by Dom Jones
Zuzu was buzzing when I arrived, late Labor Day night. The small space was already almost at capacity to see Berklee Alum Dalaun and current students Shakale Davis and Brandon Harris. Students and non-students alike were munching on food, laughing, and having drinks among themselves, awaiting the start of the show. There was a Nord, a drumset, and a bass set up in the corner where the band would be playing, a lone microphone sitting out front, no singer behind it yet. I said hello to some familiar faces, grabbed some water at the bar and waited for the show to start.
Berklee Groove Sessions alum Shakale Davis started of the performances for the night, much of his set including music from his EP, Note To Self. Shakale’s tone shines most when entering his deep, low register range. My favorite performance of the night was of “Is Love Enough?” which I definitely think there should be a live recording of, based on the band’s performance of this tune. His bassist was the musician in his band who really held everything together, with tasteful licks between foundational playing. As for the vocals, Davis is an earnest performer, relating the emotion of his songs through his instrument. The new music performed showed that Shakale’s musical vision is evolving beyond what we heard on his EP, and I’m interested to hear his next body of work. Having watched him perform since his first semester, I can say that Davis is someone who has consistently grown as a performer, each one better than the one before.
Next up was Brandon Harris, the younger of the two students performing in the show. He performed a diverse set of covers from Gnarls Barkley (selecting an arrangement of the song done by popular singer Chantae Cann) to Phil Collins, mixed in with a few of his original songs. The band definitely shined during this performance, with Bruno Mars Ensemble keys player, Devin A. Smith on keys, Berklee alum Tatum Flemister on drums, and popular student bassist Solomon Smith on bass. All of their playing elevated the sound of this set.
Finally, we arrived at Dalaun’s set. From my hometown, Oakland, CA, Dalaun majored in Music Business Management at Berklee and participated in the Berklee Popular Music Institute. She was instrumental in Essence Festival being added to BPMI’s roster of festivals, and was on Mayah Dyson’s management team for the first year the lauded Berklee program would participate. While at Berklee, Dalaun was most known, vocally, for her participation in the school’s most popular a capella group, Pitch Slapped. Their video of Stevie Wonder’s song, “I Wish,” went viral with Dalaun singing lead. Still, I could tell that there was some hesitation from her around fully stepping out on her own as a vocalist. This is not uncommon among music business majors, many of whom are extremely musically gifted, but find themselves pigeon-holed working with artists who only want to perform and don’t want to handle the business side. I’m glad that Dalaun has been emboldened to pursue both her artistry as a vocalist and her music business endeavors.
Dalaun’s set started out with covers to warm the crowd up, which was a smart move and accomplished her goal. Hearing her originals from “Desire” to “Move On,” which both talk about relationship challenges, you get a sense of both Dalaun’s personal style and how her Berklee education has played a role. The arrangements of these songs are advanced, but accessible to non-musicians, a fine line that we all walk as we are trained in so much music theory. She performed a duet that was written with the other two featured vocalists of the night, which I thought was a great touch. One song, produced by fellow Berklee alum Jordan Johnson, talked about the doubts and challenges that come with following one’s dreams. A newer song “Be Patient With Me,” also illustrated the growth Davis had shown in his performance earlier in the night, but this time it was Dalaun’s writing that had grown. A rousing rendition of Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk?” had the crowd on their feet singing along with the classic 90s tune, and in what felt like a flash the show was over.
Ultimately, this show felt like it was about camaraderie and the space to grow as an artist. Something that should happen on campus more. I think taking this effort across the river to Zuzu was a smart play because, at some point, we’re all going to be out of the Berklee bubble anyway. Might as well start now.