PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Until Aug. 19, 2021, Dontā Laneil had never had a gig as a DJ. One year later he was celebrating his one-year anniversary as Sounds by Dontā, and all of his successes in just that brief time.

Successes include performing at a Portland Winterhawks’ game, opening for Portland-bred rapper Aminé in the Moda Center and holding his own events in spaces throughout the city.

While music has only just become his official trade, the DJ and music producer has always had an interest in the art. “I guess you could say I’ve always been into music growing up,” Laneil said. “So my parents played a lot of old school R&B, like neo-soul type music. I remember some of my most vivid memories are of my mom and dad playing Carl Thomas, Erykah Badu and Maxwell.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Laneil was born and raised in Northeast Portland but moved in 2015 to join the Air Force. Upon moving back and expressing more interest in music, one of his cousins who had been involved in the industry told him that he could become a better DJ if he started making his own beats first. He did that from 2017 to 2020. But, becoming a music producer was the ultimate goal.

“In the interim of sending beats out and waiting to hear back, I was like, ‘What can I do to keep myself relevant and creative?’” Laneil said. “So I picked up DJing last year. This past year has truly been a blessing, how it’s panned out.”

Before he started his ever-growing roster of events in cities like Portland, Los Angeles and Toronto, the DJ got a bunch of nos. Eventually, he just took matters into his own hands.

One night in 2021 at Church Bar, Laneil asked the DJ performing if he could step in. Laneil stepped into the DJ booth, and started doing everything he had been practicing in his room. The positive response that night landed him a regular Thursday-night slot at the bar. Laneil started playing to bigger crowds and people were lining up around the block to get in. He says there were even NBA players showing up on some nights.

“It caught a lot of the city’s attention,” Laneil said. The same bars that he had initially reached out to now wanted him to perform in their spaces. “It’s funny how, you know, it took that one. Ever since then, I haven’t looked back.”

One particularly special moment in his career was being one of the openers for Aminé’s concert in the Moda Center. Aminé, a rapper born and raised in Portland, gave many local artists an opportunity to perform for his homecoming show.

The huge venue was a big adjustment for Laneil, who considers himself a natural introvert. “I was so nervous,” he said. “It was a great experience, and then that was my first [opening.] After that I got to open up for three other artists. So I think that gig kind of set me up for the ones I’ve done following that.”

Now, some of Laneil’s biggest events are the ones that he organized by himself, Brown Sugar and All Love.

Brown Sugar is inspired by the movie of the same name. “The whole idea around the movie is two people falling in love, but the glue that held them together is hip hop,” he said. The party has been held in a few spaces around the city such as Psychic Bar and Sugar Hill.

All Love is the party that Laneil hopes to host in cities all over the country in which he flies DJs from a variety of different cities into Portland to perform. The most recent event on Sep. 4 featured performers from the east coast and the Bay Area.

The community aspect of the job and these parties is something that really motivates Laneil. “It just really meshes new, Black Portland with Black Portland that has been here all of their life,” he said. “So I feel like it just brings people to that mutual space.”

“I think there are many transplants to Portland, and most of them are people of color,” Ruby Robinson, a recent attendee of the All Love party, said. “And if you don’t have connections to things like this, you’re very f***ing alone.”

Whitney Downing, another partygoer, agreed. “I’ve been here for four years and it’s so rare to have these events… To make me want to stay when I come from Maryland, it’s a big deal to have this type of stuff,” she said.

Follow Laneil’s Instagram to stay up-to-date on his future events throughout Portland.