We Chat To DEJA About Matriarchy, Female Sexuality, The Jacksons And Stormzy
She shares with us the struggles, and blisses of being a woman in music.
Unapologetic, honest, emancipated. DEJA, a vocalist from Birmingham, currently based in West London, infuses Pop into RnB and sources inspiration from the fact of being a woman. Her newest single ‘Control’ focuses on female power, in both playful and empowering way. Having performed as a support act for artists like The Jacksons, Stormzy, Emeli Sandé, now she’s ready to rock the stage as an independent artist.
We spoke to her about the deficiency of female producers in the music business, the idea of sisterhood and her own sexuality.
At FizzyMag, we’re very much into the idea of female empowerment and I feel like this is something you’re inspired by as well.
100%! Nearly all my music!
Wonderful, we have a lot of questions on that! When describing your newest single Control, you share a transgressive thought that the world would be a better place if women took the lead. Is the single your attempt to present your vision of matriarchy, in and beyond music business?
I believe matriarchy is the way forward. Simple. I believe the female is the superior being, I don’t even care how crazy that may sound. We can build the freaking baby inside of us! We are superior and unfortunately, the physical strength of a man has turned it upside down.
Is it the idea you want to bring into the music business through your single?
Generally, I think that it goes across the board, not only the music business. But specifically, in the music business, I surround myself with women, my manager is a female, the only person that is not a woman on my team is my videographer. It’s just a bit messed up that most of these record labels are run by old, white men, which I understand to a certain extent, but they control the biggest shit that we listen to. It’s all very confusing how we ended up where we are, so I’m trying to utilize my independence and surround myself with bad bitches.
And indeed, you’re actually reclaiming the words that are normally used as pejorative terms, like ‘bitch’ and ‘pussy’ and you make them really empowering. What reaction did you come across when using these words in the first place in your songs?
I remember when I first started working with Corey, who produces my music, he was actually appalled by some of the things I was trying to write about. He was like, ‘We should tone it down a bit, relax, it doesn’t have to be so vulgar.’ In the beginning, even my own team were against it. But I am standing by this idea because this is a moment for women across the board, it’s not just me.
It also alludes to the idea of sexual power that you talk about a lot. In this world, in this system and in the entertainment business, in particular, female sexual energy is often dictated by men and allowed on male terms. As an artist and as a performer, how can you take this energy out of the male gaze and make it enjoyable on our own terms?
This comes up on a weekly basis. I am bisexual, pansexual, I don’t know, I just love people. When the team is throwing video ideas together, they always pitch along the line, ‘Ok, now, we’re gonna put you in bed with this guy, or put you in a restaurant with that guy’, and to me, it’s not about the men. Let the people know that I eat pussies. Even within my own team, we fall victims to the idea of heteronormativity. I do myself because I’m still a product of social norm and the environment, so I’m fighting it as well. I think it’s really important that this side of things is shared with people. So you’re gonna see me with some beautiful women on screen!
That fight is also expressed in your music because enigmatic ‘they,’ recurring in your lyrics in Control and ted talk, seem to stand for the patriarchal system which tells women how to behave. As a female artist, do you have any experiences of men dictating you what to do and the patriarchy being imposed on you? Or do you feel that the system is beginning to change slightly and women become more empowered in the music business?
I think in general women are becoming more empowered, I wanna start on that positive note. It’s not all doom and gloom. But I have my experiences, otherwise where would be songs coming from? When I first started doing music, I was working with this male producer who also attempted to be my manager and control my career. Maybe even assault was in there and I didn’t even accept the fact that that’s what it was. But he always gave me comments along the lines, ‘Take that coat off,’ ‘You’ve got legs, so show them,’ ‘Can you do that sexy breathy thing you do?’ And that wasn’t even the vibe of the song! So I have my experiences, in and out of music, unfortunately, and I’m fucking sick of it.
Are those experiences with men the reason why your musical style shifted quite drastically? You performed before under a different name [Dee Ajayi] and your music was full of soul, emotions and acoustic ballads. Did they affect your decision to dramatically change your image, lyrical interests and even nickname?
All of that definitely rings true. The stuff that I was making under the other name was very much true to me and it still is now but I think back then, I was heartbroken because I just lost my stepfather. So I think when I finally got past the stage of grief, I had to pick myself up. So I found a different producer and, as you say, these experiences were mostly for fun and stuff that I feel most strongly about, so these things came out in the songs.
After all these changes, can you see the difference between working with men and working with women? Does the idea of sisterhood exist in the music business? How do you rebel against the unhealthy stereotype of female competition and women hating one another?
I think that bitchiness happens with everyone, not only women, as a natural human frustration, which can happen when you’ve got your heart in something. But there are no rivalries in my team, we’re all trying to get to a wonderful place, and look after each other. There is very much a sisterhood when you’re working with women. I’ve never worked with a female producer, so I can’t speak from that perspective. But with the example of being on set, with the female manager and female creative director, I know that I’m just at ease. I don’t feel like I have to put on a show. Being surrounded by females makes me feel comfortable, it’s inevitable and healthy.
Is the fact that you’ve never worked with a female producer a part of a more general problem in the industry?
100%! We don’t have enough female musicians or producers, and I don’t know what that is. I wish I had the answer. I’ve done a lot of live performances, and I think I’ve only played with one female in 5 years. And I moved between bands. It’s mad!
What do you think could be done to change this problem, so more women can take various roles in the music industry?
Get them into the school! Girls need to be reminded that they can play the instruments, they can sit in front of the laptops and make absolute fucking bangers. But it’s already happening! There are wonderful programs and platforms specifically for women, so things just need to keep happening. If anyone is reading this interview, female producers, I’m ready!
The idea of female empowerment, enflaming our conversation, is going to be the main theme on your upcoming EP Intro. When exactly is it coming out and what does this enigmatic title indicate? What sort of ‘intro’ can we expect?
As you said, there was another name I was releasing under. And I loved it but this is a level up. In attitude, in love for myself, in so many ways. So it’s literally the introduction to that person, to DEJA, to the fire that it’s on its way. We’ve got so many bangers that I’m just holding onto. It’s coming out this January.
How about live shows and gigs? Is there anything particular that you have planned already?
I’ve got a live broadcast from Birmingham on 27th December, available for all. I’m very excited, we’re gonna have dancers, choreography, we’re going full up. In January, we’re doing Polar Face, a wonderful evening of music in London, a live concert with tickets.
We’re looking forward to that! Planning your ow shows must be exciting but can you tell us a bit more about your experience as the opening act for different artists who chose you? What did they teach you? Which one was your favorite story?
I got a fist thumb from The Jacksons, every single one came up to me after my soundcheck. Opening, in general, has been a great experience. I learned what supporting was like and now I’m going for gold, for the main act. But it’s been awesome, everyone has been supportive and encouraging – Storzmy, Emeli Sandé, Etta Bond.
Are you in touch with any of them for any future collaborations? Or are you more focused on your solo career?
There’s an element of truth to both of those. When I reach out for those collaborations, it’s a clear thing that I’m getting myself involved mostly in my music but at the same time, there are some conversations. But I don’t wanna give too much away.
On the other hand, you’ve also been juxtaposed with new artists like Pip Millett, Kali Claire, JGrrey and Lion Babe. Are any comparisons annoying for you or do you feel like you’re building the new wave of music and Pop infused RnB?
I like to believe my sound and my performance is the latter and is paving the way of the new direction. But at the same time, I have been compared to Normani and I fucking love it cause she’s awesome and talented. She can sing, write and dance and I think if you can do three of those, you belong to the stage.