If you grew up on ’90s and ’00s R&B, Desta French will certainly strike a chord. With old-school head-nod beats and a knack for distilling emotion into clever lyrics, the singer conjures the golden era of R&B, but with a little something extra. “I bring myself. My own sauce.” The UK music scene has a history of importing and reinventing genres, whether in the form of afrobeats or grime, and Desta French’s R&B is no exception. A half-Colombian, half-Italian, North London kid growing up on a mix of Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton, TLC, salsa and bullerengue, she takes to R&B with nostalgia and a vibrant latin twist.
In many ways, her unique style and sound could not have come about anywhere else than London. “I don’t feel too much of a connection with English culture, I’m pretty ignorant to it,” French explains. “But I’m very much a Londoner. I love the clashes of culture you find everywhere, you’re constantly being enriched by sounds and visuals, around every corner.” The singer reveals her mixed heritage allowed her to oscillate between the eclectic identities that thrive in London. “I’m fairly articulate, I went to uni, my skin is white, I was raised in central London. But I’m working class, I grew up in the ends, my parents first languages are Spanish and Italian and they were dealing with their own cultural differences behind closed doors.” This ability to blend in helped her navigate the colourful and complex city and write a new chapter in London’s unique soundscape.
In the midst of these identities and influences, French confesses she came to music almost by accident. “I was uncomfortable most of the time as a kid. School discos were a big deal for me and one of the only times I felt truly happy. I was always making music, singing and tapping. I vividly remember making songs up all the time I just didn’t appreciate it as a skill yet.” A lot has changed since then. Experimenting with music as a child came full circle when she released her debut song Take You For Dead three years ago. It garnered attention and she’s been making waves ever since.
This past month, she released her Immigracious EP. At only 15 minutes long, packing personality and skilful storytelling, the EP captures the complex self of its artist. “[The title] is a pat on the back to anyone like me or anyone who wasn’t born in the place where they currently reside, making a life, wherever that may be, with grace. It’s a powerful way to live,” she says. “I mean, London is full of kids with such unique identities because they’re second-generation immigrants from somewhere or another. I’m a voice of many who just don’t fit into a box really. But that’s a good thing for me now because I explore it in my art every day.”
French hadn’t planned on creating this EP, but she found herself writing a lot when struck with the greatest inspiration of all: heartbreak. Many of the songs on Immigracious encompass the time during her break up. “[Heartbreak] is you at your truest, everyone can relate to being vulnerable and in pain,” she reveals. “Everyone can relate to love.” Her track Remedy captures the uncertain moments between wanting to try again and walking away. In the video she co-directed, French shows off her acting chops, escaping to a foreign country and furiously breaking down. With her smudged mascara and angry fits, French reminds us that love is messy.
We ask her what makes a great love story in her view. “A love story that creates cracks in your heart from which trees can grow. Love stories that are infinite. The love story with yourself is the most important one at the end of the day I guess, innit.” It’s this sincerity in everything from her lyricism to her performance that captivates in every track. 15 minutes just isn’t enough, when can we expect more music, Miss French? She assures us it won’t be too long; she’s dropping a duet this November with her “favourite artist ever” and promises she’ll have another EP out next year.