Dunia Best is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and music teacher currently based in the state of Maryland, along with her partner Aram. Her current mainstay projects include, Dubistry, a mix of breakbeat, soul, and dub, Rude Girl Revue, and she and partner, Aram, also act as the support (as Dunia & Aram) and backing band for their good friend, Vivien Goldman. Dunia's past projects have also been vast, and include: Brave New Girl, and Agent 99, among many others. Read on for a brief look into Dunia's lengthy career and insights into her music present, and past.
"Tender and tough, lilting between dub, ska, and soul, 'Bedfellows' is the sound of symbiosis, steeped in their shared sensibility of New York and punky reggae.”--Vivien Goldman
Have you always felt in step with your own musical or artistic direction: what is the hallmark of a great song for you?
I have not always stayed in step with my musical direction, but I use that to grow. My greatest enemy is ignorance, so if someone has something to show me, I look. For instance, I sang for a bit with a New Orleans swamp funk band. My husband/musical partner, Aram, really loves playing jazz standards. My bassist and drummer in Agent 99 were super into quirky, funky, punk. I would have limited myself if I didn’t open up to these things.
The hallmark of a great song, to me, is a song you immediately want to hear again.
What is your favorite recording medium?
I really love recording onto 2” tape. So warm. But so expensive.
What would you say has been the most helpful innovation in technology for your songwriting, recording process, or performances?
I really love my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and my Korg WaveDrum. The Scarlett converts audio to digital pretty seamlessly. The WaveDrum helps me make my own beats and rhythms. I don’t play a drum kit, and I was raised on African diasporic percussion. I can play the WaveDrum like a conga, or a djembe, and use different samples with it. It’s a big deal for me.
How did you and Vivien Goldman become friends and begin playing music with each other?
Vivien and I met after Ari Up (the Slits) died. Ari had been trying to get us all together for years. Aram and I were looking to put together a small memorial show when Vivien contacted us. Vivien informed us that we could not put on a small show, it had to be big. We booked the Music Hall of Williamsburg and Vivien pulled out all the stops. It was an incredible event with all The Slits and Neneh Cherry, Honeychild Coleman, Tamar Kali, Hollie Cook…it was an extravaganza. We raised a little money for cancer research, thanks to Ari’s mom, Nora.
You have been composing and performing since the '80s beginning in various groups from The Slackers, to your own projects beginning in Agent 99, and newer projects with your husband, Aram Sinnreich, including Dubistry, Brave New Girl, all the way to now (both) combining to perform with your good friend Vivien Goldman.
Was there a specific point in any of these projects where you physically felt yourself growing (musically/artistically) in a way that was immediate or surprising that you have taken with you into your current works?
I grew a lot during Agent 99. Ara and Alec were into stuff I had never heard of and wanted to take things way out. I was focused more commercially, I think. So I stretched. I stretched a lot because they were great and I really loved playing with them.
Brave New Girl stretched me differently because I never saw myself as a Sade-type and that’s what our music asked of me. I tried on sophistication for that one. Our keyboardist Todd can play anything and he and Aram were brilliant together with jazz progressions, so I followed them there.
Dubistry (started in Los Angeles) incorporated break beats and the genius guitar of Matt Urbania who could do live dub sounds. We had a DJ onstage too sometimes. I was also under the Ari Up influence during that time so I was stretching my vocal range and lyrical style then. When we moved back to New York from Los Angeles we basically combined the two bands.
Now, Aram and I live in the DC-area, and our band has a hard time coming down to play. So, I’ve learned to accompany myself. It’s a process, but
As a multi-instrumentalist who also teaches students in music, what is the one thing that you share as a takeaway with any aspiring artist when they are asking for advice?
My best piece of advice is, 'stick to it with your heart and guts. Your mind can play tricks on you.'
In 2022 and 2023 what do you hope or what are you looking forward to exploring more of (in music or artistically)?
I’m really looking forward to playing with Rude Girl Revue and promoting the Dunia & Aram record, "Bedfellows"!
Do you have a music or artistic community that you have become a part of (being based in Maryland)?
We’re still learning who our people are down here, but the ska scene has become very welcoming. Lots of cool weirdos to meet still. ֎
This original interview with Dunia Best first appeared in the debut issue of Connect-ing to the Beat fanzine, in May 2022. To read the full interview and read about Dunia's previous projects and herstory, pick up a physical copy of the zine, here. Support Dunia & Aram's newest album, "Bedfellows," by picking up a copy on CD or vinyl, here, or on their Bandcamp.