experience and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
I grew up in Kaduna, which is always home for me, where it all started. I moved to further my education, then got called back home again. My professional music career was started by a friend, Aman Manhas signing me up for a singing competition in Canada, called the Beat Music Awards. The rest is history, as they say. I have never looked back since.
You have a unique sound. Is that something you cultivated over time? Di’ja: My sound is something I’m still discovering. I don’t feel I’m using what God has given me to the fullest yet and the more I meet people and learn from experiences, the more I get closer to becoming myself. Every musician tries to be unique and I believe I am getting there with my music. Being unique is good but passing the right message to your fans and the society at large is also something every artiste should strive for.
Do you draw from personal experience when writing your songs? Di’ja: Sometimes it’s not always about my own experiences. I draw from what others experience, as well. Everything in life connects one way or the other. We can learn from each other’s experiences and so I basically do not focus on only mine to tell the world. I like to tell other people’s stories, too, at least to let them know that they are not alone in whatever circumstances they might find themselves. This is not to say that experiences have to be negative. We can learn from positive experiences, also.
Which singers or musicians have inspired you most? Di’ja: I’m a fan of Bob Marley because of how he used his music to reach the people. To be honest, this question gets me because I’m inspired by so many artistes from various periods. I don’t only get inspired by a musician’s music. I also get inspired by how they use their music to touch lives. It’s hard to pick just one that has inspired me because I have quite a number of them.
What had driven you this far in your music career? Di’ja: To be honest, it’s too long a story for this space. My driving force was to remain persistent in whatever I did and hoped to achieve. Right from a young age I have always loved music, as it allows me to express myself. I feel very comfortable making music even though I am a graduate of Biochemistry and Psychology. Music has always and will always be part of me.
You have merged your Nigerian and Sierra Leonean roots in your song ‘Yaro’. Tell us about it... Di’ja: I love culture so much. I may not always do exactly as culture predicts in some aspects but I add other aspects of it into everything I do. It is a part of me, and I have fun with it. ‘Yaro’ is a fun Jam. You hear it, you smile and you wait to see where it goes. The remix with Ice Prince added an even more colourful layer and [Don] Jazzy got the beat down pat. It’s a song that grows on you and that’s just how I like it. As for my roots, Nigerian or Sierra Leonean, I’m African. I’ll always be a Kaduna girl at heart, it is where I was born and raised.
How was it like recording the biggest hit in Nigeria this year, ‘Dorobucci’? Di’ja: That song is an amazing Mavin collaboration. It’s hard to put words to an experience like that. All I can say is the ‘Dorobucci’ song is blessed and that this is the beginning of good things to come.
How is it like working with a legendary producer like Don Jazzy? Di’ja: Jazzy is a magician. It’s been so magical since I joined Mavin Records. He knows how to make things work. Few persons know how to make things work. He is dedicated to the positivity the entertainment industry can bring and this is one of the reasons I enjoy working with him. I could never have asked for better.
You’re going on tour. What can you tell us about that? Di’ja: We’re currently in Manchester and London for the first-ever Mavin concert. It’s been tagged the most anticipated concert so far by Nigerian artistes in Europe.
You’re super-stylish. What informs your sense of style? Di’ja: I’m a big fan of fashion and I guess I get my style genes from my mum and a bunch of really fashionable aunts.