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Donna D’Cruz – Casting a Spell

DJ Donna D’Cruz is weaving together different sounds in a harmonious whole

Soleil Nathwani Jan 24, 2011
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Rodrigo Otaza

If you think the female DJ is a novelty that people pull out at parties, some modern day geisha with a hard edge, you haven’t witnessed Donna D’Cruz mash music. With an attention to her craft that makes the pre-mixed play list blush, D’Cruz has turned it up at events around the globe. She’s played on the beaches of Ibiza with Jade Jagger; in the underbelly of New York for Madonna’s first producer and one time beau, Jellybean Benitez; in Paris at its sartorial finest for YSL; with Sufis in Turkey and at the Swiss Red Cross Ball for the Maharaja of Jodhpur. World music never seemed so diverse. But for D’Cruz, a self-proclaimed nomad who came to New York via Sydney and Pondicherry, her music, punctuated by her Indian roots, seems to be the place she finds home, bliss and an openness of spirit that she offers up to anyone with a willing ear. “Through everything my love of music always anchored me. It has entranced me, motivated me and connected me to a collective soundtrack, a universal consciousness.”

These words might conjure images of the spellbound stoner mixing tracks at a rave but when you meet D’Cruz you’re compelled to take them at face value. Exuding an elegance and calm that don’t always go hand in hand with the profession, D’Cruz makes you eager to get to the source of this enviable poise. The melodies of D’Cruz’s childhood in Kerala were mandolins and pianos accompanying five part hymns sung by her devout Christian family. When they moved to Australia at a time when Indians were an oddity in a relatively homogenous landscape, it opened a Pandora’s Box of sound for D’Cruz. The time coincided with a time in her life where she learned to meditate. The peace and the pulse had a natural convergence for Donna. “I started listening to music from the wisdom cultures of the world, the native cultures, aboriginal, Tibetan, Celtic. I fell utterly in love on a soul level even when I didn’t understand the rhythm cycles or the words,” she says. And so while working with INXS by day, D’Cruz – and then partner Adam Plack – worked on recording and mixing aboriginal music at night.

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The subsequent move to New York, the melting pot of the world, gave Donna D’Cruz her platform to weave together different sounds in a harmonious whole. “Sound is part of the fabric of our world. The fact that we are affected by it, whether it is harmonising or not, became very interesting to me and that’s where the DJ part came in,” she explains. Married to Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records and living the life of the glamourati, D’Cruz noticed that the people around her in a city of nightly soirees paid attention to what they wore, ate and drank but not what they were listening to. The city, it seemed, needed a new score and D’Cruz had all the tools to provide it. “I inhale music. I have something like 40,000 CDs and records; Brazilian, African, Indian, Latin, hip-hop, funk”¦ which I listened to with this insatiable hunger and I realised music has such a primordial effect on us but yet we don’t place emphasis on what we’re listening to. For my own sanity, I needed to make and mix music that I liked.”

When she did, it was no surprise that her repertoire was expansive. In a night, D’Cruz can move effortlessly from hard house to soft rock, from an Afro beat to the samba. She blends Bessie Smith, Nusrat, David Byrne and Yma Sumac so they go down like the notes of a well-balanced wine. Donna’s forte as a performer are the same things that keep her balanced: her intuition and her openness. “I close my eyes, feel the room and the emotion and respond to it. Maybe it’s the Indian influence of knowing that there are different ragas and rhythms for different occasions,” she says. And her versatility and spontaneity have earned her the reputation of being able to perform anywhere. D’Cruz has got New York City’s ballet dancers grinding to hip hop at their annual gala, has opened for Earth, Wind and Fire and been a second act to Janet Jackson. “I go equipped with a lot of music so I can have the depth I need. Sometimes I’m mining for the sound and other times it just comes like casting a fairy net.”

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