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Soul and R&B singer, Deva Mahal, rediscovers her roots

Singer set to perform at Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

Deva Mahal was born with blues in her blood but she's no blues artist.

The soul and R&B singer is the daughter of US-American blues musician Taj Mahal but she has taken her own path in life.

Mahal grew up in Kaua'i, Hawaii before moving to New Zealand as a teenager.

Since then she has grown into an artist who performs at the highest levels, features at jazz festivals around the world and has even performed at a presidential inauguration.

Now she is bringing her musical nous to Tairāwhiti to perform at Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival next month.

Following last year's Covid restrictions, Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival organisers split the event in two and moved the larger music events to February.

Mahal left New Zealand at the age of 19 and went abroad, bouncing from one music festival to the next.

Mahal has graced stages like the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, Bonnaroo, the Montreal Jazz Festival, Byron Bay Blues Festival, London Jazz Festival— to give an idea of her calibre.

She has performed alongside legends like Etta James, The Roots, and Cyndi Lauper.

At the start of 2020, Mahal returned to New Zealand where she was struck with medical complications. Then the pandemic hit which lead her to rediscover her roots and reimagine her immediate future.

“I came back to work on a project with my sister and visit my family over the holiday and that turned into where we are now.

“It kept me here. It wasn't why I came home but it's why I ended up staying.”

In 2021 she was nominated for the prestigious APRA Silver Scroll Award for her song, Stand In.

For Mahal, the lockdowns have been at times positive, and sometimes not.

“Somedays you feel grateful for the silence and the slower pace, and other days you feel like you're going to pull your hair out.

“I feel like everyone has felt like that in a way and not marching to the beat of what needs to be done and what money needs to be made.

“In terms of being creative you sometimes feel like you have more space to work and at other times you're just trying to make it through the day.”

Although she is enjoying what New Zealand has to offer, the banal nature of being on a small island with few people can be trying to someone used to the hustle and bustle of places like New York City.

“Sometimes I'm really happy to be home and other times I get really sad FOMO (fear of missing out).

“I want to be working and moving at the pace that I was moving before the pandemic so a lot of this is an exercise in patience.”

Now Mahal is working on developing her skill set and tapping into new inspirations.

“I'm working with some really cool artists and producers in Aotearoa and at the same time I'm building up my production skills, which is special because I have had the time to do it.”

Last year got off to an exciting start for Mahal, when she performed with the Resistance Revival Chorus at US President Joe Biden's inauguration.

Deva Mahal will perform at Festival Club, Lawson Field Theatre, Saturday, February 5, 8.30pm, as part of Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival. Tickets from iticket.co.nz, prices start at $31.50.

ONE NIGHT ONLY: Singer Deva Mahal has performed at festivals around the world and now she is coming to Gisborne to delight audiences at Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival in February. Picture supplied