The Great Migration ushered in a century of music shaped and performed by African American artists—and particularly women of color—across the country. With her debut album, Run Deep, and in this one-night-only performance, Deva Mahal takes inspiration from generations of female vocalists and songwriters, including special guests Meshell Ndegeocello and the Resistance Revival Chorus.
Part of: Migrations: The Making of America
Resistance Revival Chorus
Meshell Ndegeocello, Musical Director and Special Guest
Event DurationThe concert will last approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Deva Mahal was born with the blues in her blood. Becoming the genre-defying artist, powerhouse vocalist, and astute songwriter that she is today could only be achieved through living a life rich with pain, joy, loss, love, heartache, and experience. A soul as singular as Deva’s can only find voice through an equally unique sound, which she’s forged by growing her blues roots through the fertile soil of modern R&B, indie-pop, soul, rock, and gospel.
The full scope of her voice and vision was revealed in 2018 on Run Deep, her aptly named first album. The title captures not only her estimable musical bloodline, but the finely hewn emotions that course through her songs. Deva plumbs her own emotional depths to explore issues of overcoming adversity, battling one’s own demons, and dealing with the pains of love and loss, alongside wry observations on contemporary romance. She breathes vivid life into those songs with a knockout voice that combines pulse-pounding soul with a decidedly modern edge.
Her songs draw on a deep well of personal experience, serving as revelations, cautionary tales, and empowerment anthems. “When you are bullied and treated like you don’t belong, or faced with great adversity at a young age,” she says, “you learn ways to cope. Music gave me an outlet to express the pain of those experiences and the strength to challenge racial, physical, and gender stereotypes.”
She is defiant in voice as well as in person, bravely putting herself forward as an exemplar of positive body image and overcoming the travails of bullying and discrimination. She’s also lent her support and talents to organizations—like Voices of a People’s History of the United States—that are working to cast the light of truth on racial inequality, gender stereotypes, and bias, as well as issues surrounding poverty.
Raised in Kauai, Hawaii, Deva discovered her passion for music at a very young age. Despite her parental role models (her father is blues icon Taj Mahal and her mother is Inshirah Mahal, who is a dancer, artist, and educator), her talent and drive arose naturally. Initially aspiring to a career on Broadway, Deva moved to the mainland to study theater at Southern Oregon University, but those plans were derailed by the unexpected death of her sister. To regroup, she moved to the Bay Area with two of her other sisters, until the events of 9/11 prompted her to join her mother in New Zealand. While there, she decided to study jazz and vocal performance.
A successful tour of Europe with Fat Freddy’s Drop band opened the wider world to Deva, and in 2007 it was time for her to try her luck in New York City, a long-abandoned dream finally coming to belated fruition. She became a fixture at Brooklyn jam sessions, tirelessly set her experiences to music, and earned a significant buzz as half of the duo Fredericks Brown, with fellow New Zealand expat Steph Brown. The wider world started to realize Deva’s songwriting talents in 2008 when “Never Let You Go,” a co-write with her father, gained acclaim on the Grammy-nominated album Maestro.
“Every experience in life leaves a mark,” Deva sums up, “evidence of its existence. Some experiences leave scars, deep grooves inside your very soul that never truly leave you. I never want to wade in the shallow places in life because it’s easier, safer, or more comfortable. My music speaks a lot about pain and heartache, but I dive into those feelings, submerging myself in them so I can work through them and get to the other side.”
Resistance Revival Chorus
Launched in the summer of 2017, the Resistance Revival Chorus (RRC) is a collective of more than 60 women who join together to breathe joy and song into the resistance, and to uplift and center women’s voices. The women range from Broadway performers, touring musicians, film and television actresses, solo recording artists, gospel singers, and political activists—all led by Broadway singer and educator Abena Koomson-Davis. Representing a multitude of identities, professions, creative backgrounds, and activist causes, the RRC prides itself on its diversity. The great artist and activist Harry Belafonte once said, “When the movement is strong, the music is strong.” In that spirit, the RRC hosts a series of regular musical events, Resistance Revival Nights, where the community gathers to rejuvenate its spirit and honor the protest songs that have historically been central to civil rights movements. The members of RRC believe that art and culture are essential to changing hearts, minds, and history, and they commit to the principle that joy is in itself an act of resistance.
Mercurial and masterful, Meshell Ndegeocello has survived the best and worst of what a career in music has to offer. She has eschewed genre for originality, celebrity for longevity, and musical trends for musical truths. She has lived through the boom and bust of the industry and emerged just as she entered: unequivocally herself. Fans have come to expect the unexpected from Meshell, and faithfully followed her on sojourns into soul, spoken word, R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and rock, all bound by a lyrical, spiritual search for love, justice, respect, resolution, and happiness.
Each of Meshell’s albums has been a step away from the last, each used as a chance to investigate and integrate new sounds and ideas. Fans have been treated to everything from the deep-funk of Plantation Lullabies, to the raw and confessional Bitter, to the melodic and lyrical Weather. Meshell composed, arranged, and produced a jazz record in 2005, and recorded an homage to Nina Simone in 2012, a kindred musical spirit and among Meshell’s most cherished inspirations. Her last album, Ventriloquism, has the hallmarks of all of Meshell’s work, lush and investigative, subversive and sublime. Assured of her place as an authentic musical thinker and an uncompromising artist, she continues to discover, examine, and explore all that music has to offer her and how she can return the gift.
A bass player above all else, she brings her warm and melodic groove to everything she does, including appearances alongside the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Alanis Morissette, James Blood Ulmer, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tony Allen, John Medeski, Billy Preston, and Chaka Khan.