Music was ever-present in the Joy Denalane’s, the Queen of German Soul, household. The young Joy spent countless hours exploring her father’s record collection, and she knew most of the albums she now refers to before she could read or write. Her father’s soul, jazz and funk records shaped her as a person and defined the musical direction she would take as an artist.
It’s important to know all this if you want to understand the meaning and the musical power of her latest album Let Yourself Be Loved. It’s a matter of identity – musical, political and personal. The biographical aspect, the desire for belonging, has always been a central theme in Denalane’s work.
In most of the songs she is ostensibly singing about love in all its facets: love of friends and children as well as romantic love. Yet the way she does that is similar to how universal themes gained an additional level of meaning and a political charge in soul music in the past. The pain and the urgency present in these love songs naturally laid a trail to the black civil rights movement and the misery suffered as a result of racism and marginalisation.
This suffering is, sadly, international and not limited to the United States of the 1960s. “I can feel my own pain, my rage, my despair and vulnerability very clearly on this record,” she says. “This music brings these feelings to light and channels them even more than the previous records.”
Let Yourself Be Loved is permeated by Joy Denalane’s experiences as a black woman in Germany’s diaspora. When she was a child and a teenager there were very few black people in Germany, and there was no sound that addressed their day-to-day experience of racism and marginalisation.