Entertainment

The singer who won't sign a record deal

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Media captionIAMDDB takes third place on the BBC Music Sound Of List 2018

IAMDDB, a Manchester vocalist whose music is full of fearless attitude and sensual soul, is at number three on the BBC’s Sound of 2018 list.

IAMDDB comes across as a fully-formed superstar who’s waiting to step out of the shadows.

Her sound, which melts together neo-soul, urban jazz, hip-hop and R&B, is by turns sharp and seductive. That, and her stylistic vision, are astonishingly assured for an artist who only started making waves six months ago.

Her vocal and production talent are fuelled by a fierce independence and a single-minded determination that nothing is going to stand in her way.

She dropped her first track in September 2016 – the same day she quit university, just an hour after enrolling.

The singer was inspired to pursue her musical and artistic ambition after a trip to Angola, where her father is in one of the country’s most popular bands.

Before her African trip, she did make her inroads into music under her real name Diana DeBrito (such as this song, with a great video inspired by Dennis Edwards’ 1984 hit Don’t Look Any Further). She was far from fully formed then. Now, she’s ready to go.

Why IAMDDB?

DDB just stands for my initials – Diana DeBrito. I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching for a while now and I thought the best way to connect with people is to show that it’s cool being yourself, and I just thought I am DDB. Keep it simple. That’s who I am.

When did you start writing?

I started writing at a very young age – about seven or eight. I recorded my first track at 11 at my dad’s studio. I made £50. I was buzzing. An 11-year-old with £50! I thought I’d won the lottery.

When did you start taking it seriously?

Around high school time, and I did music at college. But when I went to Africa, that’s when I started really understanding, OK, music is actually what I want to do. I started producing, engineering, learning the in-betweens of music, not just lyricism and the beat.

Writing’s always been second nature – I can write anywhere, under any circumstance. Anything can inspire me. It feels very natural to write.

Image copyright Gonzales Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

Why did you go to Angola?

Every woman at one point in life experiences a bad relationship and I just needed different energies and different surroundings – almost a reset button to my whole existence. So I thought, I’ll go to Africa, experience something completely new.

We ended up going for six months and toured here and there. Did a whole heap of jazz. It was amazing. And it really inspired me. I thought, if I can do this in Africa, surely I can do something back home.

Is your dad from Angola?

He is. He’s based in Angola and he’s in a band out there – Afro soul, Afro jazz – and I thought what better way to overcome the personal issues I’m going through than to connect with music with different people?

It was a very big culture shock but that whole trip taught me so much about myself, about us as humans, poverty, luxury – it was sick. I advise everybody: You must go to Africa at least once in your life.

Image copyright IAMDDB

Was that a turning point for you?

Definitely – that was the moment I realised, OK Dee, you want to make music? Cool, well, the world is your oyster, go out there and make music.

I came back, tried to do education. I went to uni for one hour. I thought, nope, this isn’t for me. The same day I started and quit uni was the same day I dropped Leaned Out.

Who inspires you?

Bob Marley was my number one inspiration. I grew up listening to Bob Marley in the car, in the studio, in the house. Everywhere we went, Bob Marley was always playing. The way I write, the way I harmonise, everything is essentially inspired by Bob Marley.

Apart from him, there’s a lady called Gretchen Parlato – she’s top notch. People like Jordan Rakei, Tom Misch, they’ve inspired me on this journey.

A South African musician as well, Jimmy Dludlu – that’s when I got into Afro soul and Afro jazz. Sick musician. Please check him out.

How about your dad?

My dad was the biggest inspiration. Watching him do it inspired me and made me think, yeah, I want to do that exact same thing. He’s supported me through every decision I’ve made in life. Bless my mum as well – she’s supported me through everything.

I’ve heard you describe yourself as internally shy – are you still?

Just accepting where I’ve come from and where I am in this state of mind and all these transitions that I’m going through, I feel like I’ve embraced that inner shyness and it’s slowly going away and becoming this little woman that’s got confidence.

It’s such a blessing to be able to evolve and grow, doing what I love to do.

How important is being an independent artist?

One thousand million per cent. So important. Top of the list. I made sure I signed myself to myself to ensure no BS was going to be involved.

I made a promise to myself that if I was to do it, it would have to be 100% my way. We all know if you sign to labels, etc, you’re going to have to compromise somewhere down the line, and DDB don’t do compromising, I promise you, girl!

Why do you want to remain unsigned?

I believe in myself enough to not let anybody take control of what I do with my art. I’m always up for taking criticism that can improve it, but with regards to creative control, I feel like that’s so essential for any artist to have.

For me, music is my therapy. That’s where I express myself. That’s why I’m so honest with it. I speak about personal issues. I speak about other people’s experiences.

Anything I make, I own. It’s so much fun because no matter what decision I make, whether it’s right or wrong, it’s made by me, and it’s my career, so why not? It’s my way or no way.

IAMDDB was speaking to BBC arts & entertainment journalist Alex Stanger.

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