JOY DENALANE / “Born And Raised”
Joy Denalane got me. I’m a fan. Regular readers of BoL already know my feelings and opinions about Joy Denalane, so I won’t bother dropping much commentary on these live cuts I’ve acquired but I do want to make a few general observations. 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 thanx 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 (i.e. the Negro 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. This 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 an echo, 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! —Kalamu ya Salaam Pick up a copy of Mamani Live I like Joy. I'm not crazy about her like Kalamu is, but I do like her. Another thing is, I enjoyed Joy's earlier albums Mamani and Mamani Live a lot more than I like her current project, Born & Raised. One thing I don't dig about Born & Raised is how American it sounds. It's almost 100% in English and the musical vibe will be familiar to anyone who listens to the radio. But back during the Mamani era, Joy Denalane often sang in German. Obviously, you're never going to hear that on your average Hot FM radio station. The thing is, Joy isn't your average American R&B singer and back then it didn't sound like she was trying to be. With Born & Raised though, both the music and the packaging seem very mainstream. I almost feel like Joy was hedging her bets: partially staying true to herself but also trying to court the average American music fan who isn't going to go for African themes or the German language. Even with all of that said, I do still like some of these songs. The feature track, "Born And Raised," is great. Like Kalamu says, Joy's energy and enthusiasm come through so strongly that it's hard not to like it. But when I compare these live tracks to Mamani Live (especially some of the live covers Joy did), I really don't think they measure up. Remember Joy's cover of "Sign O' The Times"? Or what about the incredible job she did with the standards "Lover Man" and "I Cover The Waterfront"? I also liked the live versions of her own songs like "Mamani" and "Miscommunication." No insult to the current batch of songs, but if you like Joy's voice and want to hear her bring it live, I suggest you head over to your favorite site that carries imports and pick up a copy of Mamani Live. —Mtume ya Salaam At 16 she ran away from home… …and hung out with black G.I.’s. In Germany. Once upon a time back in the mid-sixties I was a black G.I. in Korea. Geography aside, I can promise you that was no easy hang for a sixteen year old. Beyond negoitiating the sexual-socio politics of being a runaway, Joy was also an identity conflicted young lady who felt psychologically liberated by hip-hop. Aspects of Joy’s use of English and soul music might be foreign but on another level, a truly intimate level, English is not just a foreign language; English was actually the language of her coming of age. In Germany there is a wide use of English and, think on this, undoubtedly English was a common language between Joy’s Berlin-born mother and South African-born father. Plus, English-language black music was widely played on the radio in Berlin. But beyond that think back on identity formation: initial sexual experiences, first forays living away from one’s parents, hanging out in the streets and clubs and making your own decisions and life choices. Regardless of what one does later, those maiden voyage major moments will endure deep inside the psyche. One of the reasons I picked “Born And Raised” was because the lyrics lined out a bunch of conflicts, contradictions and self-determination, all of which are integral parts of Joy’s self-identity. If you’re interested, there’s an English-language interview with French overdubbed in which Joy addresses some of the questions and assumptions you’ve raised. Joy is totally conscious about what she’s doing and what she wants to do with her music in terms of making an all English album. As for the music, I agree with you, Mtume. My personal tastes lean more toward what she did with Mamani but I also have to give Joy kudus for what she has achieved with this sophomore effort as a soul singer. Musician Max Herre, her album producer and husband, is in total agreement on the direction Joy has chosen. Go here for a three part interview with Joy in which she directly addresses questions about her music. Check this: Joy didn’t start singing until she was nineteen. She didn’t grow up singing. She’s self taught without the benefit of growing up in a church community or even a community where she could learn from older soul singers. In that regard Joy’s accomplishments are astounding. Additionally, she's no ingenue trying to break into the big time. Born in 1973, Joy is a 34-year-old wife and mother of two children, which partially accounts for the maturity of her music. I did a bunch of research of this post. I’m old school. I like natural hair. I don’t like the permed looked that Joy is currently sporting. Go here to see one of Joy’s first videos—she’s rocking that Amel Larrieux look. That’s the look I dig. BTW, the song is “Mit Dir,” which Joy beautifully covered on Mamani, and it’s actually a Freunderskreis (an ensemble Max lead) video featuring Joy Denalane. Personal tastes not withstanding, I try to be aware that natural or perm is a personal choice. Sure there are political aspects to the choice nevertheless it’s still a choice and in the final analysis the way one wears one's hair does not necessarily nor absolutely tell us where a person’s head is at. While you’re right about how familiar the music sounds, the lyric content of the album as a whole is on a different level from the average song heard on American radio. BTW, on purpose I didn’t include one or two of the most political of the songs mainly because I was struck by how much of this music exemplified “the personal is political” aesthetic. Finally, as I said and will now reiterate, what I’m really looking forward to is Joy’s next album. Meanwhile, the live tracks will hold me till the next one drops. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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