Thought of as Germany’s Mary J. Blige, Joy Denalane’s influence in Hip-Hop and Soul music took her far in the music industry, where she has written songs in both German and English to appeal to an international audience.
Denalane was born in Berlin-Schoenberg in 1973 to a South African father and a German mother. She grew up in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg listening to the African and American soul and jazz records that her father collected. This is where she was first influenced by soul music, and at age 16, she left home to focus on her music career. Denalane began by singing in reggae bands such as Cultural Roots and Family Affairs. The beginning of her career was rough, because she and her management were unable to agree on what her musical style and image should be, leading her to be released from a major pop music label at the age of 19.
Denalane’s big debut occurred when she moved to the city of Stuttgart to sing for producers DJ Thomilla and Tiefschwartz, resulting in her first international dance hit, “Music,” in 1999. This song landed her a position accompanying Max Herre on the song “Mit Dir,” a Top Five hit on the German charts. This collaboration strengthened the partnership between Denalane and Herre, who formed a romantic relationship and continued their musical careers together, with Denalane signing on with the Sony subsidiary Four Music Records. Her albums blended traditional R&B with jazz, Afrobeat, and South African folk music. Denalane took her inspiration for these albums from Aretha Franklin, Letta M’Bulu and Mary J Blige, who she said gave her the energy to combine all the musical backgrounds and start her own unique style. Denalane’s debut album Mamani was released in June 2002 and hit number eight on the German Albums Chart.
In 2003, Denalane went on her first solo tour and collaborated with Youssou N’Dour, ASD, and Till Bronner. She also performed in New York City and Philadelphia, receiving a Comet for Best Hip-Hop/R&B National and three ECHO nominations. Her singing in both German and English allowed her to rise to fame internationally. In one of her most popular albums, Born and Raised, she sings about her life growing up in Berlin and how she found her own calling as an artist when she discovered hip hop.
Joy Denalane continues her music career today, producing and releasing her latest studio album Let Yourself Be Loved in September of 2020. This was her second English language album.
– Danielle Barnette (University of Missouri)