Dev Mahal - Run Deep

Dev Mahal - Run Deep

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The sultry grit of “Can’t Call It Love” kicks off the album, followed by the bold R&B stomp of “Snakes,” a warning sent to Deva’s younger self (and girls like her) to watch out for people with less than your best intentions in mind. The late-night groove of “Turnt Up”, (a duet with Allen Stone), sways under the trance of Deva’s whiskey-soaked seductiveness, and Stone’s equally sly counterpoint, while the elegiac spirituality of “Fire” traces a path through trial and demons. The album’s title track is a celebration of the power of music itself, featuring Deva’s sister Coco Peila; despite its title, “Dream” is a clear-eyed, wide-awake reflection on a love gone wrong.

An organ-driven rock beat propels “Optimist,” which could serve as Deva’s one-word mission statement. “It’s Down To You” shows off Deva’s soulful balladry, “Shards” her ability to reveal her very core in a stark, confessional anthem. “Wicked” is an electro-soul call to action in the vein of Stevie Wonder’s politically charged classics. The album comes full circle with a cover of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song “Take a Giant Step” – originally recorded by The Monkees and famously covered by Taj Mahal in 1969, but rendered profoundly current and personal in Deva’s own rendition.

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” which are working to cast the light of truth on racial inequality, gender stereotypes, and bias as well as issues surrounding poverty.

“It’s incredibly important to me to not succumb to pressure to conform to any standard of beauty or body type,” Deva asserts. “I believe that beauty has no size or skin color and I want to smash down those preconceptions.”

Raised in Kauai, Hawaii, Deva discovered her passion for music at a very young age. Despite her parental role models, her talent and drive arose naturally, long before she became aware that she was following in their footsteps. Even before her earliest memories, Deva’s family recall her seizing any opportunity to sing in front of a crowd, gradually improving and always feeding off the positive energy of an audience, however small. She had her first real gig at the age of 5 and made her professional debut at 12 – and has rarely stayed away from a stage for long since.

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 and slowly began to make a name for herself on the Wellington music scene.

A successful tour of Europe with “hi-tek soul” band Fat Freddy’s Drop opened the wider world to Deva, and in 2007 she determined to try her luck in New York City, a long-abandoned dream finally coming to belated fruition. Once there 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 ex-pat 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. She’s also collaborated with a wide-ranging array of artists, including members of TV on the Radio, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Fat Freddy’s Drop. She’s performed at such renowned venues and festivals as Sonar, Womad, Carnegie Hall, The Apollo the Atlanta Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival and Montreux Jazz Festival. “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. That is where Run Deep comes from. 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, submerge myself in them so I can work through them and get to the other side.”