Ladies We Love: Singer-Songwriter Deva Mahal
If you couldn’t tell from the headline, we loooove Deva Mahal. The supertalented singer (and, ahem, daughter of iconic blues musician Taj Mahal) has a personality as rich and engaging as her soulful songs. We spent a day with her, played dress-up and talked about some big “I’ve made it” moments, what she’s listening to lately, her love for kaftans and leather jackets, plus more.
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do, where do you live?
Hi, I’m Deva! I’m originally from the island Kauai in Hawaii. I’ve also spent a lot of time living in New Zealand and then Brooklyn—but recently moved to Harlem. I’m an indie R&B artist, and I just put out my debut album called Run Deep.
Let’s talk go-tos…
Coffee order: I was a barista for a really long time, so I have a lot [laughs]. It depends on if I’m trying to do milk or no milk—I often will just order an Americano, but I can get down with a flat white or a cortado. I also went through a period where I only wanted to drink mochas.
On-stage outfit: I wear whatever I’m feeling. Recently I’ve been into these really thick silver platform boots. I also love a good leather jacket.
Offstage outfit: Either a jumpsuit, which is more New York vibes, or you’ll see me in a beach dress (I’ll put on a kaftan in a minute!) and some slippers. Slippers are Hawaiian for flip-flops—never say that it’s a flip-flop.
Neighborhood spot(s): Does it have to be the neighborhood that I live in? One of my favorite places to be is the Wythe Hotel because I worked there and I feel like part of the family. Whenever I feel like I need some love I walk in that building and there’s always, like, 20 people ready to give it. Another place I’ve been loving is Central Park. I don’t live far from it so I’ve been walking through a lot. My favorite place that I could ever be, though, is on the beach. But it has to be by the equator. Any beach near the equator!
Album/playlist: Recently I’ve been loving Malibu by Anderson .Paak, Sound & Color by the Alabama Shakes, A Seat at the Table by Solange, Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Aromanticism by Moses Sumney.
So, creativity and a love for music definitely runs pretty deep in your family! Have you wanted to be a singer since you were little?
I’ve always sung, so there wasn’t one day where I was like, “I’m gonna be a singer!” It was always just something I did. I discovered I was good at it because I sang a lot in my community growing up. I was bullied a lot as a kid—so music was a form of expression and a way to protect myself. It was also the one place where I felt like people could connect to me, until I really dug into the art community growing up in Hawaii. I did a lot of theater and music, I had some really great teachers and I eventually found a cool, weirdo, outsider crew. That’s why I really love music and performing and being creative.
You’ve collaborated with so many amazing artists and have been a part of such impressive shows—have you had your “I’ve made it” moment yet?
So I haven’t made it
yet [laughs]. But I did just do the
Jools Holland show in London, and I got to perform with Björk—so that was a big moment. Actually, one of the
biggest moments where I felt like I had validation was when
RuPaul came to one of my shows and started supporting me on his social media. I love
Drag Race. I’ll binge-watch seasons because I can’t watch just one episode. So that was a huge deal—Mama Ru
has been one of my icons since forever.
Another thing that made it all feel really real was making my music video. I worked with this amazing cinematographer, John Rutland. Putting his skills with my music really helped put me on the map.
Fill us in on your songwriting process. Where do you get inspiration?
It varies. It doesn’t happen the same way all the time for me. I get a lot of my inspiration when I’m out and about, particularly when I’m walking for long periods of time—melodies and ideas just kind of pop into my head. Maybe it’s because you’re oxygenating your brain more when you’re moving. I make notes in my iPhone a lot, so I use those and go back to them. And sometimes I feel like I’ve been connected with creative energy and I just start writing something on my guitar. Other times I’ll have written something in the past and revisit it, which I definitely did making this album.
What’s next for you—any big plans or goals?
Well, world domination [laughs]! I’ve just started my Run Deep tour that continues for the rest of 2018, so I’ll be traveling throughout the U.S., Europe, UK and Canada. I’m looking forward to making new fans, connecting with people and getting this album into as many hands as possible.
What would you say to young women trying to make it in the music industry today?
Don’t let anybody dictate your path for you. Imagine whatever feels right for you and hold fast to that vision. Be open to the evolution of that vision, but always know what it is, so that when you’re lost among the sea of “no’s” and people judging you, you know what it is you’re really there for. That’ll reinforce your self-confidence and reassure you in challenging times.
And finally, since this is our Ladies We Love series, tell us about a lady you love in your life.
Oh, there’s so many! That’s a really hard question. We’re so dynamic and beautiful and engaging, it’s hard to say that
there’s one. It could be whoever was with me that day, you know? But I can say that I’m really inspired by women
who continue to persevere and be open and loving and strong. I’m inspired by people’s actions and their strength,
as well as their vulnerability.
And before we sign off, can I just say—I love that you guys are embracing extended sizes! It’s great to be involved with a brand that’s reaching out to all women. It’s so important to have that be in the mainstream rather than have a stigma behind it. I’m really excited to be the one of the first people that gets to show off the line.