When you have a subscription to one of the numerous music streaming services you have the vast majority of releases at your fingertips, but I personally often find myself feeling overwhelmed when looking for new artists, even though the algorithm has an uncanny ability to suggest new music for me in my weekly mix. Even though I‘ve discovered a lot of great artists through this function, personal advice from people with good taste is irreplaceable, so it felt like a Christmas gift when Alexandr London sent through his current favourites from the London scene. One of the names on the list was Desta French, and seconds later I heard her beautiful voice singing over a beat that sampled one of my favourite rap tunes from Souls of Mischief.
Desta and I meet in East London in a pub and talk about surviving as an independent artist in London, her Colours show and the difference between good and bad music. She’s just finished rehearsing for her upcoming show in London (date) and now she’s sitting with her bandmates, debriefing and enjoying the afternoon.
When I ask her about whether she remembers her first contact with music, she answers:
“I remember seeing a video, hearing it and not understanding why it was good but just being like ‘wow that’s cool.’ As a kid, you don’t know what it is, you don’t understand anything yet but you know that your body is reacting to it this way. For me, it happened with really classic songs that my head started banging and I started to sing along.”
As far as she remembers she was always making music, but it wasn’t until she met Jamal two years ago that she took it seriously and started making something that could actually be a thing. Even though London is big and you don’t know everyone, Desta says that you always know someone who knows someone. Even though she doesn’t love that, it has its good sides when a fruitful collaboration like the one between her and Jamal emerges from simply being introduced to each other. Not only did his production style speak to her the moment she heard it, they also share an open approach when it comes to music.
“For me, there are only 2 genres of music: good music and bad music.
Good music is anything that I can feel soul with, no matter which genre or time signature. That’s the formula of the inner life that’s in big songs.”
After working on their first songs together, Desta was featured in a Colors Show with her song ‘Shame’, which has now had over 1 million views.
“That was probably the one that most people have seen. It’s such a big platform now. When I did it, it wasn’t so huge, I think it was a bit more like niche.”
The high number of views is not only due to the fact that the channel had around 100,000 subscribers when they released the video, but that this song is a perfect example of how she fuses R&B with Latin-American rhythm and her own style.
Desta’s mother is from Colombia and she was raised in a bilingual home.
“My first language was Spanglish, ‘cos my English was amazing and so was my Spanish, and I was just kinda in between there. And I do speak Italian too, it’s a bit rusty but my Dad is Italian.”
Perhaps it’s because of these early cultural influences that her music is hard to put in a box. When you listen to her “Immigracious” EP, you can hear a lot of influences, like the Caribbean sound on “Invited”, the second track of the release.
Drawing from this open source of inspiration, Jamals claims: “We’ve got too much inspiration, that’s the problem, there’s too much stuff going on.”
Desta says “I’m not so mentally stable, so there’s always some shit to talk about. We’ve got so many songs, but probably due to over-thinking and being cautious about going back and forth. Finishing songs is hard.”
Also, due to financial limitations Jamal is doing all the mixes. “If I had the choice and finances I would probably get something mixed many times. Because when you pay just one person there’s the possibility that when it comes back it sounds like it’s not even your song, and it depresses you.”
The DIY approach is something that makes her music feel authentic and approachable. Desta even directs most of her own videos. “A lot of times I see the image of the video straight away when I’m writing the song, I can see the story, the situation and the scenario. I write quite directly, it’s straight up.”
For her latest video 'Mention', she has chosen a location in the south east of London.
She’s still in love with the big city, even though it has changed a lot in the past 15 years.
“There’s always gonna be cool, interesting things. But my overall feeling is that there’s a little bit too much public caught and investment shit. The flavour has changed, there aren’t as many independents.
Camden was associated directly with alternative culture, alternative everything. Even this gay bar called ‘The Black Cap’ that has been around for so many years has just closed, and overall there’s a bit of a concern.”
Together with the cultural changes, the vibe changes and the cost of living rises, which raises the question of how the young and upcoming can survive in London.
“It’s hard out here, bitch! You just have to really hustle to survive. Everything you earn you have to invest in what you do as an independent artist. I don’t really have the answers for you, I wish I did, actually.”
An hour after the interview and after shooting pictures with Desta, I sit in a coffee shop to write some notes. It’s packed, on every table there’s a laptop and the person sitting next to me at the bar is switching between his app and his computer every few minutes. The constant hustle, as Desta describes it, is part of the omnipresent energy here in London. Creative people always come up with new ideas and new concepts to earn their money and to find their spot between a new hub of chain restaurants and new build flats, so despite or perhaps precisely because of the fact that there’s a construction site on every block, it’s apparent that the space for creative culture is getting tighter and tighter.
Thank you Desta, for being part of The Wasted Hour.
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