Amid the clamoring of glasses and spurts of boisterous laughter typical of a Saturday night at Grand Dakar, a six-piece band set up instruments and microphone stands relatively unnoticed. As one of the three microphones began to sputter, the chanteuse giggled, seemingly surprised by the power of her voice.
“Good evening everyone, pardon the technical difficulties as we warm up. I am Rhonda Dene’t and this is the Rhonda Dene’t Project.”
And with a three count leading into a rendition of Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love,” Dene’t and company kicked off an evening of eclectic selections. Within a few hours, the vocalist managed to put a soulful spin on everything from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” to Tears for Fears’ poptastic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Not too many R&B singers would venture to cover campy ’80s fare like Journey, but Dene’t is undaunted. “It doesn’t matter what the interpretation of those pieces are, they are really solid songs that can lend themselves to any genre,” she told GO Brooklyn.
Besides, anyone who can riff like Aretha Franklin could probably breath new life into just about anything (even Journey).
“Her sound is perfectly acclimated to what we are trying to achieve here,” said Grand Dakar’s owner, Pierre Thian, “showcasing culture from the African Diaspora.”
Denet says her music is influenced by the artists she grew up listening to: Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald and Duran Duran. “Music is suppose to make you feel good; bring joy and bliss,” said Dene’t. “And that’s what I hope to do.”
As in sync as the Rhonda Dene’t Project is, it’s hard to believe that the group has only been together for five weeks. But the outfit — comprised of back-up singers Frank H. Carter III and Pantera St. Montaigne, pianist Chris Forbes, bass player Phil “Sumi Su” Smith and drummer Chuck Batton — have a combined 35 years of experience. Previously, Dene’t had only performed with a bassist and percussionist, recruiting the full band once she landed the weekly gig at Dakar.
Dene’t started performing at Grand Dakar completely by chance. Dining there one night, she met Thian and gave him her demo CD. Within a few days, Thian had booked her.
“She has a wonderful voice that fits perfectly with the ambiance of the restaurant,” said Thian. And whether it’s Donnie Hathaway or Depeche Mode, Dene’t has got it all covered.
The Rhonda Dene’t Project can be heard every Saturday at Grand Dakar (285 Grand Ave. at Clifton Place in Clinton Hill) from 8 pm to midnight. No cover. For information, call (718) 398-8900 or visit www.granddakar.com.