At the heart of Colour Factory’s Orii Jam – where singers, rappers and instrumentalists come together to improvise – a group of creatives, now known as DA COMMUNITY, formed a friendship that turned into a family. DA COMMUNITY was conceived out of love and birthed into a world full of creative disciplines. From singing and rapping to photography and visual art, DA COMMUNITY has got it covered.
What was your first impression of each other?
MALAIKA: My first impression of different people was everyone was lovely, kind, creative, and open.
ALLYSON: It’s funny because I thought everyone was very established, very known. I was a bit nervous about meeting a few though. I was like, “I don’t even know if these guys like me or not.” They’re very strong and they’re good at what they do – it was a good type of intimidation.
TOLU: I knew that I had found a group of people that I really f**ked with, but at first I was like “You lot are on some type of hundred energy that I don’t even know if I can match right now. I’m just watching on the sidelines because it’s actually much.” And then I was like “Nah, because if you lot are up, I’m gonna be up too, so I gotta be up with y’all!”
NAYANA: It was a childlike excitement. Everybody gave off really good vibes, but I was nervous aswell, ’cause at the same time everybody was freestyling, doing their ting and they look at you but you don’t know if they wanna talk to you. Are we gonna be friends? We might just sing together. We might just flow together. But are we gonna be friends? I hope so.
JAIYE: For me it was very much fangirl mode, because I literally remember pretty much seeing everything. And then when I [was] put in the group I said, “Wow. With these elites?” I feel like as time’s gone on, I found my group.
HERMELA: Esther (NuAloe) invited me to Orii and I wasn’t expecting anything. She was like “There’s this place that plays music. I think you’d really like it.” I started meeting more and more people. It was so weird – clicking with so many people in such a short amount of time. I still can’t believe it’s only been a year, I feel like I’ve known you guys for way longer than that.
VANESSA: My first impressions of people might a little bit different ’cause I felt like I spoke to people before I knew they sang or what they did – ’cause I moved to London, [I] was meeting people who I could actually have conversations with. I feel like it was getting to know them as people and they have creative energy to match it and this juice inside of them. They were actually people as people, then their music blossomed through that.
KD: A lot of people I have mutuals with, I just met them years ago. I’ve known Saiming for a while and then like I met Esther at work, I met Saadiq at work as well. Just meeting everyone was crazy to me that cause I just thought everyone bigger than they were. They might not f**k with me, but it’s like really seeing them, meeting them and everybody’s calm.
SAADIQ: Everyone was posting this jam and I was like, “What is this place and why am I not there?” And then when I first came to Orii, I came on my ones and when I met everyone I felt like – me personally – I felt quite misplaced throughout my life. I felt like every circle I’ve been in hasn’t been my circle. I’ve just been a participant in the circle, I’ve never felt like “these are my peoples”. When I got to Orii, I started speaking to people. I kind of got a similar impression off of everyone else, ’cause this is a place where everyone found misfits, but we misfit together.
How did you guys nurture your friendship while working together creatively?
ESTHER: There’s like 20 something of us. We’re not all gonna have the same relationship that we have with each other. I feel like outside of studio, people would meet up with each other and just like have one-to-ones or two and threes and whatever the case may be. We’d have moments like the water fights, Saadiq’s barbecue, going to Nayana’s, Carnival. All those things where we just decided [to] meet up outside of Orii, ’cause to be fair, staying up outside [in] East London at 3:00 AM; we said it got a bit long and a bit cold, so we said “Let’s do some daytime activities,” and I don’t think none of us really knew where we was going in a sense of having a business and doing all these things. I think we were just like, “You’re so lit, I’m gonna support you and I’m so lit, I want you to support me” type thing.
D WILLS: I think them studio sessions really did nurture our ting for real, ’cause it was like practice sessions [with] no judgment – we just freestyled. Especially Mezzo’s Corner [Mezzo’s Corner is a jam session in Hoxton, organised by Mezzo who is also a member of DA COMMUNITY] – that wasn’t even Mezzo’s Corner before, it was just Mezzo in a corner playing his guitar and now its Mezzo’s Corner. Everything was so natural – DA COMMUNITY was just a group chat called DA COMMUNITY, ’cause we was just a bunch of artists doing our thing and then, like what Saadiq said, misfits just started fitting together. It was just all natural. The nurturing was not even planned, it was very much by accident and that’s the best way it can be a great relationship. The foundations – it can never be forced.
NAYANA: I think we all just kind of started showing up for each other. I was going to gigs at first cause of the uni, but I wasn’t really feeling it, so I kind of stopped a bit. And then when everybody started doing stuff, I know that all of us would at least make the conscious effort that that one of us would at least be at someone’s gig or something. I remember I did my graduation for my choir and everybody turned up. We all just show up for each other for little things.
TOLU: I think also boundaries is a huge part of it because we have [an Instagram] group chat for keke, linkups and non-business related conversation and then as a result of understanding that we need to be serious and intentional with our communication and just everything that we do, [another] group chat then got made. We have a business group chat on WhatsApp so everybody knows like if you have a business inquiry, don’t put it on Instagram cause it’s not gonna happen. Also I feel like holding each other accountable in love and in work as well, understanding that we all have strengths and weaknesses and as friends you can tap into that, but then also as business partners, a community, an agency and a collective where Adidas, Timberland [and] GUAP know our names.
ARABA: I think that we’ve all figured [out that] when it comes to nurturing our friendships whilst we’re in a business setting, I think we never allow any of us to look down on each other. You’re not gonna feel like you’re not appreciated, [or] like you’re not loved. Every single one of us has a different gift that is outside of our talents that both heals and uplifts each one of us. So whether it’s a business situation or we’re just chilling, all of those help us to be better at our craft and work better together. The fact that we are 21-people strong is a rarity and it’s a bit absurd, but we all fit together perfectly to encourage each other and to make sure that we’re doing in this life ting properly. Being ourselves is what helps us be better at business and work together.
VANESSA: I think we’re all valuable people, but we also all have the same kind of values and ethics. Just seeing people with their families – you see people with family values and you see people who have values in themselves and in how they manoeuvre through life. That [doesn’t] just work for friendship, [it] also works for business because when you’re creating business, you are creating requirements and policies that work towards something, and that also transfers from the friendship to the business.
HYABEL: I think about taking time with each other and actually listening to everyone’s ideas. Especially when I’m working on a lot of music videos for people in the group or smaller projects, I take my time and listen to what they want and I really absorb the ideas. I feel like there’s usually a barrier between artists and creatives when it comes to producing visual content, but I make sure to actually hear what artists have to say, how they actually wanna release their identity within what they wanna do. Also making the process as friendly [and] as natural as you can when working in those business and industry settings ’cause that’s the only way to keep things alive and keep things happy.
JAIYE: Making time for each other outside of music – it’s hard to organise on all of our calendars to be honest, but we do when we get together. Even studio time with no pressure – they’d been doing stuff, but everyone was chiming in, chiming out, but by the time everyone got there, it was just vibing out. I think that was such a great, significant day for all of us – everyone giving what they came to give and support what was going on.
SAIMING: I feel like we’ve had conversations about [that]. It might even have been me and Nayana’s birthday cause we have the same birthday – so we’re celebrating on our birthday together and I think that’s the first day that I properly spoke to Tolu and she bought me a plant because she thought [that] ’cause it [was] my birthday, she [had to] get me a present and I was like, “Wow, this is an amazing person,” but on that day – I think it turned into a studio session – there was [also] a conversation about how we need to separate the music time and the “just being friends and hanging out” time, ’cause I think [it] could get a bit messy.
MALAIKA: We hang out, we go and we support each other. If somebody has something on, we just put it in the chat and we go and we just support each other. We’re there for each other. Knowing that people are there and it doesn’t matter who – it’s just at least some of us being there when we can make it, ’cause you know, we also have different things going on in our lives. We’re intentional, we go, we support – I feel like that’s what DA COMMUNITY is about as well, just being there for each other and letting people know that we got each other.
How does working together help you guys achieve your individual goals?
NAYANA: Working together is always a frame of reference. I know that if I’m lacking and I’m not working hard enough, I have a bunch of other people who are consistently working hard to be like “Okay cool. I need to get back on my game,” and it’s also a thing where we motivate each other and we can learn from each other, ’cause I know that for example, I’ve learnt bare from Allyson as a vocalist. I’ve learnt bare from Esther as a vocalist – all of the vocalists, I’ve learnt bares. I’ve learned so much from all of the rappers as well. I’ve learned so much about intention, words [that] I’ve learned, and even as a general person, I’ve learned a lot of values of how to communicate, how to articulate my appreciation for others artistry and how to show that properly. It’s always a frame of reference to work hard – work and love – whenever you’re doing something and you know that if you’re feeling like you’re feeling s**t [and] you’ve got no more left than you, you can call at least one of the twenty-something members and be like, “Listen, I’ve got nothing left,” and they will be there to be like, “You still got everything left and if you haven’t got you don’t think you do, I’ve got something to give you until you get that back.”
D WILLS: Seeing people graft and grind – seeing J2, or Niz or Saiming and them in the studio or Saadiq learning how to DJ and then Dee DJing as well, I’m like “Why am I not grinding?” It’s that type of competition, it’s that [type of] motivation. They push me and make me want to go harder because they’re going crazy, so it makes me wanna go even crazier.
ESTHER: As someone who raps and sings, I’m constantly like, “Oh my gosh I need to get better,” because I’d hear Nayana or Allyson sing, then I’d hear D Wills rap or J2 rap. We’ll all be in a studio, put on a beat and you’ll see everybody going, “Yeah no I’m gonna be on this one,” and everybody’s like, “No I’m gonna be on this one.” And I think it pushes you as a person ’cause – not that you wanna be better than them, you just wanna you on the same level as them. It’s good competitiveness.
DJXHNWAV: It’s a healthy competition. Perfect example is when I started DJing and then having Saadiq and Saiming [say that they] wanna start DJing and then have them come to me – it’s energy init. We all bounce off each other in a way where it’s very healthy. For example, Mar!k will send me a beat, literally in the next 20 minutes I’m on my laptop. I’ve loaded up, I’m on Logic Pro, looking at samples already.
ARABA: I do like a whole different creative discipline to all of [them], but I still feel like when I’m around [them], I still feel like we are constantly working together and I feel like my art has never been this good. Moments this year where I’ve had certain artistic revelations, it’s been when we are at Mezzo’s Corner or I’m at different places where [they’re] just doing [their] thing and it’s without the music and without the need for [them] to interact with each other creatively and also be in a space where there’s so many geniuses, [we] don’t look at each other like “I’m better” or “You’re better”. You can see the array of different types of talent. I’ve been able to have endless amount of resources that nobody else can recreate just because [they] have just been in this space and have taken the moment in time to do what [they] do – certain drawings would’ve never existed, certain ideas would’ve never existed, certain concepts would’ve never existed if I wasn’t in their space, so even in times where [they] don’t necessarily take it that [they’re] interacting with me creatively, [they] one thousand and ten percent are. There’s been times I’ve been at shows and I have to go off and write bare things down because Nayana is singing on stage and it just blew my mind. It has taken me in a whole ‘nother creative trajectory that I’ve always wanted but I just didn’t know how I’d get there and just watching [them] perform randomly or purposefully, now I’m there.
NIZ: I see everything in a visual aspect and sometimes I’ll be at Mezzo’s and I’m just sitting in a corner, watching everyone bloom in their own way and it’s so motivational that I’ll go home that night and I’ll just start pushing or just plotting on something or do something. It’s just beautiful to see that, that even some of us don’t even see it in ourselves, but when we’re around each other everyone’s glowing in their own light and it’s so it’s generally so motivational.
VANESSA: DA COMMUNITY has shifted the way I see creativity because where I grew up, I didn’t even have drama in school. I had music one lesson out of five days, I loved music but it was so very far removed and creativity was very far removed, but the experience of coming to Orii and meeting everyone, I feel like the things that I’ve been working on [where] my parents are like, “Yeah do it,” I never really saw anything in it, but then being around people who actually create things fuels you [in] a whole different way. You’re just in awe on a Monday night. I’m experiencing and being in situations where I’m sitting down [and] I’m like “This is life – this is what life is,” and I feel like that just makes you accomplish things creatively and in areas where I’m not creative. I feel like it’s just transformed the way I see almost everything I do now in life to a better degree, ’cause it gives you a different perspective on this.
TOLU: I know that no matter whether I have my camera with me or not when have my notepad with me or not, I’m gonna take something away from even the smallest or the shortest of interactions, and to be able to collaborate – I think collaboration is just such a huge part of DA COMMUNITY.
PHOTOGRAPHY: TOLU ELUSADÉ