Danni Tesfay wears her heart on her sleeve; even after every heartbreak and trifling playboy, she’s not afraid to love again, putting herself and her heart first. It’s this fearless cadence that she also approaches with her music, after making the switch to pursuing music full-time Danni knows exactly what she wants and how she’s going to get it. In the past year, she’s released three studio singles following her breakout hit “Hit the Road.” Her most recent release, “Believe in Love,” is a different version of Danni, one that trades toxic dating patterns for a vulnerable and rather relatable lover girl persona. “Believe in Love,” co-written by Kemi Ade and produced by Grammy-nominated artist Likklejay, is a self-effacing ballad written to herself. In her most personal track to date, the record nurses raw, diaristic lyrics through adorning melodies and sultry vocals, all at once letting go of all control in order to provide the space for love again. In this interview with Intersect, we talked about getting over heartbreak, the UK’s growing R&B scene, and staying authentic to yourself despite industry pressure.
You’re a fairly new artist in the UK scene, you only have three singles out and there’s not a ton about you out there. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and who you are apart from your music and identity as an artist?
Okay, so Danni before the music. I am originally from a small city in the Midlands called Coventry, literally in the middle of nowhere. We really did grow up in the sticks, there’s one of everything, everyone kind of knows each other. I knew early on that I was too big for this city, so the first chance I got to move out of the city was for University. I went to a University up in Manchester and it was my first experience living in a big city and I loved it. I was a great creative scene, I studied journalism so before I was a musician I was a journalist. I’ve been singing since I was a little kid but I made a promise to my parents that I will at least get a degree first. My first job out of Uni was at a radio station, I loved music and I wanted to be around music. But one thing that I found was that when I was interviewing artists and at these festivals and shows, I would have rather been the one performing. So yeah, fast forward to now I’m here in London, still working but pursuing music.
It sounds like the transition into delving into your music career full-time wasn’t that long after you finished University, what was that journey like entering the music scene and more specifically the R&B space?
I would say I’ve been singing forever but making music seriously I would say since I started briefly in the studio in Manchester. I met these two incredible producers and we would lock in sessions and I would just experience and see what I liked but nothing really came out. So I was in this experimental phase until this year when I released “Hit the Road” which is the track I did just prior to my most recent release. So yeah, really pursuing it and putting my music out in the world, started not that long ago for me.
When you made the transition to music, what kinds of influences were you around that made you decide to experiment with more R&B leaning styles and genres?
For me, I leaned into whatever made me happy and whatever felt authentic to me. So all my music is like a diary so I know exactly what headspace I was in when I wrote that particular song, I know what the weather was like, what I had for dinner, and what I had for lunch. I can remember everything because it all plays a part in the story. What helped me finalize my sound was of course experimenting and looking to my influences, I love everything 90s R&B, I’m also loving the new school girls as well and there’s a couple from the UK that are really doing their thing, for example Raye. So I look to my influences and I think about what I would like to listen to and what resonates with me because ultimately I feel that audiences are drawn to authenticity. If you try to replicate what’s already out there, I don’t know how well you're going to do.
You talk a lot about the importance of leaning into your emotional headspace when writing songs and observing every emotion and sense around you, what was going through your mind and what personal experiences influenced the writing behind your single “Believe in Love”
Before I get into that, I think it would be important for me to lay down the context of “Believe In Love.” So this track is written with an amazing songwriter named Kemi, and it was produced by an amazing and grammy nominated producer by the name of Likkeljay, and it was a project they were running during black history month to link up and sync up upcoming artists and creators in the scene. So that’s how the song was born. In terms of the writing process and what I was going through when writing this song, me and Demi decided to just sit down and just chat like really informally asking each other “how are you doing sis?” and “what’s happening in your relationship life and love life?” We came to the conclusion that both of us, me included have all been scarred by love. We have all come across a fuck boy or play boy or whatever you want to call it, but at the same time we are still hopeless romantics. We still want a Prince Charming and to be cuffed in this season and to be taken off the streets even though we haven’t had the best experiences. So it was really leaning towards that, and it was essentially writing a song about myself despite being scared and scarred, choosing to believe in love. Initially when people listen to the song they might think it’s about making a partner believe in love, but Its essentially like a love letter to myself. When I was in this headspace I was thinking particularly about myself.
When it comes to your own personal experiences, do you actually believe that after such scarring and heartbreak that you can completely open to something like that again?
I think yes. I think you can. Of course it’s hard and you’re going to have to do some inner healing and work on yourself. I won’t lie to you, past heartbreaks have put me through therapy. And maybe that’s why I have a positive outlook now, I’m a champion for therapy. If you have broken a heart go to therapy before looking for love. But I definitely believe in loving again, I think it’s like sometimes you forget the pain of heartbreak. There’s this saying that when mothers give birth and see their child they forget about the pain of childbirth. It’s the same with love, when you come to someone who is so your person and your soulmate you forget about all the bullshit you’ve been through because that path of hurt and pain led you to that person.
What was the UK music and creative scene like when you were first entering it, especially the R&B spaces?
When I was first doing music the trending sound was Afrofusion and Afrobeat, Drill as well. The one thing about the UK is that we don’t have an established R&B scene yet so we don’t necessarily have the platform for it yet. So in terms of what my influences were like in that space when I was first starting out in music it was definitely few and far between in terms of the UK, I would just look towards America to the Destiny’s Child, SZA, and Summer Walker because we didn’t have that yet here. But I will say that the R&B scene here is definitely growing, we’re not quite in the main stage yet but the sound is amazing. We just need a platform and an audience, but I do feel like there is space for it.
Every country has their own sound when it comes to subjective genres, you know the UK rap versus American rap and American house music versus European house music. Do you feel like the UK, in its beginning stages, has a specific R&B sound or does it grab from influences from all over the world?
I feel like it definitely grabs influences from all over the world, but in terms of R&B we’re definitely seeing a resurgence of 90’s sound, even in rap. So for example like Flow the girl group is absolutely killing it, and Raye, and JVCK James who are really bringing back that 90’s and 2000’s sounds. So I would say that's the sound that's trending and popping.
In previous interviews you’ve talked about collaborating with other artists and writing with other songwriters. Do you find yourself more inspired when working with other artists or do you prefer to work individually?
I would say it depends. Sometimes you might be entering a studio session already fueled up and you know exactly what you want to write about and what you’re going to do and in that case you don’t need anyone else in your ear. You’re on a mission and you know what to create. And then there are some days where you might be there to vibe and see what comes out and on days like that, that’s when collaboration is magic. Just by bouncing off each other's energy you can create something really great. If I’m being real, historically I’ve worked mostly by myself in terms of writing my own music. But I’m trying to be a little more open in collaborating as well.
As you’ve gone through this journey of discovering your sound and your identity as an artist, what has been the most challenging thing for you in the process?
The most challenging thing for me, is when you’re an upcoming artist and you’re still trying to find your feet and find your sound and establish an audience, it’s really easy to get lost in the sauce of what people think you should be or try and fit people’s perception of you. So that’s definitely one of my biggest battles, is trying not to let people make me doubt myself and not letting people in my ear trying to change the style or sound that I’m doing, ultimately trying not to stay in a box. Because I really feel like if you’re authentic for yourself, audiences will come. I think that’s been my biggest challenge so far is not letting people get into my head.
What kinds of things do you practice daily to keep yourself from comparing with other artists? What helps you stay in your lane and focus on producing the most authentic version of yourself through your music?
Of course I’ve got my affirmations that keep me focused, if I’m feeling overwhelmed I journal, I take care of my physical and mental wellbeing. But ultimately remembering why I’m doing this in the first place, the reason why I want to make music, of course it’s lovely to have an audience, but for me it’s my dairy. It's a reflection of what I’m going through and if an audience likes it then great but I want to make music that is true to me and who I am as a person and everything else is background noise.
With only three tracks out, you’ve already gained thousands of followers and gotten attention from various digital music platforms. Where do you want to take your music in terms of your sound? Do you see it changing very much from the R&B foundation? Are you experimenting with other sounds?
I definitely see myself staying in the R&B scene for a little while longer; I think R&B music is very diverse. There's so much you can do in the space and I don’t think it’s been fully explored yet. I mean I’m not opposed to experimenting with other sounds, you know I might do a rap track a couple years down the road or become a pop girly, but right now my heart is in R&B through and through and I still have more to give before I try something else.
What is your dream collaboration?
I’ve got two. UK-based I would say Cleo Soul, and U.S. Janelle Monet.
Who are your top five on your current rotation?
Snoh Aalegra, Jhené Aiko, Solomon, Tems, and Lana Del Rey.
What can listeners expect from you in the next couple of months?
I’m definitely in my experimenting bag in the studio, so next year, we definitely have a variety of songs coming out. Some “Cater to You” style music where you might see me dancing in a music video…but I’ve also been experimenting with Jersey Drill. I would say some really exciting sounds and tracks that people wouldn’t necessarily expect from me next year.