Damoyee Janai dishes about surviving hard times and what it takes to make it in music.
Your interest in music started at age two. Tell us how it all began.
My parents listened to a lot of music, and it was always on in the car and at home. Plus, I watched a lot of shows with music—”Sesame Street” was one of my favorites. One day, my parents said they noticed me singing and humming melodies to some songs they knew I had only heard once or twice. They didn’t think much of it at first.
What happened next?
They said I’d try to play songs on common items around the house. So, they bought me a keyboard from a dollar store. On my own I just started finding different notes to match melodies. My parents enrolled me in a private piano and music theory class. Once I started, the teacher realized I have what’s called absolute pitch.
You’ve won numerous awards. Which one means the most to you?
Most are at the local and state level through the Fort Worth Music Teachers Association and Texas Music Teachers Association for piano playing, performing in ensembles and for my original compositions. I’ve won an international award for film scoring in the independent film industry. I was really excited to receive a DownBeat Student Music Award in the blues/pop/rock category this past year. DownBeat is iconic.
The Outstanding Vocal Soloist Award from the Next Generation Monterey Jazz Festival means the most to me, though. Jazz is my favorite genre to play. I won that award two years in a row. It’s a judge’s award given at the end of the festival. Vocalists don’t even know you’re being judged and these judges are jazz industry professionals.
Your third album, “The Whole Truth,” recently dropped. You say it is more intimate than your previous two albums. Why did you decide to make this album?
I view music as art that reflects and captures a certain point in time. Every song on “The Whole Truth” is about a real event that happened in my life. My favorite song on the album is “Change.” I wrote it about a period in my life when I felt like the walls around me were caving in. I was doing so much with my music that I was under a great deal of stress… There were days I felt I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t eating right or sleeping well worrying about deadlines and wondering about my future. I was still dealing with bullies in my life. Then one day, during all of that, the melody and lyrics just started flowing.
What is one fun fact most people would not know about you?
I’m a big fan of film scores, particularly the scores from animated films. I love animated movies, especially Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks. Hearing the first few measures, just mere seconds, of the original score from any Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks animated feature film, I can name the film it came from.
What do you hope for the future?
To one day be among the names of the women who have broken barriers in the music industry, such as scoring major motion pictures and producing music for some of the biggest artists on the planet. I hope one day to be able to inspire young artists to fulfill their dreams.
What would you say to someone who has the gift to sing and/or to write songs?
Keep going. Keep creating. It may feel like you’ve hit a wall sometimes or it may feel like no one else is listening, but keep going. I’ve performed in venues where no one was paying attention to me except my family. Make music for you and you alone, with the hope for it to expand into inspiring others.
Cover photo courtesy Damoyee Janai