Originally born on the island of St. Thomas to a Puerto Rican father and Dutch mother, Dawn Safari currently resides in Denver, Colorado and produces club-inspired music with a strong foundation in cultural history. Forming the DIRTY//CLEAN label with his good friend Bedrockk, Dawn explores the many facets of electronic music with an explorer’s mentality. “I’ve … always seen clubs and parties as being like urban tribal experiences,” he writes, “with a clan of your closest people gyrating and sweating to frenzied drum rhythms in unison.” His performance setup includes many live elements, including a wealth of percussion instruments and a golden lion mask.
Below, Dawn recounts the influence behind his latest release, “Cohoba”. After finding out his grandmother was a direct descendant of the indigenous Taíno tribe of the Caribbean and spending months researching the culture, he crafted a song that he feels represents the sounds of their Cohoba ceremony, which includes festivities, psychotropics, and a journey into the tribe’s rich spirituality. Read on below.
For the Taíno, a group of people indigenous to the Caribbean who thrived there centuries ago, music and dance were vital to their sacred Cohoba ceremony. During this ritual, the members of the village—dressed for the occasion in colorful body paint, flowered capes, and seashell jewelry—would help one another ingest the sacred snuff of the psychedelic Yopo plant, drifting in and out of visionary states. To help each other commune with spirits of the past and future, some participants wore masks and costumes that represented both mystic and real animals. Others added to the music by singing loudly, beating on large drums and playing maracas and güíros. This was their way to connect with the supernatural realm, and those who accessed that space were able to heal the sick, predict the future, and ensure the fertility of the world.
I discovered that my Puerto Rican grandmother, Analda, was a descendent of the Taínos around the same time I started producing my Carribean-inflected take on club music. I noticed a striking resemblance between their sacred ceremonies and modern electronic shows and parties, which to me represent a sort of urban ritual—a celebration of music and dance with a clan of people all seeking access to some other realm. I began researching the traditions of the Taíno people, who were indigenous to the same region of the Caribbean where I was born and raised. Their culture was rich and varied and placed a high value on artistic expression, music, and dance. With this newfound knowledge in mind, I sought a way to bring a similar experience to the audience when I perform.
I incorporate elements of my live show to honor the Taíno traditions; I wear a metallic gold lion mask and matching cloak when I perform. Percussion is a primary focus in my live sets and my recordings. I play woodblocks, maracas and shakers to breathe life into the music and create a thread between my compositions and the culture that I come from. This new song was written while engaging in my own personal ceremony, conjuring the mystical roots of my ancestors and reflecting on the importance of music and movement throughout human history. I hope you enjoy Cohoba, a ritualistic dance between ancient traditions and modern technology. I plan to expand on this style in my forthcoming Areíto EP, due out this summer on SF/Denver label DIRTY//CLEAN.