Doja Cat was raised by her mother, Deborah Elizabeth Sawyer
Creativity is in Doja Cat’s blood. The Grammy winner’s parents, Deborah Elizabeth Sawyer and Dumisani Dlamini, have artistic careers, too.
Sawyer is a painter and a clothing designer, while Dlamini is an actor and a dancer in South Africa, who is most famous for appearing in the 1992 film Sarafina! alongside Whoopi Goldberg.
In the 1990s, Sawyer and Dlamini had a brief relationship before splitting. Doja Cat (whose real name is Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini) grew up with her mother in New York and California.
“My mom is, like, a hippie from the ‘60s, super, like, chill with most things,” the rapper and singer told Billboard in 2021. “When it came to music and everything, she wanted to be a part of it. She wanted to hear it.”
“He’s an incredible dancer and a great actor, But yeah, I don’t know him very well,” Doja Cat said.
From their shared love of the arts to their social media interactions, here’s everything to know about Doja Cat’s parents, Deborah Elizabeth Sawyer and Dumisani Dlamini.
Dlamini and Sawyer met in New York
Sawyer filled Doja Cat’s childhood with the arts
“She paints,” the singer shared. “She used to paint more, but she’s now designing men’s clothing. She’s more on like, the computer designing stuff, on like Photoshop and stuff."
Sawyer shared her passion for art with her daughter, with Doja Cat mentioning that her mother placed her in several performing arts schools.
“She put me in dance and everything,” the rapper said. “When it came to school, I was in mostly performing arts, and I would take ballet and stuff like that.”
Outside of school, she was part of a dance crew and performed in breakdance battles.
Doja Cat told Billboard that her mother and grandmother’s painting informed aspects of her own career.
“A lot of that inspired me to like, take up fashion and visual, experimental things, and I thank them a lot for that,” she said. “I feel like it really helped me a lot. They have great taste, they have a good eye, and it kind of drove me in the right direction.”
Like her daughter, Sawyer loves music — especially hip-hop. Doja Cat described her mother as a “hip-hop head” on The Hotbox in 2013.
“Really ironic ‘cause, like, I’m Jewish, my grandma’s Jewish, she’s white, and she was never exposed to music like that until she started meeting people," the singer said. "And then she was like, ‘Wow, like, I really love this.’ ”
When the rapper began making music of her own, Sawyer encouraged her.
“She was always excited whenever I was like, ‘Hey, you wanna come hear this?' ” Doja Cat told Billboard.
Doja Cat’s first original song was for Sawyer
The first song Doja Cat ever wrote was for Sawyer. She was 8 years old at the time.
“I don’t remember how it goes,” she told Billboard. “I mean, I kind of do, and I’m definitely not telling anybody what the lyrics were. I’m, like, kind of ashamed. I don’t know why. It’s too mushy for me.”
Doja Cat has never met her father
Doja Cat grew up in the United States, while Dlamini lived in South Africa. Although the rapper and her father have connected a bit on social media, they do not share an in-person relationship.
“I felt confused, a little bit,” Doja Cat told Rolling Stone in 2021. “It’s a little strange to see everybody else with their dad, and you didn’t even really have one.”
One of Doja Cat's childhood friends, Gabrielle Hames, added, “She would always think her dad was coming, and he didn’t come. She’d say, ‘My dad is gonna come, he lives in Africa, he’s just performing,’ and he wouldn’t come.”
Despite their complicated dynamic, Dlamini spoke to GQ South Africa about his daughter in 2023.
“I’m so proud of her for what she has achieved," he told the publication. "I’m not surprised, because it’s in the blood.”
Doja Cat and her mother lived in an ashram for a while
When Doja Cat was 8, her mother relocated the family from Rye, New York, to the Sai Anantam Ashram, a commune in Santa Monica, California.
“It was very restraining,” the singer told Rolling Stone about the experience. “My brother liked it. He had a lot of friends. But I didn’t have many friends. For me, it was just like, ‘I can’t eat what I want to eat. I can’t really do kid stuff.’ Like, God forbid you don’t have a scarf on your shoulders.”
However, there was one positive: The legendary jazz musician Alice Coltrane led the community.
“That was incredible for me to be around at such a young age,” Doja Cat shared with Billboard. “She would sing, and it was captivating.”
Dlamini is an actor
Dlamini has an extensive performing arts résumé with over 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry.
While speaking with GQ South Africa, Doja Cat’s father opened up about what role he has been most honored to play in his career.
“I think it will be Celemba in eHostela,” he shared. “When I was given a role in eHostela, I found myself getting to another level of acting. It got to a point where I received my first SAFTA nomination. I said, ‘Thank God that I’m not gonna die without being nominated for an award.’ ”
Doja Cat praised her father’s talent while chatting with VladTV.
"He’s a dancer. He’s amazing,” she said. “Actually, I didn’t know how amazing he was ‘till, like, yesterday. Like, he’s incredible. My mom showed me a video on YouTube of him dancing ... It was for Sarafina!.”
The singer continued: “He just killed it. It was amazing. But I didn’t really know he could dance like that ‘till yesterday.”
Dlamini, who has more than 18,000 Instagram followers, wrote in his bio that he is a “Stage & TV Actor,” an “MC/Host” and a “Motivational Speaker.”
Doja Cat connected with Whoopi Goldberg over Dlamini
When Doja Cat and Goldberg met backstage at Late Night with Seth Meyers in November 2019, they immediately had something to talk about.
“I’m just thinking about my dad ‘cause he was in Sarafina!. Yeah, so seeing you and meeting you is, like, the craziest thing,” Doja Cat said in a clip of their meeting.
After she shared her father’s name, Goldberg responded with a shocked expression, “Get outta here!”
“Isn’t that crazy?” Doja Cat told her. “And I didn’t get to meet him, but you did.”
Goldberg called Dlamini a “really good man,” and then the duo hugged.
Dlamini shows his support for Doja Cat online
Although Dlamini and Doja Cat are not close, the actor expresses his pride for his daughter on social media.
On July 14, 2023, he posted a video of her giggling and wrote, “WOW LET ME HEAR THE BEST FROM THE BEST GOOD LUCKY.”
He also shared a photo of the singer in one of her costumes from her “Woman” music video.
“AFRICAN PRINCESS THANK SO MUCH FOR SUPPORTING GOD BLESS YOU MORE,” Dlamini captioned the December 2021 post.
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