Rockstar Supernova - Dilana

Published: 01 December, 2008 - Featured in Skin Deep 167, December, 2008

Having stunned the U.S. and worked alongside many of rocks heavyweights like Tommy Lee, Aerosmith and Velvet Revolver, South African rocker Dilana spent three days wowing the crowds at the London Convention in September. This diminutive rocker can belt out a tune better than many male rockers twice her size and in between her electrifying performances, the star of TV’s Rockstar Supernova took some time out to talk to Skin Deep about her life growing up in Apartheid South Africa and her musical career.

Tell us Dilana, how did things begin?

"Life started a long time ago, once upon a time in South Africa. I was born into a very poor environment and both my parents were alcoholics, consequently my childhood was pretty hard. However on a positive note, a lot of my inspiration in becoming an artist was due to the fact that I did have a rough beginning. There was a lot of pain and a lot of darkness and that really inspired me to release those feelings via my music."

So your background was instrumental in making you more creative than you might otherwise have been?

"Absolutely. I still everyday deal with the past, but I’ve really come a long way and a lot of that progression has been made possible by the fact that I can release those feelings through my music and my creativity."

It sounds as though music is like therapy to you.

"Definitely."

Looking back towards your childhood and teenage years, what were your interests and inspirations at that time?

"My number one inspiration was survival. I grew up in an era of apartheid and there was a terrible feeling of angst in the air. I was always hyper vigilant, watching my back, there was just so much violence all around me. So I guess I was influenced and motivated by that angst, that tension in the air, constantly wondering how was I going to get through this, wondering what could I do to make my life better. In many ways I was just trying to survive. Listening to bands like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin also helped me to get rid of a lot of frustration, there’s nothing like a good session of head banging to get rid of anger, pain and whatever else have you.

Growing up in South Africa, we were also subject to boycotts, so we didn’t actually get all of the music I would have liked, things were very, very, restricted and that was always a bummer for me as a child. It was amazing just how much music I discovered when, whilst in my twenties, I left my country to move to Holland."

Talking of apartheid, how restrictive was it in terms of your everyday life?

"Just how restrictive it was didn’t actually dawn on me until I was probably seven or eight when I began to wonder why there weren’t any black kids for me to play with. I didn’t understand why they had to remain apart from us, why they weren’t allowed into the cinema, why they had to travel on separate buses, why they couldn’t attend my school and why they couldn’t sit on our couch. Our servant had her own mug, her own spoon, and I was confused as to why that was.

As time progressed I soon began to realise that my own family were very much racist and for me that was a big problem and that has been one of the major reasons why my mum and myself have never really got on, even to this very day. I was very happy to leave South Africa when I did, because of the apartheid situation. I wanted to be able to talk to whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without the fear that I may get into trouble for doing so."

When did you become actively involved in music?

"The first time I sang was when I was about seven and had joined the choir and from that time I was always involved in music or drama and always got the lead role in the school play because of my ability to sing.

When I was fifteen I ran away from home, first of all to escape the madness. I then immediately began touring with an older man I had met, we started a travelling duo and toured all over the east coast of South Africa for about three months and that’s basically how things started. Since the age of fifteen, I’ve hardly stopped. I was like a bunny, hopping from one hole to another, (laughs), I know that sounds kind of perverse, but for a long time I literally hopped from one band to another. I did everything, I did back up vocals for a big band with three other girl singers, we did the whole miniskirt thing with all of the choreography. I’ve done the gospel choirs, I’ve done dance music, I’ve really done just about everything to get where I am today and I’ve never stopped trying."

It’s lucky that your voice is so versatile.

"Very much so, hence the nickname, ‘chameleon’. When I started my first band in Holland, my stage name was Caz. My second band was called, Caz Meleon, primarily because people kept telling me I was like a chameleon, as my look and my music kept changing. In some ways this versatility has been helpful but it has also been hard because when I went and recorded my first original work, my first record, I was so confused trying to decide as to what was actually my voice, as I had been doing different voices for all of those early years, so that was quite a challenge for me."

So how did you find your true voice?

"I stopped thinking. Previously, every time I heard a song, I would think it reminded me of Cindi Lauper or it would remind me of Stevie Nicks and that’s whom I would try and sound like. I just discovered that if I stopped thinking about who I sounded like and just sang the lines, let it go, my voice came through. On the other hand, my versatility has definitely helped me when I wanted to imitate other singers or do tricks with my voice, as that comes easy to me, it comes naturally and now that I finally know who Dilana’s voice actually is, it’s great."

Who, or what, have been your main influences or inspirations?

"Being very serious and honest about this, I wouldn’t say I’ve been influenced by any particular person or body, but I most definitely get influenced by circumstance and situations that have occurred over the past thirty odd years of my life. Those things have really been influential."

Are you happy with the way your career is progressing to date?

"I’m extremely happy and I’m even more excited about the future, because I know in my head what I want to do, but I’m not going to talk about that right now because its going to be slightly, no, totally, different from what I’m doing now. I really do know exactly what it is I want to do. What I’m doing here and now is a major stepping-stone to the next phase of my career."

I notice from your website that you are heavily involved in charity work. How did that come about?

"The notion that I wanted to become involved in charity work was initiated about six years ago, whilst I was still living in South Africa. I visited a farm where a lady, out of her own good heart, had started taking in little babies with AIDS. Most of them had been found abandoned in the African bush. As soon as she started taking in these babies, desperate mothers would also come to her in order to give up babies, which they often could not afford to feed. Most of these kids were black and had been born with AIDS, so this woman started a clinic, a home, a shelter, for babies with AIDS. I went there initially to visit my brother who was a volunteer and I immediately fell in love with one of the babies, a little girl, who was dying of AIDS. I used to nurse her, change her nappy, but unfortunately she died whilst I was in South Africa and that was such a huge trauma for me. That’s when I decided that no matter what it took, one day I was going to have my own South African paediatric AIDS clinic and that’s still my goal. Since then I’ve been very involved in helping other paediatric AIDS societies, foundations and charities, basically anything to do with kids. I help a lot with the Lily Claire Foundation, which works with autistic children. I also do a lot of work for an amazing charity based in L.A. called Safe Passage, which aims to help women and children who are victims of domestic violence, which is something I can totally relate to, having grown up in a violent environment. Working with children is something that I find incredibly rewarding."

You’ve talked a lot about hard times. What has been the biggest obstacle you have overcome?

"I think that if I look back at my musical career, it’s been so hard. Despite the fact that wherever I sang, people loved my stage presence and my music, the minute I would tell them I was from South Africa, I would get the cold shoulder. That’s just because of the whole apartheid thing, if your skin is white and you come from that country, people generalise and assume you to be racist. That hurts me so much because I am totally opposed to any form of racism, my boyfriend is black, if my mum meets him she’ll die! (Laughs). She doesn’t know about him and that’s fine by me, I don’t talk to her much anymore. So the hardest thing has really just been fighting for my rights as a South African female in the music industry and yes, it’s been rough."

Do you think that even today women are still discriminated against and stigmatised within the music industry?

"You know, I think it’s changed. I think that women today have a new voice, a lot more balls and I’m certainly one for voicing my opinion. I’m very feministic; if I could have an all female band, I’d be very happy, (laughs). It's still a very male dominated industry, the music industry, but women have come a long way and still have a long way further to go!"

Do you want to talk about the accident that you had?

"I was a stupid idiot. Basically I was riding my motorcycle after I had been drinking and that’s something that I haven’t admitted to a lot of people, in fact I think you’re the second person I’ve told that to."

So why talk about it now?

"I’ve just come out of rehab and realised that I can’t hide everything anymore. In order to face my addiction, I have to be able to talk about it.

Anyway, the accident happened about five years ago, in Houston, Texas. I drank, rode my motorcycle with about ten other bikers, some of us rode without wearing helmets. Anyway, it had just started raining and that’s all I can remember. I ended up with very serious head trauma; I basically fractured my skull in seven places, broke all of the bones around my right eye socket and broke my nose. I was extremely lucky; the higher power was looking out for me that day. I actually have a tattoo on my spine that says, Survivor, basically because of the fact that I lived through the motorcycle accident. I definitely felt like I had been given another chance."

The first time I became aware of you and your music was on the TV show, Rock Star: Supernova. How did your inclusion in the show come about and what has it done for you?

"I was living in Houston, Texas at the time, and in some ways it was like the TV show was a last resort for me. I decided that I would send in my stuff, even though I knew my chances were slim as people from all around the world were expected to take part. In the end, they auditioned around twenty five thousand people and I thought there was no way in hell that they would even find my little package, with my little cassette and bio, but I sent it in anyway. I thought that, if by chance, I did get onto the show, I’d give myself one more crack at it, the music thing. You see, at the time I was feeling a little down and out, it felt like I had tried everything I could and I thought maybe I should go and work in a hospital or something like that. So, when I made it onto the show and into the top fifteen, I just couldn’t believe it. By votes, I actually won the show, so that for me was another sign that I really wasn’t ready to quit. I’m here for a reason and have to do something as a woman within the music industry. I’ve been given this chance and I feel that I may be able to help other females to take a step up the ladder.

The TV show has given me tons of exposure. I can fly into virtually any airport in the world and someone will always walk up and say, “Oh my God, I loved you on the show”, or something else in that vein. However, I must also point out that it’s not always a good thing to appear on a reality TV show, as it usually has the corny factor connected to it and I was terrified of that. But in the beginning I never thought I would get as far as I did, so I didn’t worry about it too much until later on."

You definitely didn’t come across as corny in the few episodes that I managed to catch. In fact you didn’t seem to compromise yourself at all.

"Absolutely not. I know in myself that what you saw on the screen was me. I tried to be unique; I was honest, often too honest. I couldn’t keep my trap shut, and my honesty smacked me on the arse a few times, but I’d rather have a smack on the arse than be a liar. Anyway the challenge for me now, with this record I’m releasing, is to make people see I’m a real artist, not a reality TV actress. I want people to understand that this chick really can write and really can sing!"

So I suppose you have to focus on the benefits the show offered you.

"Exactly. The exposure I got was incredible. Before that, I had travelled around the world, from country to country, band to band, trying to make a name for myself and I didn’t really get too far. Then three months on a TV show, that’s all it took, the power of TV is phenomenal."

You talked earlier about your constantly changing image. Tell us more.

"Image, I didn’t realise I had one, (laughs). Honestly, I have never really sat down and thought about it that much. I just roll with the punches; it’s whatever I feel like at the time. The locks started with just a couple, then I decided that maybe I’d add a green one because I was wearing something green, so things just develop from one day to the next. It’s been the same with piercings. I think the first one I got was my navel. I was twenty and living in South Africa, it was probably more of a rebellious thing. Everything in that country was so conservative that I thought I would do something about it and I was one of the first people there to get a piercing. Those who saw it treated me as though I were the Devil’s child. That’s how the first tattoos and piercings actually started for me."

Let’s talk more about your tatts.

"I recently discovered something very interesting about my tatts, which I guess I already knew but didn’t want to acknowledge. I love ink and I love tattoos and for me, they have been like an epidermal scrapbook. I look at my tattoos and they bring back certain memories of the place where they were done, the people I knew there, an incident in my life that had a significant meaning, a cool place, or a very significant shag. It’s like, ‘oh my God, I remember that shag’, and it’s a visual reference to things that have occurred in my life. When I was in rehab recently and was in a very soul searching and introspective mindset, I thought, wow, maybe one of the reasons I decided to cover my arms with tattoos and ultimately cover all of my skin, was to stop people seeing deeper than that skin. I feel comfortable because I know that’s all that people will be able to see, they can’t see any further into me."

What was so scary about letting people see anything deeper?

"I’m not scared anymore, but I was before, mainly due to my addictions, because of my past. I never really wanted to talk about that in-depth before now. I always preferred to do it through my music, but didn’t think anyone would really get it. I have now reached a point in my life where I think, ‘oh screw it’. I know who I am, I’m confident about me. I also think that moving from South Africa to Holland, to Scotland, to Texas, then to L.A. was because I didn’t want people to see all of the drama. I wanted them to see the serious musician, this chick who just wanted to fucking rock. I didn’t want people to think that I was one of those drama queen chicks with all of that bullshit and that baggage, so that was part of my reasoning. Don’t let people into your soul; don’t let people too far into your intense world."

I’m appreciative of the fact that you are being so honest right now.

"The time for avoidance is in the past; I’m ready to move on."

So basically, in the past the ink was a way of keeping people out?

"Probably, that was a part of it. But that wasn’t the only reason. I’ll never deny that I just love ink. I adore tattoos I already know just what the rest of my tattoos will be; I have the whole of my body all figured out."

Do you collect work from different artists?

"Yes. I’ve got work from artists in Austin, Texas, Houston, Atlanta, Hollywood, Belgium, and Holland, Canada, South Africa, and of course my latest piece, the black crow on my back, was done by your own Lal Hardy. Basically I get work as I travel and I do like to collect work in different styles from different artists."

You mentioned ex boyfriends, what kind of men can cope with you? I would imagine many are intimidated.

"You tell me. I’m still looking and trying to work that one out for myself, (laughs). I’m actually dating an amazing guy right now, you’ll meet him later, and he plays drums in my band. He’s from Sweden but is originally from India. It’s been almost a year and he still turns me on, and that’s a good sign, (laughs). In the past dating has been such a struggle, as I am way too demanding, firstly on myself and then on others. If I can’t learn to be easier on myself, then I can’t be easy on anyone around me. That’s another thing I’m working on. I have so much to work on still. I need a very strong guy, but having said that, a guy who is too strong makes me even stronger as I don’t want anyone trying to dominate me, so it’s not easy, the balance has to be just right."

Tell us about the long awaited album.

"The album is called Darklight, one word. I think it kind of represents me in that I have a lot of darkness but I also have a lot of positive light energy that shines through the darkness and the other way around as through the light there is a lot of darkness.

The album is pretty intense and it contains a lot of anger, but not in an Alanis Morisette way. It’s more about pain, rather than anger. Then there are the lighter songs too which take a much more positive view of life and of the future. Another interesting thing about Darklight is that dark is also the word, gu, and light is ru, so in total it’s guru, that’s very cool. The album is out in January, it’s totally ready and has been mastered and it’s amazing."

It’s great that you are here playing the London Tattoo Convention. How did that come about?

"I actually don’t know how I got this gig, but I’m super stoked to be playing here. I’ve attended many conventions but this is the first one at which I’ve actually played."

Are there any other ambitions that you wish to fulfil?

"Absolutely. I want to be a mum and that’s something that has only surfaced within the last two years. I would love a kid or two and would definitely like to adopt. I wouldn’t be picky, I’d like to adopt children who need love, that’s probably due to my own childhood, and my boyfriend is also adopted. So, I definitely want to be a mum and I definitely want to continue to make music. Then there is the paediatric AIDS work that I want to do. I’m currently working a lot with the Elisabeth Glaser Foundation, and with Bono’s RED Foundation, which I love. I do a lot of work with them. In fact I’m amazed I’m not wearing anything red. Oh, I am, my shoes have got these patterns on them done by these little kids who call me their sister. They know I support the RED Foundation, so they specifically included red in the design. People like Bono and Charlize Theron have done so much to highlight the plight of AIDS sufferers in Africa and that’s my goal too. I’m from South Africa, they know me there thanks to the show, I’ve now got a profile and that’s given me another voice apart from the singing one and I need to speak out about this issue. I feel so blessed to have been given this opportunity. I feel like crying, (sobs). Sorry, I just get so emotional, but I really want to make things better in South Africa."

It seems to me like you are already doing a lot.

"I feel like I haven’t done anything, but thanks for saying that. It’s so important for me to give something back, so the other thing that I do with my boyfriend when I’m in L.A. is work in a homeless shelter near my house. What we are supposed to do as volunteers is to hand out bags of food, but I don’t tend to do that, I have my own thing. I just walk down the line and hug them all; they love that. Affection is so important, especially for people like the homeless, who may not have had the chance to bathe for a while. When someone touches them, they feel amazing. The power of touch is incredible, we all need to be held and loved."

Credits

Text & Photography: Ashley

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