Chatting amid the release of a fiery new single, powerhouse performer DEJA talks smashing through mental blocks, and what's next in her quest for world domination.

With a fierce blend of sassy lyrics and bold beats, rising star DEJA is here to make some noise. Creating chopped and screwed Afrobeats with a pop finesse, the powerhouse grasps a signature sound with both hands, drawing on board inspiration from the genres she’s immersed herself in throughout her life. There was never any doubt that she would break into the world of music with such promise, building up a strong online presence to thousands of followers, who love her tongue-in-cheek vibe. “Life is fucking good,” explains the Birmingham-hailing icon, when she Zooms in from her home while getting ready for a dance class. “I have no other words right now, I’m just happy for once,” she laughs. 

 

An artist’s sound is ever-changing, and DEJA has been on quite the sonic journey. Early singles like ‘ted talk’ feel inherently clubby but with a melancholic undertone that melts the heart. Fast-forward to tracks like ‘Mo Farah’ and she has solidified her aesthetic, nailing catchy hooks and earworm melodies that uncontrollably swim through your mind, staying there until her next hit is released. The voyage has been far from easy, though, especially as a Black woman in the industry: “People see you and think, ‘You should be singing soul. Even now, I don’t sing soul music but people still say, ‘Yeah she sings R&B-Soul’”. This assumption not only pigeonholes her identity but also limits the perception of her capabilities and interests as an artist. Her response to being incorrectly categorised by the rest of us? Shutting everyone out and making music that truly reflects herself. 

Growing up, the singer-songwriter remembers her mother playing anthems from some of the world’s most gripping voices: Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and other greats who have inspired generations to pick up the mic and record music. Living in a musical household, DEJA’s sister was also instrumental in her early development as an artist, teaching her how to harmonise as they sat in front of an old tape recorder and rehearsed covers of their favourite songs. “My family are music enthusiasts”, says DEJA “but no one’s really taken to performing it like I have, do you know what I mean?”. It’s the grandiose voices, like Mariah Carey and Toni Braxton that informed the rising artist vocally in her formative years.  

 

This only tells half of DEJA’s story: anyone who has seen her live knows that dancing and performance are huge aspects of her artistry. “Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears” are just a few names she reels off as key inspirations for her formidable stage presence. “I take playing live so seriously, I’ll be in the studio writing a song with the stage performance in mind,” she says, clearly invigorated by the prospect of future gig and festival performances. In fact, DEJA believes her biggest achievements have come on the stage. Are there any specific moments she holds dearly? “Performing ahead of The Jacksons was crazy,” she says, before revealing her excitement for playing the BBC Introducing stage at this year’s Glastonbury. Few accolades could be so visceral for a rising artist, taking on a festival of such magnitude. Last year, she also played London Pride: “I headlined and there were people in the audience wearing merch from my last show, and it’s not even a conceited thing, but it was amazing to see that these people love what I’ve created. I’ll never forget that moment, the word overwhelmed doesn’t even do how I feel justice.” After all, the reason DEJA creates music is ultimately to make her listeners feel confident. 

She wants to be remembered as a polymath, someone that doesn’t just dance and rap, but sings and writes songs as well. It took blocking out the world to home in on her music and realise how she wanted to present it to us. Every artist has their own approach to the creative process: how they craft their bangers, write their tunes, and produce their tracks and DEJA knows exactly what she wants when entering the studio. “To have a producer in the room who knows what they’re doing and you can bounce back and forth between until you have something beautiful,” is what DEJA values the most. “I like to start in the room and not come in with any preemptive ideas because that can stifle what might happen. The producer will lay something down and I’ll just be in the back writing any initial ideas. You’ve always got to surround yourself with the right people,” she adds.  

 

This approach allows the singer-songwriter to give every song their own backstory. However, it doesn’t come without trepidation. Writer’s block is a verity for every artist, no matter how big or small they are. How does DEJA break through such a barrier? “I will keep trying until I wanna cry. I’m that bitch!”, she jokes, with an underlying sense of seriousness. “It happened a week ago. I sat there for three and a half hours not being able to put a song together. I kept trying until my producer, ‘J.Ar.J’, could see how frustrated I was getting and said, ‘Right! Shall we go outside and take a walk?’”  

Her latest single, ‘Shake That Nyash’, has garnered a lot of attention online. We asked DEJA of the central stories she wanted to explore through this track, and more importantly, what she wanted to convey to her audience. “My music is made for people to feel themselves. I want you to put on a DEJA song and for all your worries to go away.” Self-acceptance, body image, and confidence are the primary themes explored in the song. The syncopated beat grabs your attention from the start, its infectious rhythm making it impossible to stay still. The resounding bassline pulses through the song with purpose, giving it that heartbeat which drives the track forward vigorously. Over this, we hear vibrant melodies, creating an energetic and uplifting atmosphere needed to boost that je ne sais quoi DEJA sings about so effortlessly. 

 

DEJA’s sharp and witty lyrics are delivered with a confident ‘IT’ girl swagger, each line reinforcing the track’s message of acceptance. The chorus, with its anthemic and hook-laden qualities, is made to be sung back loudly. The whole composition, from the addictive melodies to the catchy lyrics, is crafted to make you feel unstoppable while being unapologetically you. Her music is a celebration of individuality and strength, making ‘Shake That Nyash’ not just a song, but an experience of self-love. The punchy rhythms give it a vibrant and unmistakably danceable quality too. 

Moving onto the future, what does life hold for the MOBO Unsung Class of 2023 artist beyond this interview? “I won’t be changing direction, I feel like I’ve finally found the thing and I’m gonna hammer that thing until y’all are sick of it!”, she says. And how about new music? There’s some really exciting new stuff coming our way.I’ll be releasing singles this year, maybe even an EP, and hopefully a headline show if all goes to plan.Above everything, though, DEJA wants girls to feel empowered by her music. “It’s hell out here! It’s a hellish world and if my music can make people somehow conjure up the confidence to say no, to stand up, to not take any shit, then I’ve left the legacy I wanna leave.” 

Listen to 'Shake That Nyash' now:

Tags

Related Articles

Undiscovered: DEJA, Miso Extra & SOMOH

Undiscovered is a weekly playlist sharing our pick of the best new music from the world's most exciting emerging musicians. You heard it here first.

Undiscovered: yunè pinku, Cariss Auburn & DEJA

Undiscovered is a weekly playlist sharing our pick of the best new music from the world's most exciting emerging musicians. You heard it here first.

Undiscovered: FLO, Matthew Hall, DEJA and Jalle

Undiscovered is a weekly playlist sharing our pick of the best new music from the world's most exciting emerging musicians. You heard it here first.