Just two years ago, Sudanese-born and Netherlands-based R&B singer-songwriter Gaidaa caught the attention of Dutch producer Full Crate with a cover of a Kehlani record. Full Crate would go one to work with her and launch the artist’s career.
The 20-year-old is coming off the release of her debut EP, Overture, while still attending university music program classes in The Netherlands. She released a new video for her single “Falling Higher” today. We took some time to exchange emails with Gaidaa, diving into her journey through Overture, pandemic coping mechanisms and the moments that brought here.
“I have a lot of love to give through my music, Gaaida said. “I might be super confusing, and all over the place, but I truly love this music thing. This isn’t just my passion, it’s really connected to who I am as a human. As dramatic as it sounds, music is the only way I make sense of myself and the world around me. For me it’s spiritual.”
RIFF: What was it like releasing your debut EP during a pandemic? How do you feel it would have fared if you released it during normal times?
Gaidaa: I was really nervous initially, and kind of upset that I had to release it in a context that caught me off guard; obviously this wasn’t the plan. Eventually I just accepted this was my reality, and at least I wasn’t the only artist on Earth affected. That kept me sane. I have no idea what the tangible difference would have been, but I think there would have been more performances and overseas opportunities. I’m grateful, though. People were ready for music during these times.
What is the state of the pandemic where you’re at? How have quarantines and shutdowns affected you and how have you been dealing with it?
Gaidaa: I live in The Netherlands, and it’s been kind of confusing, actually. Initially it was strict and I really abided by all the rules and didn’t see anyone except for my brother for ages. Eventually cases went down, and things got a lot more relaxed—and rules more unclear. I am lucky to be living in The Netherlands. In August I was able to sell out my first headline shows despite the current pandemic. The shows were smaller, seated, regulated and with [physical] distance. But it felt so good to perform again.
Have you been mainly taking this time to work on music, or are their other activities or hobbies you’ve been focusing on as well?
Gaidaa: Honestly it’s changed throughout. Initially I could barely make any music and I just had to focus on finding my zen and staying sane. I picked up painting. It soothes me because I’m terrible, so there’s no pressure to be good; haha. I also started trying to teach myself how to produce, but learning. I did a lot of singing the last few months, but I am only now really getting back to making music again.
Looking back to where you were when you started, or even just a year ago, did you think that where you are in life now is where time would lead you?
Gaidaa: Kind of yes and kind of no. I guess in the back of my mind I’d always hoped, but never would I have imagined that I would have experienced some of the things that I have in such a short time. I’m just so grateful that I finally found the balls to pursue my dreams. So much has happened in the last two years, I can’t even begin to comprehend it myself.
How have you grown since then? What would you tell your younger self?
Gaidaa: I have grown so much; it feels really profound, actually. Of course I still have growing left to do, but I feel like I’ve gotten so much more comfortable in my being, presence, opinions and just the general space I take up. Slowly but surely I have found and am finding my voice in the studio, and learning how to have boundaries and stand up for myself. The biggest change [for] me has been my mindfulness.
What was the pivotal moment or experience that drove you to pursue a career in music?
Gaidaa: In 2018 Full Crate and I released “A Storm On A Summers Day” which went way better than I could have ever expected. At this point I had no plan, and I was still in university so I was kind of shook. The response was so crazy, I spent my whole second year pretending to go to school and going to sessions, gone from home days at a time with no real goal, but a new drive. Eventually I found the guts to quit school. But this song really showed me that I was capable, before I knew it.
Take us through your writing process and the meaning behind the main themes on Overture.
Gaidaa: The songs were essentially created almost exactly in the order that they appear. The songs happened as my life happened and the EP truly existed and developed alongside me experiencing my life. The other day I realized that every single song was recorded in a fully different room and place. Overture just takes you through my headspace as I discover it myself, from fear to rebellion, confrontation, loss, serenity, growth, fruits and receiving love.
How did you team up with Saba and Jarreau Vanda on “Stranger?”
Gaidaa: Jarreau is the homie. Full Crate actually introduced us. We’ve sat together before and are genuinely friends so it was a pretty organic thing that happened. We’d already been working on the song, and I knew Saba was going to be in Amsterdam soon. I connected with Saba through Instagram a while back (I think also through Full Crate) and just asked if he was down to do a session, and he was. It happened pretty quickly. He came through, we ate some great food, chilled, and he wrote and recorded his verse. Super grateful to work with talented people who are also genuine and humble!
What are you hoping for on the road ahead in your future?
Gaidaa: Peace of mind, to be honest! A lot more music. To perform and be able to travel again. To release an album. To write for others. To learn how to produce. And to stay sane, and keep loving!
Follow writer Amelia Parreira at Twitter.com/AmeliaParreira.