New York R&B pop singer Jennifer Denali was born to be on stage. Knowing that she wanted to be a singer by age four then getting signed by fifteen. Denali has grown up following her dream and understanding it not just as an artist, but as a business woman. Denali is a CEO/Founder of Dense Records and has worked alongside her stagehand father for the Metropolitan Opera’s production team. With the release of her many singles, Denali has collaborated with talented producers who have worked with Mariah Carey, Wiz Khalifa, and Alessia Cara. Denali spoke with B-Sides in regards to the George Floyd protests and how her music resonates in turmoil times like these.
Hi Jennifer and thanks for your time! It’s a critical time in our society right now and it wouldn’t be right to not talk about it. How have you been processing all this?
In so many ways. I feel like I have a lot of lenses on this. As an artist, as a woman. As a mixed person being Irish and Puerto Rican also as a human. I’m empowered, frustrated, disgusted, embarrassed, and motivated by it to take action. On Friday, I’m actually dedicating my first live stream performance to George Floyd and we’re fundraising for the Minnesota Freedom Fund. It feels like we’ve been preparing for this moment to amplify, to use our voice for change, and step into the movement. The time is now!
Growing up of mixed heritage in a diverse state like New York, was racism something that was discussed in your family?
We’ve been talking about it openly. There are a few blind spots. There’s so much information now. The media is amplifying violence- the looters, the anarchists. On the other hand on social media, we’re seeing videos of peaceful protests where police officers are kneeling. We’re seeing polarized mixed media here. For my parents, they’re seeing a certain message through the media they’re watching on TV. There are peaceful protestors who are on the side of humanity. It’s a question of human rights. It’s been interesting to talk about it with my family and my best friends. I checked in with my black sisters and we’re planning to perform a lot to show that we can come together. I live in NY. Not only is my family diverse, but my whole life is diverse. A lot of people I love are mixed races and religions. The right thing to do is push forward because we all deserve a greater good. We all deserve to be living in a space where we’re not afraid.
Music has been such an important part of society thanks to the Black community, as you quoted Nina Simone recently, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times we are in.” Not only with the recent events involving George Floyd, but also the virus. Do you think these events could inspire new material from you?
Absolutely! In a way, it was kind of a blessing that “Sweet Sounds” came around this time because in a poetic way it’s talking about a distant memory on how we forgot to love and be innocent with ourselves. It happened naturally. When I look back at it, things do synchronize without even planning. I think it’s our duty to reflect on the times we’re living in and I don’t see how this wouldn’t inspire people. It’s a massive global purge right now.
Let’s discuss more about your single “Sweet Sounds” what was the thought behind the visual representation?
I released a mermaid visualizer representing the underworld of healing that underlies the track which is the ocean, wind, and birds. It’s a healing message underneath to help during this time. I felt that I had to put my own healing techniques infused into this track. It’s about love and pure essence.
Themes of love, pain, struggle, and other vulnerabilities surface in your songwriting through your personal experiences. How did you overcome those challenges in sharing your feelings?
Thank you for asking that! I think over time and just gaining confidence stepping into who I really am. What it means to me as an artist, what my voice means to others, and just wanting to have that connection. We’re not all that different. We all have our own struggles. I wanted to step into my essence as a woman and as a human. I’m seeing the other side and I’m healing. If I can do it you can too. That’s what my music is about. With “Sweet Sounds”, I stepped aside to celebrate the pain and the longing. At the end of the day, we need that to make ourselves better.
You’re very open about self-love because you’ve dealt with depression before and mentioned how music can be therapy. What are some songs you’ve listened to that are very therapeutic for you?
All-day I’ve been listening to Curtis Mayfield. His Super Fly album is an incredible work of art. I was listening to all the greats like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nina Simone. I’m so grateful for them. They informed and influenced my music. Also, I’ve been playing “Sweet Sounds” (laughs).
With the single out and the EP on the way, are the songs complete or are you still working on it?
We’re planning to release the EP at the end of the summer. We’re at the finishing touches.
We’re looking forward to the release of the EP & when it gets performed live in the future. With your educational background in theatre design, do you feel that you have the upper hand in creating your stage production when you do go back on tour?
I’m interested in seeing what contexts it’s going to be in and how it relates to the world. It definitely helps and adds to my understanding of how the production works. The stage is my second home. I’m very comfortable on stage. The last show I had was at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on Jan. 10th just before everything exploded and it was a great show. We had an amazing turnout! Hundreds of people were there. It was an amazing exchange of energy. I’m so thankful to have that memory, but we do have greater problems that need to be taken care of first.