Doing music helps her to remember who she is, it draws her back to herself, and her senses because as far back as she can remember, she has always felt a strong sense of purpose that is rooted in music – she and her twin brother would always play and sing together – so it also draws her closer to his memory. This multi award winning jazz vocalist is a fraternal twin, something she has always been proud of. She enjoys music that moves her in some kind of way, and does not always think in terms of categories or genres at all. Her preferences range from classical and opera to world music, folk, electronic and rock music.
Deelee Dube born Sithandile Dube (which means beloved in IsiZulu) is an all-round creative being and vocal artist with a deep love and respect for music and the jazz tradition in all its forms. This daughter of Zimbabwean born fashion designer Ms O Dube and South African jazz pianist Jabu Nkosi was born and raised in London in the 1980’s, and as infants she and her twin brother would make music together. He would beatbox and rap and she would sing and dance. “We had this symbiotic connection and a rhythmical exchange which was our favourite thing to do, and that always stayed with me”, she told Jazz It Out.
“I am just a hyper-creative, fun-loving, easy-going lady who loves to sing, create music, write, dance, perform and engage with others through creative art and artistic expressiveness”, she said. Deelee is also a fine artist. Whenever time allows, you’ll find her either drawing and painting or writing poems and short stories or songs, taking photos – it’s an activity that helps her gather her senses, take inventory, meditate, focus and feel grounded. “I guess I am also a bit of a book worm and science nerd. I enjoy academia particularly where vocal pedagogy is concerned, and that’s partly why I took the initiative to embark on establishing my own voice practice in my early twenties”, she added.
Jazz vocalist Deelee Dube. Picture by Jacob Blickenstaff
Her mother’s vinyl collection was incredibly vast, diverse and eclectic. She recalls listening to the music of Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Ravi Shankar, Paul Simon, Jim Reeves, Steve Kekana, The Soul Brothers, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, West Nkosi, Mahotella Queens, Nana Mouskouri, Bob Marley and the Wailers,Thomas Mapfumo, Peter Tosh, Hugh Masekela, Beethoven, Mozart, Ravel, Vivaldi and the list goes on. “What was beautiful was that my aunts and uncles were also real music lovers. Whenever we had family gatherings either at my grandmother’s house or elsewhere we would always have to dance, particularly after dinner”, going down memory lane.
She received her first violin lessons at the age of four. In the UK, most public schools had a curriculum that included the option to play an instrument. This was the case back in the 80’s. She and her twin brother picked up the violin, which she has a continued affinity for as it sparked a passion for stringed instruments and classic music. “I continued playing the violin as a teenager and my twin brother moved onto to the clarinet, and I progressed to teaching myself the piano”, she said.
It was when she was at Waverley Girls School that she found herself listening to a lot of mainstream pop chart music, soul, RnB, a bit of Hip Hop and dance music. She had always been into Michael Jackson (whom she was honoured to meet), Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Sade, Gloria Estefan, Chaka Khan (whom she was also honoured to meet), 3T (whom she is now good friends with), Luther Vandross, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, Mariah Carey, Donna Summer, Aaliyah, Brandy, Monica, Roberta Flack, Paul Simon, Nirvana, George Michael, with some classical of Debussy, Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn and Mozart. Deelee would watch Top of the Pops, Happy Days, and listen to 95.8 Capital FM every day.
As a fine artist and poet, her project artwork was exhibited at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in May – July 1995, and her poetry was published in “Write & Shine” Regional Anthology (Poetry Now Young Writers Book, 1995) and the “Book of Dreams” (United Press, 2010). One of the things she did while at high school was join a band called Mirage which was made of the three guys and her on vocals. Their first gig was at Dulwich College and one of the songs they performed was a classic “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding which went down a storm with the audience
Deelee embraces all forms of art. Picture by Jacob Blickenstaff
Deelee’s mother who studied at the Paris Academy School of Fashion in London and a highly creative artist had always been supportive of her career in music. She did not discourage her from pursuing a career as a musician. “My mother has always been supportive of my career in music, just as long as I was happy and completed my studies”, she recalls. One thing she is very certain about is that its from her mom where she inherited the ability to draw and paint along with passion for art, and is very sure that she inherited her passion for music, jazz and piano from her father. “So, I don’t’ think it came as a surprise to my parents when they learned of my intentions to pursue music as a career”, grateful for the blessing she received from her mom and dad.
She started performing at bars and pubs around London. One of those pubs she performed at was The Globe in Morning Lane which was situated in East London (Hackney Central). This really cool dude would always call her up on stage to sing. He was a real character, a Chinese San Franciscan, living and performing in London with his Blues Revue, Billy Chong with his fedora hat and tropical shirt. Billy was a cool fella with a great presence, who really believed in Deelee and her voice, which was the exact confidence boost she needed at that time. “So, wherever you are right now Billy, thank you”, acknowledging that she has a lot to thank him for. Another place she used to visit was called the Paradise Bar in New Cross, where she met guitarist John Jallow, an encounter which led to the creation of “Rainy Day Blues” which she co-wrote with him, and the inspiration behind that song really is a story on its own.
The BRIT School of Performing Arts & Technology was a good opportunity for this young vocalist who had already decided on her career to learn about the music business, and how to navigate the business as a fully-fledged artist in order to sustain her career within the business. “I learned about marketing and branding, music technology and production. I continue to utilize those skills to further my career”. She was also determined to learn and play the piano which is an instrument her father played. “I would lock myself away in the piano room and play, play, play”, she said. At that period, she wrote and created a lot of new songs and melodies, utilized the theory that she learned to navigate her way through chord progressions, harmony and voice training. “I was and still am able to sight read, but prefer to play by ear and allow my senses to take lead”, she added.
Her time and experience at the BRIT School was integral to shaping her perception on the industry as a whole, because she was exposed to its vital aspects and certain opportunities within an environment of like-minded individuals. “My experience at the BRIT School kind of prepared me in a way to the point that I was perhaps more equip and prepared to embark on certain endeavours and challenges with vision, flair and drive”, she said. However, it’s how she had utilized her tools and experience as well as the choices that she has made that fundamentally shaped her career to what it is today. It was while at BRIT that she got to work with Anton Browne.
Performing at Royal Albert Hall. Picture by Chris Christodoulou
Deelee’s next academic step was to enroll at Southbank University where she did BSc Media and a BA Music at Morley College. Studying at both faculties benefited her a lot, but organically gravitated towards majoring in music. She received coaching form Clare Foster. More recently she has been interacting a lot with Renato D’Aiello and Rachel Gould who she received mentorship and training from. They have since become loyal friends of hers. She encountered an early career collaboration with jazz pianist and educator Roland Perrin during her sophomore years. It was such great fun and she learned a great deal from him. “The creative process was fun and effortless, which proved that the chemistry was just right”, she said.
The year 2016 is a year that Deelee will always remember with great fondness. She won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, making her the first British recipient of the competition. Her voice has been described as an “outstandingly real classic jazz voice, a rarity” and displaying “a beguiling soulfulness”. Her vocal styling has been described as “exploring the cello tones that informed her bottom register (and were reminiscent of The Divine One herself)” and thus likened to Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson. “It truly was an amazing experience, and equally such a special honour to receive the recognition and respect beyond my hometown of London”, recalling that moment of excitement. To be seen and heard in the US, the home of Jazz, and in Newark, New Jersey where Sarah Vaughan (and Whitney Houston, Frank Sinatra amongst other greats) were born and raised was a special feeling and a pinnacle of her career.
When she started to prepare for the recording of her debut album, this British vocalist would never have predicted that it would be released during one of the most ‘trying times’ in world’s history. At the project’s pre-production stages, a lot of planning went into shaping the overall vision and mission statement for the body of work that it is today. “In brief, its main message is about overcoming obstacles, and finding joy, and foreseeing that silver lining during times of difficulty”, she told Jazz It Out. It also serves as a reminder to keep on trying in life no matter what the circumstances might be, and to try to make peace from within in order to perceive the goodness and the beauty in everything that we experience and see it in spite of life’s obstacles. Right from the onset, she had her own ambitious ideas about who she wanted to collaborate with on this record, some great figures of jazz in the US scene, but was concerned about time limits.
“The label I signed to, Concord Jazz, rendered complete creative freedom, and with that in mind I completely had a field day”, which was music to her ears. She called her US based manager, Vernon Hammond at Management Ark to step in and assist in curating the rhythm section. That is when he suggested US-based and two-time Grammy nominated Venezuelan Jazz pianist, Bernito Gonzalez who has a good track record of playing alongside the likes of Kenny Garrett and Pharoah Sanders. He worked as a leader and spent seven years as a member of Kenny Garrett’s band, he also has his own, very distinctive sound which is sonically evident on the production of this record, which also has Corcoran Holt on double bass and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums.
Performing at UNESCO International Jazz Day in Ceuta. Picture by Alejandro Garcia Hurtado
Acquiring the services of Gonzalez is something Deelee truly appreciated. “In hindsight, I realize how much I have learned from the creative process at both pre and post production stages of this project, and of course there are some things that I believe could have been done slightly differently or made some adjustments to, however it’s quite common in any perfectionists thinking process to feel in such a way”, doing her own evaluation of the work that was done on the recording. She is proud and grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such a brilliant rhythm section and overall personnel, considering that it was one of the most exciting periods following winning the Sarah Vaughan competition in the US. The album was recorded from July 2017 and was completed in the late quarter of 2018.
“Trying Times” was digitally released globally on the 8th of December 2020, in a period when Covid had disrupted people’s lives in an unprecedented manner. “Tryin’ Times” the title track of this brilliant recording is so universally appealing, and is the kind of song that will continue to stand the test of time for as long as humanity and global crises exist merely because it speaks directly to the listener and serves as a firm reminder on themes that people need to know and remember, because they forget easily. The tune has a horn section which includes Eric Wyatt on tenor saxophone, Duane Eubanks on trumpet and Andrae Murchison on trombone. It was originally written by Donny Hathaway and Leroy Hutson, first released by Roberta Flack on 20th of June 1969 on her debut album “First Take” with personnel which included Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar and Ron Carter on bass. Subsequently Donny Hathaway released his version on 1st of July 1970.
“Tryin’ Times continues to be a timeless and impactful work of art simply because it is relatable, it speaks truth and is based on the current and ongoing issues that people are still facing today, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and issues surrounding discrimination and inequality. Releasing the album in December 2020 was actually not the original plan, however it all seems to take on a life of its own, and during the lockdown of 2020 happened to be the time for its unveiling. “Every so often it is these kinds of songs that need to be revived with a breath of life that may yield new meaning to a younger generation of listeners in the current scheme of things in the world”, Deelee said.
The second track of this album “Still Trying” which features guitarist Russell Malone, who is also featured on “Lazy Afternoon” continues to generate mass appeal on digital streaming platforms, particularly Spotify, where it was added to the Jazz-Pop playlist upon its release as a single in April 2020. In this tune, Deelee worked with pianist, songwriter and composer Alex Webb which probably explains why it was so well received. The 2020 lockdown gave rise to a lot of emotional turmoil for people in relationships, separated by the social restrictions and has a strong lyrical content. It’s opening line “can’t stay in, can’t go out, still tying, still trying” in its plaintive simply speaks to anyone who during the lockdown, felt a little trapped and resonates to any listener who happens to be going through turbulent matters of the heart, in some ways it offers some solace as an antidote.
Her debut album Trying Times
“Ugly Beauty” is a classic jazz standard originally composed by Thelonius Monk, with lyrics by Mike Ferro. The 2016 winner of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition listened to Carmen McRae’s version of this piece from her album “Carmen Sings Monk” released in 1988, and was immediately taken by her delivery and interpretation on such a musically complex piece. Carmen once admitted that Monk’s pieces were not written for singers. But in Deelee’s opinion, McRae had thrown caution to the wind and effortlessly took on the challenge with a shrug, so to speak. People must strive to be joyful because hope lives in joy. Solidarity through joy can help overcome struggles, or at least give way to a sense of hope. “Joy” a piece written and composed by Renato D’Aiello is such profoundly meaningful song.
Deelee won Best International Jazz Collaboration at the 2021 instalment of Mzantsi Jazz Awards (MJA) which were held virtually and celebrating five years in existence. It was a beautiful ceremony where previous winners were invited to attend. How exciting was it to walk with this award? “For me this was particularly special on a much more personal level due in part to my cultural heritage and the patrilineal side of my family. It felt like a special honour to receive this award and recognition from South Africa, it’s like a heads up that I am right on track and hopefully making my ancestors and forefathers proud and that truly means a lot to me”, she said.
After completing her Master’s Degree in Voice in 2018, she sees herself more of a private voice, singing practitioner, vocal pedagogue as well as music teacher. However, she has realized that teaching music and voice has been rewarding in terms of giving back to the community, and has also served to be quite a grounding process in support of her music career. In the future, she wants to broaden her horizons and collaborate more, release new material and possibly embark on tours. Already she has performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in Canada, Swanage Jazz Festival, EFG London Jazz Festival, Southport Jazz Festival, Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, Side Door Jazz Club and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. “I would also like to experience film and acting, so who knows…perhaps a jazz biopic or biographical film could happen somewhere along the pipeline, hopefully”, she said.
Rainy Day Blues – Deelee Dube
Deelee’s favourite musicians are so many. She is currently listening to Juliette Greco. Her list changes according to her mood or preoccupation. Her long list of favourite musicians is very diverse. “I love good music, and musicians who are legends”, she confirmed. These are Michael Jackson, The Jackson Five, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Bebel Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Flora Purim, Elis Regina, Mina, Paco De Lucia, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Mariah Carey, Freddie Mercury, Donny Hathaway, Diana Ross, Patti Austin, George Michael, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Nora Jones, Eliane Elias, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Horn, Carmen McRae, Madonna, Satie, Dvorak, Stravinsky, Puccini, Verdi, George Gershwin, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Debussy, Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé.
Also in her list are Thelonious Monk, Billy Joel, Bill Evans, Gil Scott-Heron, Common, Kendrick Lamar, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Mendelsohn, Miles Davis, Vivaldi, Stravinsky, Joni Mitchell, John Hendricks, Al Lareau, Anita O’Dea, Peggy Lee, Leonard Cohen, Mahalia Jackson, James Taylor, Maria Callas, Miriam Makeda, The Beatles, John Lennon, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Nina Simone, BB King, Bobby Womack, Kate Bush, Gladys Knight, Roberta Flack, The Ronettes, Lou Reed, Bob Marley, Amalia Rodrigues, Harry Connick Jr, Chet Baker, Prince, Carly Simon, David Bowie, Shirley Bassey, Pink Floyd, Marc Bolan, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Gustav Holst, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Faure, Lenny Kravitz, Chuck Berry, Laura Nyro, Carole King, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, John Coltrane, Sheila Jordan, Erykah Badu, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jill Scott, Fleetwood Mac, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley and Tim Buckley.
Her hobbies include yoga, meditation, spending time with friends and family and playing with her nieces and nephews, dancing, reading, painting and drawing, writing poetry, photography, cooking and discovering new vegan and vegetarian dishes, being surrounded in nature and swimming in the sea, travelling and discovering new places (wanderlust), dreaming, studying, research, visiting art galleries and exhibitions, going to record stores and browsing through music, observing and being around children and animals, reading, going to the cinema and watching old (and some new) films. On the 28th of October, she will be performing at the Royal Albert Hall, Late Night Jazz Live Elgar Room. On the 23rd of November, she will be performing at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club (Upstairs). Physical copies of her award-winning debut album “Trying Times” will be released worldwide and available to order and purchase from the 3rd of December. Her Facebook Page is Deelee Dubé. Follow her on Twitter @DeeleeDube and @deeleedubemusic on Instagram. Connect with her on LinkedIn and subscribe to her YouTube channel. Visit her website www.deeleedube.com