Joy Denalane: Germany’s Soulful Motown Signee

Artists are bound to tap into greatness when they draw inspiration from artists such as Mary J. Blidge and Aretha Franklin. Joy Denalane of Berlin, Germany has spent years perfecting her sound and developing the identity which has crowned her the “Queen of Soul” in Germany. A title that for sure holds weight, immediately makes one ask: Who is this woman? Raised in the divided city of Berlin to a German mother and South African father, Joy’s music embodies the spirit of the global, sensitive, motherly Black woman. 

Joy Denalane comes from such a culturally diverse background in which these influences are portrayed in her music. Creating soul/R&B music allows you to combine so many elements that puts Joy in such a versatile category. When you think of soul, you think of the feeling the music evokes. That’s the goal. Most of these artists put their heart on the line. Joy’s music offered a serene feel, with a voice so pleasant you could listen to all day. 

“Let Yourself Be Loved” released in September, features astounding acts such as BJ The Chicago Kid and C.S. Armstrong. It tells a story of self-love, giving love to others and simply, allowing love into your life.

In our interview, Joy takes a minute to explain the high expectations that come with the “Queen of Soul” title. We discuss the importance of leading with love and signing with Motown Records.

Ci: Why do you feel singing about love and the essence of love itself is important? Why should it be prevalent in music today?

Joy: I believe that love is one of the essential feelings that a human being can have. We are all searching for it and it helps us to understand the world better and helps us find a safe space in the world. So I believe that it’s a natural thing to talk about – Love in song – ever since there was music with lyrics we’re talking about love in all its ways and that should continue. 

Ci: You were inspired by music of the 60’s and 70s. What about that era of soul is intriguing and/or inspiring to you?

Joy: It pretty much was a concept. I grew up with my father’s record collection, which was filled with soul music from that era’s 60s, 70s, and even 80s; soul music in all its facets. It was interesting because that’s pretty much the first music that I started listening to from a young age.

Ci: If there was one artist from that time period you’d want to work with, who would it be and why?

Joy: That question is hard because there’s never only one person you want to work with or would have wanted to work with. I would for now pick Marvin Gaye because Marvin Gaye was not only a great singer, was a great voice, but he was also a guy who had great messages, so that combination just made him undefeatable. 

Ci: What does Let Yourself Be Loved mean to you? How does this album show or define your growth as an artist and individual?

Joy: Let Yourself Be Loved means to let love in your life. Really it’s as simple as that, and as simple as it sounds it’s probably harder because a lot of times people don’t really feel like they’re lovable enough, and I’m trying to tell them that they are. So for my growth – what my growth is or not – I can’t really judge that I think it has a lot to do with what other people think all I can say is that I’m trying to become better every time I do something and I’ve been singing for quite a while, and I’ve never had the feeling of “OK this is it I’m a finished Singer” or anything like that there’s never – interesting to me because once you think you’re done it becomes boring so yes, I keep searching. 

How would you describe your unique sound of soul?

I don’t really know how to describe my sound. I would probably say I’m trying to be as good as possible and I’m inspired by a lot of singers – old singers, new singers – I am just intrigued by quality. Whenever I hear somebody that does something that I have never heard, I’m trying to imitate that. But I mean at the end of the day obviously I have my own sound I do have my own voice so it will never really sound like that. I don’t know, I feel like maybe I sound honest at the end of the day. I’m trying to.

What do you think about the future of soul music and where it is headed?

I think people will always love to listen to Soul music. But it also depends on how you define “soul music,” soul music to me is R&B, it’s contemporary music. I mean soul needs to be able to be honest, to tell the truth, to speak about your feelings, whether it comes in a retro kind of sound or very modern, it doesn’t really matter to me. Soul is something that’s honest and it will always speak to your heart because it’s coming from somebody’s heart.

Signing with Motown is huge! Tell me about how that came about.

Signing with Motown really is huge. I mean I still to this day I don’t really know what happened exactly. All I know is I was in the studio recording the record and once I was done I started playing it for people for my colleagues and there was one who loved it so much and he offered me to take it to Motown to play it for them which he did, and the next thing I know is he comes back with a contract and an offer and I was absolutely blown away. Until today I still don’t really know how all of this came about but I guess they liked it.

 Being referred to as the German Queen of Soul is a honoring title. How has your influence back home aided in your career? How did you get to such a deserving point?

I felt honored when people started calling me the Queen of German Soul, but I must honestly say that I would have never come up with that with a title like that. I always thought it was friendly but a bit funny too. All I can say is that I always try to sing as good as possible and like I said I’m trying to learn every day. Still it has helped my career a lot of times because people thought of me as something before they even knew how I sounded just because of the title, but sometimes it can also be a bit difficult because people have very high expectations. Sometimes you’re not where you want to be in terms of quality, but I mean I must say all in all, I’m not mad. 

Growing up in Berlin I’d imagine is a much different experience than that of Black Americans. What was that like for you?

Growing up in Berlin was quite interesting, specifically because I grew up in the time when the city was still divided into two halves. The wall was still standing, and that made Berlin a little bit like an island. We had to drive through the former east in order to get into the west. We pretty much were on an island and a lot of people came from all over the world to live there. Being that it was such an easy place to make a living, there were a lot of interesting people.

In terms of being black in Berlin, and in Germany in general, I thought it was a bit tough as a young girl and a young woman because there’s a real small minority of Black people in Germany. That has changed a little bit but it’s not comparable to the United States at all.

What is the soul music scene like in Germany? What advice would you give to any Newcomers?

I think the soul scene in Germany has changed a lot because there are many more artists. And very good ones too! So it’s fun. And pretty much my advice is, and always has been, try to be yourself and find good people. Find people who appreciate what you’re doing. Find honest people that will tell you the truth when you’re not that good and don’t let anybody tell you to change when you feel like you shouldn’t. 

What song did you enjoy creating the most? Explain that creative process for you.

I loved creating “Be Here In The Morning” a lot because I mean it was a very heartfelt song and at first it wasn’t a duet obviously, but it was a song with two verses that were sung by me and I thought that the melody was quite interesting. Then the transformation of the song from the demo into what it is today was also super interesting because it was more kind of a reggae vibe in the beginning when we were in the studio and then once we started producing it, it like totally changed into a soul classic and that was really like the transformation of a butterfly to me.

Your song “Top of My Love” explain the message/concept behind that.

“Top of My Love” is pretty much deals with self-love. Also, how much love you need during times when you feel lonely and left alone pretty much. There were moments in my life where I had to find my own path. You don’t want to distract from other voices and I now trust in myself. I also trust the love that I receive from my family and count on that.

I’m sure Covid has been restricting your traveling and performing. Where are you keeping safe currently? How are you keeping busy?

Yes, Covid has really slowed down a lot of things and specifically in terms of playing live. Obviously, we cannot play concerts really and that is a very very sad part of it, besides others of course. When asking about my musicianship and my career as a singer, that part is really super slow right now. It’s sad because specifically, that album is perfect for live shows.

So that’s the sad part, but I would also say that I’m very busy with my campaign and that I am doing a lot of interviews. I mean I am thankful I must say that and there’s a lot of attention on the record because people seem to really like it. I am just thankful and I’m trying to stay busy.

Any messages to your fans? Music lovers? Or anyone reading this interview….

I want to tell you guys let love in your life. Let it come in and accept that you are a lovable person. Also, love back and be nice to people. Be nice to people and stop hating. Don’t hate, don’t be too skeptical, but be an open minded person with an open loving heart. Also, stay safe and happy.

You can listen to Joy’s album “Let Yourself Be Loved” below.

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