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Check Out Desarae Dee’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Desarae Dee.

Hi Desarae, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.

Hello, my name is Desarae Dee and I am an Instrumental Artist, Multi-instrumentalist, Producer and Content Creator from Toronto, Canada. I am Canadian-born with Jamaican, British and Indian roots. Both of my parents were born in Jamaica and immigrated to Canada when they were teenagers. Growing up, both of my parents saw that I had a musical talent and they sought to develop and bring it out. With that in mind, my journey as a musician began at the tender age of 6. I was classically trained on the piano, and I grew up playing gospel, and Caribbean-based music in church at the age of 13. I was shy about music; my parents never heard me practice, and my friends never heard me play.

I kept to myself for many years and had no desire to be in the spotlight. I saw music as more of a hobby growing up, and becoming an artist was not even a thought. Then, at the age of 15, I wrote my first song that was filled with many complex chords that I had no idea how to interpret at the time. I knew they were outside of the classical music I grew up playing, and I sought to figure out what they were.

As my love for music started to grow and evolve, I started taking music seriously when I decided to study music with an emphasis on jazz piano in university after my guidance counsellor encouraged me to pursue something I was “good at.” During my time in the music program at York University, I learned and started understanding the theory behind jazz music. I revisited the song that I had written at 15 years old, learning to understand what I created and dissecting it through a new lens.

After graduating from York University’s music program, I continued my educational studies at Western University in London, Ontario, to become a licensed educator. While studying for an exam, I had a moment in my dorm room that caused me to start hearing music and lyrics and piece together the melodies I heard. This melody led to my first single release, “I’ll Worship You,” in November 2014. It was a nerve-racking experience for me as I would finally be sharing my music with people for the first time. This song was also a test to see how people would respond to my original release. After going through the process of putting the piece together, I realized that instrumental music was something I was extremely passionate about. I was never a singer, and I never enjoyed singing (even though I grew up singing in the church choir). Putting music together on my own was impressive, and it motivated me to create instrumentation without lyrics. I was truly blown away that this was something I not only could do but was doing.

The instrumental music I released in 2016 and 2017 was primarily jazz and gospel-based in a live format, mostly live piano, drums, and bass guitar. 2016 was a huge year for me as I released two instrumental projects in six months. In 2017, I continued to release music in a live format. Still, I realized that relying on different instrumentalists to get the job done was hindering my growth. It took me a while to recognize that I am a multi-instrumentalist. I learned how to play many different instruments outside of the piano and after creating music over the last four years, I had never truly tapped into all my musical gifts. In the summer of 2018, I finally decided to explore my multi-instrumental side. During one of my studio sessions, I discovered the loop button in GarageBand after having my MacBook for five years. It made a lightbulb go off in my head because it was at that moment, I realized I had an opportunity to explore my multi-instrumentalist self. I started producing for real and taking it seriously, creating my beats using the stock beats and instrumentation with multiple instruments.

Not only did I recognize my potential as a multi-instrumentalist, but I also moved into fusing genres and going against musical boundaries, doing things musically that I felt were outside of what was expected. My releases in 2019 and 2020 came from that lightbulb moment. I started transitioning from live jazz/gospel to fusion, incorporating jazz, gospel, neo-soul, R&B, electronic, funk and trap influences. Mixing genres fulfilled my desire to reach many different types of audiences.

After many years of building my sound, it was in 2020 that things started to take a turn for the better. My release, “In Rotation,” in May 2020 was the turning point in my music career. It was the first time my track had reached 1,000 streams on Spotify, and it caused me to start taking streaming platforms more seriously. In July 2020, I released my single, “LVLS,” and I hit my first 10,000 streams, as well as getting blog, press, and radio coverage in the United States and worldwide. In October of 2020, I had the honour of collaborating with Gospel/Neo-soul artist Sean C. Johnson, who was an artist that I had been watching and listening to since I was in university. Our song received over 15,000 streams and was included in the gospel rotation on Toronto’s G98.7FM.

During my first five years as an artist, there were many changes in my sound and how I viewed myself. In 2018, I experienced writer’s block and had a very challenging year. I started doubting myself and questioning if I wanted to continue pursuing music. I felt I was at a standstill, just going through the motions. I didn’t feel like I was receiving the support I would have liked to receive. If I didn’t have that lightbulb moment with GarageBand, I don’t know if I would be as successful today.

Throughout those first five years, I also endured many obstacles and setbacks, being a Black woman who is an instrumentalist. You don’t hear a lot about women of colour who are instrumentalists, especially in Canada’s music industry, where Black women are underrepresented and mistreated. We’re used to seeing Black women as singers and not much else. My goal was to bring something different to Canada and see a better representation of Black women musicians in the industry. When I tell people I’m a musician, the first thing they tend to ask me is, “Do you sing?” and I’m always really put off by that question. There is this assumption that because I’m a Black woman, I sing. It’s always been this way— this idea that women are just meant to be singers, on display, so to speak, and aren’t meant to do anything else.

Even growing up in church and going to concerts and events at other churches, males have played in the bands and oversaw the music. I’ve seen and heard women in the church get intimidated in musical situations with men and be denied the right to play instruments. As a Black woman, I am grateful for the opportunities I had to play in church. I want to inspire other women— Black women, that they too can be successful in music and become the musicians that they desire to be.

Additionally, there isn’t much talk of instrumentalists, putting out music in North America, regardless of race or gender. The culture is very different here, where the work of instrumentalists are not appreciated in the way that it should be. However, European and Asian instrumentalists are more respected and valued because the people understand the amount of work, time, energy, and level of skill it takes. North America is used to hearing lyrics from vocalists and rappers. In my experience, there is not much interest in trying to understand anything different, especially when it comes to instrumental music. North American audiences rarely try to understand what they aren’t used to; with that, there is a lack of openness.

Instrumental music is how all music comes together. All the music you hear has had to be created by instrumentalists and producers— by people who know and understand music. Just because music doesn’t have words doesn’t mean it has no meaning. It takes a special skill to communicate feelings and emotions using only instruments. An instrumentalist who plays instrumental music has a story to tell and those stories lie within the melodies. Just think! Soundtracks for movies, theatrical plays, and television must evoke the emotion that the directors are trying to portray. As an instrumentalist, my goal is to stimulate the feelings into the songs I create to reach others.

Given my journey, I am so proud of how I have persevered. Not only do I have a strong belief in myself, but I also have a strong belief that people need to hear something different from someone who looks different. I pride myself on being my authentic self and not changing for anyone. When I accepted the assignment of being a Black woman instrumentalist in Canada, I understood that it was going to be challenging. And throughout, I have remained consistent with my message and who I am as an artist.

I’ve pushed my music until people listened, and it’s taken a lot of endurance. I got my very first radio play in the United States in 2014. As the years went by, my reach grew internationally, and people in Toronto started paying attention to me. This journey reminds me of the scripture in John 4:44 where it talks about a man not being regarded and not receiving the honour in his own home. I knew that I had to step outside of my comfort zone— my home, to have a greater reach.  I must give credit to G98.7FM for being the first Canadian radio station to give my music a chance. Because I was given an opportunity here, I saw that as a jumping-off point to start reaching out to other Canadian radio stations as well.

One of my goals was to have my music played on some of the bigger Canadian radio stations—CBC was one of those giants. I noticed that CBC introduced a radio program in 2021 called “The Block by CBC,” a show that showcases Black Canadian artists, so I submitted my song “Late Arrival (Remix)” to them. They fell in love with the song but responded that they don’t play instrumental music, which is the feedback I often receive. My thought is always, “but you play music made by instrumentalists!” I responded that instrumental music is on the rise and that I hope they find a way to incorporate it into their program. I had submitted my song in July 2021 and on September 8, 2021, 2 weeks before my 31st birthday, they tagged me in a post on Instagram and I found out that they would be playing my song in their 7 pm show that night. They ended up playing my song in the last 5 minutes of the show, and it brought me to tears. I pushed my music for seven years working tirelessly to get it heard on a national platform. When this happened, I knew that anything was possible. It’s going to take some work, and it’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s possible. Timing is everything, and I am a strong believer in this. “A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.” (Prov. 18:16 NKJV).

To date, I have been featured on national television, over 50 music blogs, and multiple podcasts. In addition, I have been played on numerous radio stations worldwide, had my music added to many great Spotify playlists, featured on a handful of Google new publications, alongside two successful album release parties, 21 singles, and two project releases over the last seven years. I am also a music content creator with a successful cover series called “Cover Tuesdays” that I’ve been running consistently since 2017 with multiple spin-off series and many collaborations worldwide. I am the global ambassador for MUSICHYPEBEAST, I work alongside a company called RADIOPUSHERS as their Digital Operations Director and I recently became the official host of the Toronto Rising Podcast as the company is now branching into Canada.

Sometimes, when we go through adversity, or we receive a challenge that looks difficult, the first thing we want to do is give up. My ambition and determination refused to let me give up because I understood that what I was doing was much bigger than myself. Some people are fortunate to achieve great success at the very beginning of their journeys, but for others, it takes five, ten, even 20 years to reach success and their true potential. We must trust the process and timing of life. My song, “Day 2 Day,” speaks to this. We never know what’s going to happen, but we must trust the process and the path God has us on.

I have so much to look forward to, and I’m just getting started!

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Some of the challenges I faced were: Struggling to get my music played in my own country.

Not being able to play at certain events.

Being told my music was “experimental” when it’s not.

Being judged by men in the industry and in the gospel music community in Toronto.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I wear many hats: Instrumental Fusion Artist, Producer, Content Creator, Session Musician, Educator.

I am my own artist. I also play live for various artists, I teach for the Toronto District School Board and I teach private piano + music theory lessons.

What sets me apart from others is that my music has its own lane of creativity, meaning, passion, and vibe. My instrumental music combines a unique mixture of faith, soul, vulnerability, divine balance, and my matchless euphoria. My music enables people to visualize my message without hearing lyrics. My music comes with its own vibe of nirvana infused with Toronto’s soul. I am an “outside the box” musical thinker and I am known to push boundaries and genre bend.

I am most proud of being able to start a new lane in the industry in Canada as a Black Woman Instrumental Artist and that I can pave the way for current and future Black Women Musicians.

What makes you happy?
What makes me happy is being able to do what I love and passionate about because I know that it’s part of my life purpose! I want to be the representation that I did not have growing up. I also want to inspire women who look like me who have a desire and a passion for music and encouraging them to go after their dreams, while staying true to who they are!

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Photography Credits: Taken by PDM, Menelick Akoto, Waveland Canada

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