Words by John Bergin
Visuals by Felton Kizer
Vocal Powerhouse Thriving Off Her Authenticity
Shawnee Dez carries herself with her voice and heart. With a penchant for strong, unapologetic honesty, Dez writes and performs her original songs all over Chicago. A South Side Chicago native, Dez grew up singing in Catholic school choir and learning all the tunes in her sister’s CD collection. “My sister was the one who taught me how to sing,” says Dez. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that she started “flexing” her voice. After testing the waters of colleges in New York and Missouri, Dez returned to Chicago to pursue cultural studies with a concentration on urban studies and black world studies.
Returning home, she found herself in the company of people she valued who were making art that she loved. Working in the studio with artists like Charles Lauste (also known as DJ Chi) and Matt Hines gave her opportunities to write her own melodies and put her own spirit into songs; a very different, but in some ways just as holy, practice as channeling the Catholic spirit in the hymns of her childhood.
Dez reflects herself to the audience, while reflecting on herself, in every song and show: “I think of the audience as a mirror: if they’re not responding, or engaging, then maybe I’m not being as honest as I could be.”
This honesty is essential to her art. Finding truth in every tone, or discovering a hidden part of herself while sitting in the studio doing a second or third take. In this same vein, Dez says, “If you can’t make someone really feel something while you’re doing your craft, or your art, to be honest, are you feeling it? What are you doing it for?”
Among all the people and things Dez does it for, one person truly stands out to her. They are reflective in nature, steadfast in their honesty, unapologetic with their truth, a South Side Chicago native, studying cultural studies… Dez can finish the introduction: “Sometimes I have a mood where I’m like… ‘Damn, like I kinda just wanna hear... Shawnee, you know what I mean? I just want to hear myself.’”
It’s a noble and frightening pursuit to want to hear oneself. A lot of life is spent filling space with noise and clamor to hide one’s voice, but Dez is impervious to that fear. Her words silence the noise while her voice sings the spirit of her experience; together, her music is a living, lasting truth.