Demae’s Journey...

Words + Photography: Jesse Bernard

Demae is still figuring it out. She doesn’t quite know her destination but when she arrives, she’ll know it. “I just want to create music but where I’m at right now, I’m just enjoying the process and the idea of creating,” she tells me as we walk down Brixton’s Effa Road, with the curtains of summer slowly drawing in late September.

Formerly known as Bubblerap, most fans were introduced to Demae as one-third of Hawk House on their only project, A Handshake To The Brain—an imaginative odyssey through jazz, soul and hip-hop, released back in 2014. Since then, all three members have gone their separate ways. Hawk House was a project not too dissimilar to Lucy Pearl, in terms of the structure and it being a one-time album comprised of Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Raphael Saadiq and Dawn Robinson. But Demae doesn’t regret nor lament the brief time the London-based group was together. “I feel like I’m exploring myself a bit more,” she says. “I’ve been able to explore music in a different way... Now, it’s a lot more personal. When you’re in a group, you have to consider two other opinions and thoughts, so it’s been nice sitting with myself and making for myself.”

In 2018, Demae began working on her debut solo project, which eventually became Life Works Out… Usually. “The process was about two years,” she explains. “It was really about covering things in that two-year period: I’d lost my grandma and a few friends, and I felt like, ‘Wow! Life is happening.’ It was the first time I felt a shift.” Standout track “Ford” is an ode to past memories and lost loved ones, as she begins reciting the number plate of her old car and closes with a remembrance of her grandmother in gratitude. “I remember when my grandma used to tell me about being grateful for the things you’re blessed with, and for the things you take for granted, like waking up in the morning and having sight.”

In many ways, Life Works Out… Usually is a sonic journaling of Demae’s life over the past two years, her way of making sense of the world around her. “I didn’t think about the end product too much,” she says. “I was taking it day by day and making tracks because I do usually put pressure on myself, but I was really present during this whole process.” As though she’s reading from the scrawls in her diary, the project feels as though these are affirmations she’s releasing out into the world for all of us to live by. This sentiment is felt particularly strongly on “Use It”, where she sings: “There is power, there is power in everything you’re speaking.”

Demae credits London-based label and dance Touching Bass as facilitating the space for her to create and make a body of work. The extended Touching Bass family had a hand to play in the production of the album, but the strength of it lies in the organic, harmonious approach. “If it fits and it’s the right time, then cool, but I never put pressure on myself to stay within my close-knit circle,” she says. “It’s just about whether it works, and the feeling of it.” It just so happens to be that the circle on this project included Joe Armon-Jones, Ego Ella May, Eun and Wu-Lu.

“There’s a vibration that everyone’s on right now that feels different.”

Although she describes the writing process as difficult at times, Demae puts it down to her meticulous writing and attention to detail, something that rubbed off in her time as part of Hawk House. “Maybe I’m a bit hard on myself when it comes to writing because I was in a group with two rappers, and being able to see their process made me feel like I had to go in as well,” she says. “There were definitely songs that I had to rewrite and come back to. One of the tracks, ‘Let Go’, I kept revisiting it and it almost never made it on.”

As we make our way back up Coldharbour Lane, past Southwyck House Estate towards the main road, she continues: “At the time, I felt like I was being a bit of a hypocrite because I actually wasn’t letting go of things in my personal life. I wanted to sing about it because I felt I had to, but because I couldn’t actually let go, it didn’t feel real. So I had to leave it, practice what I preach, sort my shit out and come back to it.”

There are themes of loss and gratitude expressed and traversed through the eight-track project but ultimately it’s one of hope, because life works out, usually. The year has been melancholic and tragic in many ways but there have been moments and glimmers of hope exuded through art. It still has the power to change lives, and Demae has seen those bright moments this year. “Despite it all, I feel inspired,” she says. “People are appreciating others more, making genuine time and we’re taking things in differently. Even with music, just being able to consume in a different way... There’s a vibration that everyone’s on right now that feels different. How, I don’t know. But it just does.”

Who knows what the next twelve months will bring for Demae. Life has been uncertain for what feels like so long, but right now she’s enjoying the moment, especially as she prepares for her live performance via a Bandcamp stream on December 17. “Life happens, innit? Maybe one day, more music will come but for now, everyone’s just living life.” As Demae says this, it doesn’t come across as a teaser but merely something that she’s left to the universe to decide. If it’s meant to be, it will be, but Demae is comfortable and assured in the journey she’s currently taking.

Posted on December 14, 2020