"It suits me. I consider myself a bit of an underdog." Donn Mahinder Kumar

"I want to bring back a little bit more soul to electronic music.” Donn Mahinder Kumar

The sounds of Bollywood music have always been part of Donn Mahinder Kumar’s life. The Dutch producer has Indian roots. His father would play the traditional music all the time – in their house or in the car. But it wasn’t until later that Donn, who today goes by the artist name Gumnaam, learned how special the music really was: “I discovered that some composers actually really were ahead of their time.”

Donn (31) has just moved to Berlin a few weeks ago. He grew up in Groningen, a city in the Northern part of the Netherlands. Donn has been composing electronic music since the age of fifteen. The first time he discovered that sounds could be manipulated though, was a few years before, at home, behind an old Atari computer. Donn explains: “I had figured out how to make a sound stammer,” he laughs. “It drove my mom crazy. Every time I would push a button you would hear ‘prrr’, ‘prrr’, in the living room.”

A list of goals
As he got older this experimenting with sounds became a true passion: “I saw some guys around me who were making electronic music and samples. Even though they had very different styles, I thought it was really cool.” He later joined the academy for pop culture, where he got the opportunity to develop himself more as a producer. When all students were asked to make a list of their future goals, Donn turned in the longest list. “It varied from traveling around the world, to founding my own label, and from airplay on the radio to putting my own music on vinyl. I wanted to be able to make a living with my own music.”

Today Donn can scrap quite some things of this list. During his studies Donn started mixing electronic music more and more with the sounds he remembered from his childhood. He describes his style as ‘riddim and culture’: a blend of musical styles of dubstep, drum and bass, and oldschool jungle music. He uses typical Indian instruments like a sitar and a tabla, and has cooperated with a female singer with a typical Bollywood voice.

The usage of Bollywood music is not necessarily something new according Donn: “It has been done many times in the Unites States – in combination with hip hop for example. Busta Rhymes has done it, Timbaland and the Black Eyes Peas. The song ‘Don’t phunk with my heart’ for example, is clearly based on a Bollywood song.”

Donn’s artist name, Gumnaam, literally means ‘Anonymous’ in Hindi. “It suits me. I consider myself a bit of an underdog – someone who always was a bit in the background, but slowly started to manifest himself. Growing up, because of my darker skin colour and my unusual last name, I felt different from my classmates. That’s not bad, of course. I’m proud of it, and it actually brought me advantages too. Like my special sound in music and the opportunity to travel to India.”

After his studies Donn moved to Amsterdam, where he played his music in many well-known nightclubs. He moved houses again in 2010, this time to London. Here he felt acknowledged: “distributors in the Netherlands discouraged me to carry on with my music, saying they couldn’t market it, but in London I noticed people really liked my work. I decided to do start distributing it myself.” He continues: “My way of working is quite unorthodox. I would just go by record stores myself with my LP’s and talk to people.”

This approach worked. His songs got played on BBC Radio 1 and Asian Network and his LP’s were sold in record stores. “People connected with my music. Off course, this also has to do with the large Indian community in London. But still, the right people in the music scene really supported my music. It was great.”

Bring back a bit of soul
Berlin, famous for its underground scene, is the next city Donn wants to conquer. He still feels like he can contribute something to the already well-established electronic music scene. “Everything today seems to be about being loud and rough. But to me music is also about expressing a certain feeling. I’m always looking for a sound that really reflects how I feel, whether that’s love, hope, aggression or excitement. I want to bring back a little bit more soul to electronic music.”

So far, the Berliners haven’t let him down. “People seem to be very open-minded here. Some stores responded very positively on my tracks and some of my LP’s are already in their stores. Ideally I would love to organize an music event every two moths or so. But first, off course,  I need to get people to hear my music!”

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