James, Tunde, Kaz and Sama are the co-founders who came together during the pandemic to form Dankie Sounds. Originally formed as a gathering of those who enjoy the sounds of Amapiano Afrobeats and Afrohouse, their events quickly grew in size and popularity and have since joined the likes of DLT, Recees, and Everday People (to name a few) as one of the many day parties that have since taken over the UK.
The collective has branched out of throwing day parties and hosting events such as their Dankie Rooms, which feature a selection of DJs and artists. They have since taken over stages at festivals around the UK, curating their DJ lineups and creating their own Dankie Sounds mixes and DJ sets.
In the years that have followed since their formation in the pandemic, their growth has seen them celebrate and highlight the Amapiano scene in the UK. This summer alone, they were everywhere, from T-Live, DLT Malta, City Splash, and All Points East. And before we hibernate for the winter, they are embarking on Dankie Sounds Ibiza, which will see them take over Ibiza Rocks for three days.
Speaking to all four founders, they discuss everything from Amapiano, growing Dankie Sounds, authenticity, challenges they have endured and more.
What was the early concept of Dankie Sounds, and how did it start?
James: We started doing events and had been doing them for a while, and then lockdown happened, and we didn’t know where it was going or when it was going to end, but around that time, we fell in love with Amapiano, and we spent a lot of time listening to Major League mixes, a lot of balcony mixes, just vibing at home and just like wishing for better days. At the time, I was having a conversation with Tunde, and I was like, Yo, we need to jump on this Amapiano; I feel like it is going to take over. We had originally been house lovers, so we understood the similarities and created a new brand name. We researched more into Amapiano and its South African origins. We came up with the name, and then after that, Tunde and I linked up with the others and joined forces; we literally had one WhatsApp call, and from there, we never looked back.
Was Amapiano always the main concentration?
Tunde: We all loved house music, anyway, separate from all the other events we used to put on. We used to put in events for hip-hop, Afrobeats, bashment, and all of the above, But we loved house music. However, as event organizers, we were all in house music; at the time, he wanted to get into house music. Amapiano was that elevated house music with its different sound and vibe. So when we thought about how we wanted to introduce it to our audiences, we looked at it like what would our cousins or siblings want to hear, and it was more so Afrobeats as well as Afrohouse, and so those were the three pillars we built the sounds of Dankie Sounds on. And then we wanted to give that our stamp, and so we added the fourth pillar, which is what you hear now in terms of the Ampiano remixes and the mixes that we do blending with bashment and R&B and songs that get that new feel and flavour from what you’ve previously heard before.
Having hosted events previously and launching this brand new one right out of lockdown, what did you expect what it would become?
James: It was special for us because before we launched Dankie Sounds, we were in lockdown and even in lockdown, we had social distancing. But luckily, that actual weekend we launched was the first weekend where all the restrictions were lifted. It was the first time people could be together outside, dance, and be close to each other. And so, for us launching that weekend, the expectations were super high, and everyone was ready to be free. For us as promoters, as much as you’re busy running around, ensuring that the event is good and everything is going well. However, even then, we also enjoyed ourselves, which made the first event memorable because everybody was just here for a good time. There’s no hierarchy of who you are; no matter what clothes you wear, it doesn’t matter. It was just about enjoying the music and the vibes.
Sama: When we started Dankie, it was a space where everyone could just let loose and have fun, and I don’t think we expected to be where we are today. To have our own people who looked like us, act like us, and be in a space where everyone could be free. And we wanted to have fun with our customers.
Tunde: People often say, Wow, seeing how far Dankie Sounds has come is fantastic. However, it took us ten years to get here to the point we are at. As James mentioned, we’d been doing events prior, myself and James and Sama and Kaizen. We’d been bringing people to the same location and made it to the point where people were rushing to get tickets. Still, along that journey, every challenge, every obstacle, now looking back, you understand those eight years before doing events and creating Dankie were preparing us for this moment. We’ve cultivated a community of people who all stand for the same thing and stand and respect each other, not only because of what they look like but also where they’re coming from, who they are as people and why they’re even there in the first place. We all brought our lessons, learnings, challenges, and successes through business through life anyway, and it was all poured into Dankie.
How does Dankie Sounds differentiate itself?
Tunde: I mean, you look at the time, and it was not that it wasn’t happening, but it was very uncommon for different event organizations to come together to create something. And we saw that and felt that, and we wanted to break that mould. Ultimately, we felt we could achieve more when we all had our hands in the blood together. And even now, when you see the dynamic between us with DLT, Recess and GUAP across the board, we are breaking that traditional narrative: you must compete. We combined them and connected to create more for people who look like us as the providers of those experiences. And I feel like that’s what has led Dankie to become what it was
Sama: We also put that narrative of competitors can’t work together. Many people were shocked to see us four coming together and thought it would never happen because we were doing our separate things before. Still, we’ve shown them that we are stronger and better together.
How have you coped with the challenges you have faced and the exeprinces of the four of you working together?
Tunde: The challenges today are less than they were ten years ago. But they’re more than they will be in 10 years. And I feel like, ultimately, we’ve understood that that is also part of the journey, as well as, like, going through specific paths that others before us have been able to ease because they went before us, we understand that some of the things that we’re going to go through are going to be to help those that come after us facilitate and manoeuvre in these places as well. Ultimately, we always look at the customer and the customer experience. Now, you look at anything we do. Ultimately, the one question we’re considering is How the customer will react to this? How are they going to feel when they hear this or when they see this? Or when they go here? Or when they see something look this way. And for us, there’s been hella challenges, like, Hello challenges a lot, there’s sometimes even as four of us, we’re going back and forth, we’re bickering, like there are arguments, there are decisions to be made as differences of opinion. But ultimately, when we look, it’s all for the benefit of one, the brand, and two, the customer. Ultimately, we know that, like every issue, opinion, or solution, it is important to us as long as we can put those two at the forefront.
James: And the challenges continue every single day. And we’re here to learn. And we, you know, we’ve been ourselves. We’ve learned about ourselves, even regarding the team. We are a team, but we are also family, So everyone has a part to play in helping us grow, even if we learn how to deal with each other and respect each other. Most people see us four, but our workforce is probably 60, 70% females. So even in that, it’s essential that even as four men, we understand and value the voices of the women on our team and how they feel and what they think. We work together on the best way to achieve water success, so we’re learning every day, getting closer to each other, and understanding each other more so we can all work effectively because that’s what we want to do.
Sama: Everyone thinks that there are four co-founders. There’s not. There are five. There’s God, Tunde, Sama, Kassian and James. And that first team member, really and truly, when we look at how we got here, how we’ve overcome certain obstacles, and how specific opportunities are coming our way, is because he’s at the forefront. Like everything we do, he spearheads first in it. We start on a prayer before every event when there were just four of us in a small room. And it is that reminder to listen, no matter what we’re achieving or the heights we’ll get into, one of our main focuses is listening, amplifying the name of God. And the good word of the Lord does when you follow him in because he is the first and the fifth member of Dankie Sounds.
Kaz: And to add to that, no matter all that, what I found good about this group is that we face challenges from day one, and we’re still facing challenges, but one thing we’ve always done is lead with love. And I think that’s been another key to our success is that no matter what is put in front of us, whether it’s negative or positive everywhere because you’re smiling, always Bing, go to different branded events, it doesn’t matter who the promoters are, we’re always here, like, with a smile on our face. And that’s something that, it just know it, when people lead with love, you’re always going to get that back, no matter what, that’s how that’s the mantra we like to lead with as well.
With the growth of the events, was going international always something you saw happening?
James: From the start, once we saw the pace and the growth increase, we’ve always thought about being international. Detty December is something that happens every year. So we said, you have to be a part of that. DLT, we have a great relationship with them. We knew DLT Malta would be a big thing, so we also said we have to be a part of that. We’re close to Recess as well, and one of our first actual bookings at an event was at the City Splash Festival, and we were on the Recess stage. So, from the start, we were blessed with opportunities to be outside the UK and do big things. And once we got that first blessing, we, you know, the sky’s the limit, God’s going to take off the will lead us to more opportunities, and we’re going to take every opportunity, and we’re just going to run with it. So even now, we’re still trying to roll out to be in America; we can do more cities in Europe, that’d be great, and we are about to be in Ibizia this weekend, and yeah, it’s all about being everywhere, and just spreading our sounds.
How have you kept the essence of the brand as you’ve continued to grow?
Tunde: We always said from the beginning that we wanted to avoid replicating what we’d seen. We always wanted to create our vibes. And one thing we’ve been quite well in doing right is extracting the truth from criticism. There was a time when no one cared about Dankie Sounds, and equally, there was a time when everyone had an opinion on what we were doing. And sometimes, we look at opinions as if to say people are just being critical. Or they’re just trolling, when, in fact, from the very early stages. When we only had 300 people in any one event, we would have a conversation as a group, where we would be like, Okay, we’re not going to buy into the criticism in the software sector. Oh my god, this is one that if you’ve got to change everything, for any criticism we’ve got, we’ve discussed what can we extract that is true out of this? And how can we better refine what it is we’re doing? So that goes from the addition of the instruments so understanding that we need to better sonically arrange our sets so that people don’t feel like it’s just noise. So if we didn’t look at it and say, Okay, what is the truth and what people are saying, we wouldn’t be able to refine better what we’re doing. So it’s just that sense of humility where we don’t have all the answers. We’re going sometimes to be wrong. If someone has something to say really and truly, We’re going to take the time, we’re going to listen. We’re going to assess it. After all, we do know the quality of Dankie the brand, and the truth that we can apply from that we’re going to do it because we know what we want Dankie to be.
Sama: I don’t mind criticism because, for us, it has been able to shape our brand sonically, as Tunde said, and when we did first start Dankie Sounds, we weren’t sure where it was going. The brand has grown dramatically from playing house music and understanding piano and then Understanding that we should add a bit of Afrobeats. So, we went through many phases within Dankie to bring it to where it is now. But now we’re at a point where we are shaping Dankie Sounds, and the customers are enjoying it. So we are happy. At this point, there’s still much more improvement to be made. But we always take the criticism and make sure we use it to make us better.
James: Credit to all the DJs and the dancers and the instruments and the host, everyone, because I feel like if you are booked for Dankie, all I have to say is that I know people are bringing their A-star game, even the photographers and the videographers. Everyone’s bringing a star game now, even those who scanned the tickets. And that is where we’ve gone because we’ve been working hard on this. So, in building this, we have to credit everyone who’s part of the journey because no one’s playing around with them.
So what is next for Dankie Sounds?
James: We’re coming for everything; we have Ibizia happening. We’re about to release music soon. We’ve got merchandise coming: t-shirts, hats, hoodies, etc. We’re going to create more jobs and give back to the community. And yeah
Tunde: The two things to look out for are all the events and everything we have coming, our We Create Series because we feel like we’re creating the next beasts in this industry, whether you’re creative or an event organizer. Also, Dankie Rooms because Dankie Rooms is on a whole other trajectory.
Interview Seneo Mwamba