Today we’d like to introduce you to Gira Dahnee.
Gira, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
Growing up in the south, my church was the musical influence during my childhood. Sister Martin, the church choir director, was one of of the first women I saw in leadership. She was the boss and I secretly aspired to be a leader at something in that same way. It also helped that I loved to sing and absolutely loved music. I joined my church choir at the age of six and was in all of my school choirs growing up. I received the opportunity to become a part of the same choir where Sister Martin acquired her skills, Florida A&M University (FAMU) Concert Choir. It was in college where I began to learn the technical skills and how to use my voice as an instrument.
Piano playing for me started organically. I loved the piano and didn’t have one of my own for a long time. I would just sit and listen to songs playing by ear because my mother could not afford lessons. I remember having a friend Simone whose mom made her take lessons. I would get her to teach me what she would learn. She is the one who taught me 7th chords which I would use in lot of my early songwriting during junior high. I auditioned for a performing arts school and began to get formal training. I was able to continue those lessons in college at FAMU as well.
After college, I decided to move to Chicago. On my first evening here, a friend took me to see the Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an avant-garde-jazz collective of musicians that pays homage to the diverse styles of expression within the body of Black Music in the USA, Africa, and throughout the world. I had never heard anything like them. It was on this day that I decided to study avant-garde jazz and take up jazz voice with Saalik Ziyad who is a second generation member of AACM. I would test out my lessons at late-night jam sessions at Velvet Lounge, a jazz club owned by the late AACM member Fred Anderson. The Velvet Lounge is where I formed a familial bond with many of Chicago’s jazz musicians.
I was shy about my piano skills in my early years in Chicago. However, four years ago I was asked to join the collective Participatory Music Coalition (PMC) where Sura Dupart, also a member of AACM, took the time to encourage me to build my self expression, be free in the music, utilize more of my piano, and stretch my vocal ability. Having this loving community of Chicago has shaped the direction and social context of my music. In conclusion, it was “community” that peaked my interest in becoming a musician and “community” enables me continue my journey as a musician. I represent my community, my ancestors, and all of my elders. I owe this music to them.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I am a composer. I have always strived to create from an authentic place. Songwriting for me is mostly about being in the moment. But I believe I am a part of a song continuum where songs from the dream world come to into my consciousness to share with the people on earth.
I am inspired by so many things, visual art, current news, drama, LOL. But mostly, I want people to know that it’s ok to be moved, emotional, and present. So many people are onto the next thing and they just don’t take the time to focus and be in the now. I believe music is the best technology ever created because it brings people together and allows us to all share a common experience regardless of our race, class or sexuality.
What I want people to take away from my music is sometimes not really determined by me because I feel I get lost in the experience myself. I become a vessel. Therefore, I want people to just have no fear of listening to their own inner spirit and to follow their hearts more.
What do you know now that you wished you had learned earlier? Any advice for those just starting out?
The only advice that I would give to an artist is that to just be themselves. Learn from everyone. Everyone can teach you something about your art but never lose who you are in the process. Understand why you are doing it, what do you want to get out of music? Is it money, fame or is it from the pure enjoyment of the process. And lastly, an authentic support group aka family is important for dealing with the lows and the highs of your career.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
A Call to Love my first full length album will be released early 2019. https://giradahnee.com/3arts. I will be performing a free show at the Dorchester Arts Collaborative on December 13 at 7:00 p.m. (1456 E 70th St, Chicago, IL 60637) with
Adam Zanolini, Angel Bat David, and Scottie McNiece as a part of Hyde Park School of Music Series. I also have a website giradahnee.com with all of my social media links. (Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud), etc.
- Website: giradahnee.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/giradahnee
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GiraDahnee
- Other: https://soundcloud.com/gira-dahnee/tracks
Tony Smith (black and white, and top left) Travis Ingram top right, Megan rooftop candid.