Meet one of NoHo’s brightest young musical minds, Deja Carr

By Adria Kelly-Sullenger


Courtesy of Monica Kwan/Facebook
Courtesy of Monica Kwan/Facebook

When I first met Deja Carr, she was surrounded by friends and adoring fans. There was a huge smile on her face, mostly due to the strong set she had just performed at the Iron Horse in Northampton. For this concert, Carr performed as Mal Devisa, one of the four musical acts that she splits her time between. Mal Devisa is Carr’s solo project, but she is also a member of Who’da Funk It?, The Radio on Mute and MASLA. Who’da Funk It? had a great year in 2013 and Mal Devisa has been gaining quite the following, leading me to look into more into this incredibly talented 17-year-old.

Carr admits she was not always a gifted singer. In fact, she said “I used to be a terrible singer.” That was, until she began practicing every single day. To say the least, the practice has paid off. Listening to her, one would never know that her melodic tones were not simply the result of raw natural talent. While performing, her deep, euphonious voice fit the beats to her songs perfectly, mesmerizing crowds.

Carr was raised surrounded by creativity and music. Her grandfather was jazz drummer Bruno Carr, a musician who recorded with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, and her mother is a stand-up comedian. When she was only five, she played a light up keyboard in Target so avidly that her mother finally bought it for her. Now she plays piano, drums and bass guitar. The bass, she claims, is her favorite because it fits her voice so well.

As Mal Devisa, Carr’s voice has a great, soulful quality to it, while her lyrics are one of a kind. Carr says her favorite places to write are in cafes. She sits and listens to the conversations of others. Her song “Daisy” came to her when she heard a girl yelling “daisy” over and over again. To Carr, the feel of the words in her mouth hold more meaning then the words themselves. She also draws inspiration from a myriad of artists, including Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Tune-Yards, with a tattoo on her body advertising her devotion to the Tune-Yards. Although she writes all of her own lyrics for Mal Devisa, many of her performances are improvised.

Improvisation builds Carr’s confidence onstage and gives each of her performances an incredible uniqueness. Her friend and bandmate Bess Hepner says that Carr always “commands the audiences’ attention.” Carr’s talent and passion almost immediately becomes obvious to almost anyone who meets her. Carr’s friend and fellow Who’da Funk It? member Emma Andrews-Sevene said she “is an incredibly talented young woman with a very old soul and a fiery passion for all things music.”

Even in her free time Carr surrounds herself with creative pursuits. She writes poetry, attends local shows to support other artists and participates in activism against discrimination, especially as an ally for Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transgender Queer rights. Even her view on the music industry is unique.  She explained that “if musicians don’t support each other, no one will.” She buys more albums from local artists than the top charts. Although her music career is taking off, she does not like how the industry is run, saying that “art doesn’t mix with money very well.” According to Carr, the entire business aspect of the industry needs to change for music to be purely produced from creative passions.

Carr believes that artists and musicians are one and the same. A musician to her “listens as much as they play, talks as much as they play and takes in as much as they give out,” they are “giant recycling bins.”

When Carr is onstage she “gives as much as possible” and finally has a chance to “feel what I need to feel.” With support from her proud, adoring mother she will soon be taking off on a tour of the Northeast as Mal Devisa and will be attending Hampshire College next year. All of her music is free on her profile. Jump on for a listen, and truly enjoy.

Adria Kelly-Sullenger can be reached at [email protected]