Calm and collected and possibly tired, Denai sat in her infamous gold embroided black jacket paired with yellow trousers. This time her hair was in braids as a pose to her afro which threw me off a little, but it was definitely Denai. In a small room, filled with cases and suitcases, we spoke a little about her album.
We Used To Bloom is her sophomore album but unlike her debut, the whole album was produced solely by Steph Marziano. Steph has produced for artists such as Kasbain, Radiohead and FKA Twigs, so her partnership with Denai couldn’t easily be predicted, but for Denai, she seemed “fresh and new”. The two met at a Girls Music Day event hosted by Dice and they had originally planned to meet to make a demo. However, the chemistry was immediately apparent and in that session they produced the songs that would come to make her album. For Denai, lack of chemistry had been a re-occurring problem as she had tried to work with other producers for her album but they had come to no avail. For Denai, Steph was on her wavelength and her work pushed her own creativity to the point where she describes her artistry as “grown”. This growth is evident in the developed sounds and lyricism of her latest album compared to the last one.
Denai has stated herself as genreless something that is apparent in We Used To Bloom. With the help of Steph, Denai experiments with many sounds – most noticeably the trumpet – but the album is still very much cohesive. However, she isn’t the first to state that she doesn’t belong to a single genre and yet she is still being categorised (under websites such as Genius, her tags are Soul Pop, Indie Pop, Alt Pop Soul and of course R’n’B). When asked about this, Denai did state her frustration and slight confusion with this obsession to categorise her music. For her, she saw it as unnatural for any artists to produce and write with a specific genre in mind. When being a creative, she is free with the instruments and sounds she uses and thus finds it frustrating when she is expected by others to a sound a particular way. It was clear that Denai understands how sounds are naturally categorised (e.g. saxophone being equated with jazz), but she believes that this doesn’t give authorisation for her to pigeon-holed. Something can be said for how she is described as R’n’B when her music is actually quite far from it, and she finds this lazy type of labelling “reductive”. Commendation was given to FKA Twigs for speaking about this haphazard categorisation especially in relation to new black female artists. For her, and no doubt for many, it is frustrating to be labelled as R’n’B because you’re a black female singer.
Moving on to her songs, I asked who the message of ‘Do They Care’ was directed at. As I suspected, it was an ode to her feelings towards the police brutality seen in America. The song is based around the murder of Sandra Bland. Denai had attempted to verbalise her feelings many times before but settled with ‘Do They Care?’ as previous attempts were either too emotional or too angry; with time came the desired balance.
‘Does It Get Easier?’ was another poignant song on the album for me but I couldn’t place who the question was posed to. Denai however explained that the song is in fact about self-reflection and finding her place in the world. As we spoke about the song, it was clear that she is very self-aware about the world and of her own actions to combat negativity or encourage progress. Living in London can be double-edged knife. For Denai, her home town makes her re-evaluate her motives which although proves valuable for keeping her purpose in check, can at times can make one feel futile. With many issues circulating in the forefront of her mind – especially the Syrian crisis and the UK’s involvement in many of the crises happening worldwide – Denai admitted that she sometimes felt resentment to the harshness of the world which is contributed to by the very same human beings living in it.
Through writing about anxiety, self-love and questioning her purpose, it is obvious that Denai, although young, is a very compassionate individual who is well on her way to self-discovery. Her next album will definitely be one to watch. It will be interesting to see the next stage of her journey, and how she will sonically translate her findings.By Adaobi Nezianya