Before the self-empowering artist that is india.arie, there was Des'ree.
The British-born soulstress first experienced success in the U.K. with “Delicate,” a duet with Terrence Trent D'Arby, in 1992. The song barely reached the charts in the U.S., but all that changed with her 1994 album I Ain't Movin'. “You Gotta Be,” a single filled with uplifting, encouraging lyrics (“You gotta be bad/You gotta be bold/You gotta be wiser”), made a splash on VH1 with its eye-catching video. Featuring multiple images of the singer, the video intended to show different emotions and moods of a woman, Des'ree said at the time. Her hit landed her the opening act slot on Seal's world tour; at the time, he was riding high with “Kiss from A Rose,” thus gaining her great exposure.
Unfortunately, Des'ree failed to score another major hit; though she continues to release albums, none have reached the success of “You Gotta Be.” Her blend of R&B, rock, and world sounds, accented by her smooth but emotional voice, still struggles to be appreciated by a larger audience. Listen to I Ain't Movin' and reintroduce yourself to her beautiful music.
Along with “You Gotta Be,” the album contains some powerful songs. The midtempo “Crazy Maze” chronicles a woman's struggle to cope with difficult, busy times: “Cause we´re living, we´re living in a crazy maze/And we´re fighting, we´re fighting to rise above the haze,” she sings, intricate percussion punctuating her vocals. “Living in the City” touches on the same themes, but at a faster pace. She also sounds more optimistic in the lyrics: “The sun is winking at me, giving me the eye/There's no better place to watch the time trickle by,” she croons, describing various scenes of city life.
If there are any doubts that Des'ree cannot sing funk, she puts them to rest with “Strong Enough,” featuring a scratchy guitar and strong beat. The soaring “Feel So High” may have puzzling lyrics (“I feel so high, when I'm touching your sky”), but the slinky beat and her simple vocalizations rescue the song from being a poetic jumble.
Perhaps the centerpiece of the album is the title track, where she defiantly claims pride in who she is: "Why should I hide? / Why should I be ashamed? / Time is much too short to be livin' somebody else's life / I walk with dignity, I step with pride."
Singing over a simple arrangement of guitar, drums, and piano, Des'ree reaches the crescendo in the chorus: "Cause I ain't moving from my face, from my race, from my history / I ain't movin' from my love my peaceful dove, it means too much to me / Loving self can be so hard / Honesty can be be demanding / Learn to love yourself it's a great, great feeling."
Artists like india.arie clearly borrowed from these lyrics to create their own self-empowering music. While this approach is nothing new, of course, Des'ree's simple yet powerful vocal performance makes the listener feel her pain and believe in what she sings.
I saw her live during the 1994 Seal tour, and was instantly impressed with her earnest delivery and soulful voice. At the time I thought she would go on to even greater fame, since she clearly had talent. For an opening act, Des'ree commanded the audience's attention quite well. Indeed she did record other albums and released two moderately successful singles, but eventually fell into relative obscurity in the U.S.
Fans of the 1996 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet may remember her beautiful ballad “Kissing You,” which places her voice front and center. Featuring an even sparser arrangement, Des'ree evokes passion in her vocals, perfectly capturing the deep love between the star-crossed couple. Beyonce later covered the song, but could not match the sensual quality of the original version. She also duetted with rock legend Steve Winwood on “Plenty Lovin” for his 1997 Junction Seven album. Their soulful voices perfectly complement each other, creating a very pleasant tune. The single managed to gain significant airplay on smooth jazz stations throughout the country.
Des'ree's I Ain't Movin' album remains the pinnacle of her career, and should not be overlooked. Her voice remains powerful, rich with life experience. By listening to this album as well as the aforementioned singles, one gains a new appreciation of her unique talents.Powered by Sidelines