The sound of Chicago. That’s how vocalist and poet Mykele Deville describes his music. Grounded in the DIY scene, the art is fueled by collaboration and sprinkled with thoughtful lyrics over the beats of friends and local artists. But it’s not just the musical implications that describe Deville’s music or the idea of Chicago’s sound. It’s the voices of protesters. The cries of outrage. The tunes of the streets. It’s everything that the city stands for, music and all.
With two full-length albums and a third before year’s end, Deville has explored many social and cultural issues from race to injustice and personal acceptance through poetically crafted songs and poems. Not only does Deville shine as a musician, he is also a successful poet and actor splitting time between continuous shows and his upcoming role in the U.S. premiere of Octagon by playwright Kristiana Rae Colón.
And that’s just the work of 2016.
“I’m doing a lot of shit, but I think it’s a very valuable lesson for artists to learn how to switch [between art forms] and keep yourself uncomfortable,” says Deville. “That’s how you’re going to make your best stuff. Be uncomfortable and learn.”
Deville became involved in the arts during high school with the opportunity to study at Gallery 37, a hub in downtown Chicago offering various innovative art programs for youth and families. After graduation from a public West Side school, Deville decided to pursue a career as an actor obtaining a degree from the University of Chicago and later performing at well-known venues such as Steppenwolf Theatre and Chicago Children’s Theatre.
After some time as a professional performer, Deville felt the toll of strenuous demands and shifted his focus to artistic curation with the start of The Dojo; a DIY performance space located on the west side of Chicago. A year into the venture, Deville remembered the love he felt for performing and decided to take a professional approach to music with the release of both a debut and a sophomore album in less than a year. The work involved in putting together an album is intense, but Deville says his albums were meant to come as a trilogy, each one feeding off the next to start and continue a conversation on the truths of living as a young person of color in Chicago.
The first album, Super Predator, is a response to comments made by Hillary Clinton in the 90s about African American “super predators”, which she explains as a gang of kids with no conscience or empathy who are in need of healing. The music is dark but honest; important qualities to Deville who wishes to never dumb down or delude his messages.
“My experience as a young person of color isn’t this binary term,” says Deville. “It’s a multifaceted nature of things that I’ve experienced. Not just as a person of color but [also] as a young vulnerable person.”
The second album Each One, Teach One was written as an ode to Deville’s nine-year-old niece, Vaniya. Keeping to the same themes explored in the debut, Deville thought of his niece and how he could portray these ideas in a way that would speak to her. Like Deville and many other children growing up in Chicago, gunshot lullabies and blood painted streets are a harsh reality. And as Deville explains, it’s not just the violence he wants to guide her through. It’s the skewed media and mainstream entertainment. It’s the everyday struggles of growing up and being pushed down by a world that is not designed as an ally, especially not for minorities.
“How do I prep my niece, who has big dreams and big goals and has these really big eyes, to be ready for when things hit her [because] they’re going to hit her,” says Deville. “They’ve already hit her in ways she shouldn’t have to worry about as a nine-year-old.”
As for the things Deville couldn’t explain to his niece; the struggles she’ll face as female and as a black woman in society, he turned to fellow artists, embracing the power of collaboration with female storytellers and musicians.
“My only direction to them was ‘what would you say to your nine-year-self who wanted to be a dancer or a poet or a journalist?’ They take the ideas and run with it and I’m just here to facilitate,” says Deville.
As for the final installment, Deville will continue to explore the experiences of a young black creative, but this time through the eyes of love and joy in hopes of normalizing the black experience. The album is expected to be released by December 2016, but knowing how much work is ahead, Deville lets out a laugh; “maybe January”.
Between writing inspirational albums, participating in poetry reading, acting in various theatrical performances and member of Chicago’s activist scene, one would expect the young artist to slow down and take a break. But at this idea, Deville lights up and smiles again. “I’m always looking for new inspirations. I want to be known as the James Brown of the DIY scene; the hardest working dude!”
Photo Credits: Alexus McLane