by Dom Jones
I met Jordan Holly sometime during my first semester. She said she was from Oakland, too. She was very bubbly. I liked her. Over the next two years, I would see her sing with famed Berklee a capella group, Pitch Slapped, going viral as the lead singer of their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”, going on to sing with them as they released an album and performed a sold out show in the Berklee Performance Center, and she would also be a part of the Berklee Popular Music Institute, traveling to Essence Festival and Outside Lands. It wasn’t really until this summer that I started to get a glimpse into Dalaun, Jordan’s solo stage personality.
At a laid back show in The Loft earlier this summer, I saw Dalaun perform on her own for the first time. A stripped down set with just a piano player, Dalaun sung everything from Oakland songwriter Jane Handcock to original tunes that she’d written herself. I was most impressed by how she tastefully arranged her vocals, not overdoing the runs, and flexing her lower register. When she announced that she was going to be doing a bigger, final show in the Caf, I was interested to see her on a bigger platform with a full band, background singers, and the whole shebang.
There was already a small crowd gathered and eagerly waiting behind the rope when I walked up the stairs in the 160 Mass Ave. building. Listening to the tail end of the soundcheck, my ears piqued at the full complex sound of the band and vocalists. Introducing the show, Dalaun described the story that many Berklee students have had over the years: being the best of the best, and then coming to Berklee where the talent is deeply saturated and sometimes overwhelming. She talked about her fear of stepping out, a fear that isn’t unique to her, and which set the stage for her entire show to be aspirational for everyone watching it. We’ve all felt that fear, haven’t we? It’s the fear that others are better than us at some aspect of musicality, it’s the fear that people won’t like what we uniquely have to offer, it’s the fear that our deepest and most precious creations will be rejected, shunned, or made fun of, and at the core, it’s the fear that we’re just not good enough. Beginning the show by sharing this endeared Dalaun to the crowd, and I could see everyone lean in, because as much as she had a point to prove… so did everyone watching.
Many times, when artists feel that they have something to prove, their performance is eclipsed by the chip on their shoulder. What set Dalaun’s show apart was the visible joy to be performing, the passion behind her songs, and the personal connection that she had to each song and to the musicians with which she performed. I have to say that if anyone in that room was feeling bogged down by summer semester finals, this was the perfect performance to watch to get your second wind. Starting out with a mid-tempo number, the horns soared along with the background vocals, and Dalaun showing off her upper register. One of my favorite parts of the show was Dalaun’s arrangement of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor.” If you’ve ever seen Hill recently, that’s basically what she does: rearranges her older songs into new iterations, and so it was homage to the iconic lead rapper/singer from The Fugees to bring new life to the song. Her original tune “My Desire” displayed her writing chops and gave a deeper glimpse into her style. Performing a Phyllis Hyman tune suggested by her parents showed her respect for the lineage of the music that she was performing. There was even a point in the show where she brought out a harpist to accompany her! Another part of the show, which was more subtle, but which I greatly appreciated about the show, was the aesthetic. If you weren’t paying such close attention, you may have missed it, but every single member of the band, everything background vocalist, and the lead singer herself, were all dressed in navy blue bomber jackets (band and vocalists with black underneath). This gave the show yet another layer of consistency and uniformity. Ending the show with the popular Bruno Mars tune “Dripping in Finesse,” Dalaun gave her background vocalists an opportunity to shine by mixing in lyrics from songs that no doubt influenced the Mars tune, such as Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time” and Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.”
After the show, when I asked Dalaun what she wanted folks to leave the show with, she told me:
“I don’t want to be forgettable. I want people to have something of me that they remember, whether it’s my awkward personality or all of the arrangements with my voice or the message of my songs. I also just want people to walk away feeling good. I want people to enjoy what I’m doing and I want them to feel amazing while they’re listening.”
Ultimately, the ethos of Dalaun’s show reminded me of a quote by Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” If she had a point to prove – it was proven without malice or sorrow or a chip on the shoulder – Dalaun proved her point with excellence.