Dilana: "I Want to be There Every Step of the Way"

Nobody with a voice like the South African-born Dilana should have this hard of a time getting heard. Her first album, “Wonderfool,” was released on Dutch label Red Bullet in 2000. Critically, the album did just fine, receiving solid reviews and getting three singles on the Dutch charts. But Red Bullet's promotion of the album was best described as “indifferent,” and the sales never matched, leaving Dilana needing to repay the advance the label gave her.

Her second album, “Inside Out,” featuring No Doubt drummer Adrian Young and Motley Crue guitarist Mick Mars, was set to be released six years later on the Hurricane Records label. Hurricane went under before the album saw the light of day, and that's when things started to get weird.

“One of my fans won the lottery,” Dilana explained in a phone interview. “He won $84 million. He bought this big mansion and his wish was for me to come sing at the house warming. So I did. Then, for his wife's birthday, he asked her what she wanted and she said 'I want Dilana's new CD'.”

Since he couldn't pop down to Tower Records and buy a physical copy, the fan, Maryland resident Bunky Bartlett, did what any newly minted millionaire would.

“He went to London and bought the masters,” Dilana said. “He had no knowledge of the music industry at all. He was an accountant.”

Nevertheless, Kabunk Records was born. The label would go on to release exactly one album in its history — “Inside Out” — before folding. But Bartlett still owns the rights to the album. Meaning that Dilana has yet to see a dime from the first dozen years of her work.

“It's pretty sad and pathetic, is it? I've worked really, really hard, and I haven't seen a cent.”

“I've had the opportunity to buy my own masters back from Lottery Guy,” she continued. “He asked a ridiculous amount, more than he paid, and I just said forget about it. I'm already so broken about how that album was handled, that I just thought 'I'm not going to go rehash these moments again. It's time to move on'.”

So she has. In 2013, Dilana crowd-funded her nextalbum, “Beautiful Monster,” working with legendary Seattle grunge producer Jack Endino on the finished product.

“That was huge, feeling of my fan's support and loyalty,” she said. “So the entire project was funded by my fans, which in itself is a beautiful thing. And working with Jack, I had such creative freedom in the studio.”

The album has been well received by fans, and provides listeners with the most fully-realized opportunity to experience the voice that made Dilana so popular in Europe to begin with. A rocker through and through, Dilana's golden voice pours over each song like honey. And, for someone who has seen so much of her hard work squandered in the hands of people with lesser vision, having the freedom to create and release an album on her own terms meant everything.

“I was tired of being told how I have to sing,” she said. “How I have to produce an album, what the first single should be. People often think that a singer was just a singer, and that's not the case. I have a talent to hear and arrange and write in my own way. I find it important to be a huge part of the production. I want to be there for every beat, every note, every step of the way.”

Originally appeared in Cityview February 17, 2016