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ON JOY DENALANE’S “BORN AND RAISED

 

Saturday/Sunday, January 27, 2008.

 

By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

 

Joy got me. I’m a fan! Joy Maureen Denalane was born in 1973 in Berlin, Germany, to a German mother and a South African father.

 

Trivia note: not only were Britain's Beverley Knight and Joy Denalane both born in 1973, but 1973 was also a high point of 70s' Soul, the same 1970s' Soul that both of these singers use as a foundation for their music. Still, their similaries notwithstanding, the two are very, very different.


One of the major struggles for contemporary soul singers is singing live and surpassing what they do in the studio. It’s difficult because there are so many crutches and enhancements that happen in the studio but when you get on stage you’ve got to go for what you know. You can’t fall back on the engineer to save your ass if you can’t cut it.
 
So I listen to these live tracks and nod my head and give thanks that at sixty my ears can still hear what’s happening. Joy’s subtle beauty in terms of her phrasing and the tonal qualities of her voice are totally refreshing.

 

Screaming, hollering, over-emoting (the Black folks’ melodrama school of vocalizing) is the standard today. It’s like, take a church approach and amp it up past ten. It’s all pedal to the metal, no finesse, no smooth-shifting from gear to gear, not to mention no double-clutching, no straightening the curves, no controlled spin-outs. No. Just rear back and whoop.

I think it’s part of our instant gratification society. We celebrate the obvious but overlook the subtle. So straight up, I admire the way sister Joy negotiates the changes with her sweet voice, especially given that those from outside the culture too often end up exaggerating stylistic techniques in an attempt to prove that even though they are not native-born they are authentic.

 

The real artists know that authenticity requires embracement of all that one is and not the imitation of what someone else is.

    

Except for “Miscommunication” and "Was Auch Immer", which are both from her debut album Mamani, all of these songs are from Joy’s last album, Born and Raised.

 

She’s been touring for over a year and while it easily could have become a rote exercise of going through the hits, there’s still joy in Joy’s singing; still a laughing, giggling authenticity that she communicates, which to me means Joy’s songs are sincere expressions of who she is and what she wants to do.

 

Moreover, her songwriting ability is noteworthy. These are not simply clever hooks with a backbeat; Joy has actually put thoughtfulness and skill into crafting her music.

When I first heard and reported on the album, I dug the song concepts and I focused on the political forwardness. After hearing a bunch of live cuts and hearing how Joy interacts with her audiences, I’m even more impressed. 

 

Her music taps into a longing for substance that fast food culture doesn’t satiate. You can eat as much as you want but you’re never nourished by a lot of what passes for musical soul food today. 
 
“Start Over” is a good example of how Joy sees failures and disasters as a starting point for achieving a better life, ‘cause like Joy emphasizes: it ain’t over ‘til it’s over/start all over again. A simple statement. But really uplifting when you get an audience of thousands to sing along. 

 

“Start Over” is from a July 2006 in Stuttgart, Germany. "Be Real," "Was Auch Immer," and "One In A Million" are from a July 2006 Kultkomplex Radiokonzert - Einslive (a German radio broadcast). All the other cuts are from the "Joy Live at O2 Music Flash" concert and are available as downloads from Amazon.

 

Taken as a whole, these cuts are echoes, a reply to the message in the bottle that was floated across the Atlantic: "Do they got soul over there?" The answer according to Joy Denalane is exuberantly returned: "Ja whol, Germany got soul!"

I have a problem now: I want to know what she’s going to do next. Born And Raised (and especially the subsequent live tracks) are a great follow-up to her Mamani debut, now Joy’s got me anxiously looking forward to where she goes from here.

 

Whatsoever directions she chooses to explore, I’m sure it’s going to be a beautiful experience checking out Joy’s ongoing development. I believe it was Dickens who wrote Great Expectations. Yeah, that’s it. Joy Denalane inspires great expectations!

 

Source: Live at O2 Music Flash (Four Music – 2007)

Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 

 

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