Destani Wolf
Destani Wolf Again and Again

If there’s one thing running through the songs of Destani Wolf, and a common thread in her life, it’s strength. A single listen to her debut disc, Again and Again, is all one needs to hear the power of her voice. It itself is a thing of wonder: a big, bold, beautiful voice that glides over slabs of funk and soul, tasty grooves punctuated with the Latin, reggae and hip-hop music she loves.

Behind that voice is a powerful, determined woman who demands—and refuses to accept anything but—your respect, a driven woman making potent and sexy music on her own, completely independently.

“I feel like Again and Again is an all-encompassing album that really tells a lot about how I perceive life—my perspective, how I try to lead my life, and the kinds of things that I’m in some ways just telling myself in order to find that center,” she says. “But at the same time, this is just one part of my life—this is one section, and the next album will be another place of where I’m at.”

That strength is threaded through the album’s 12 tracks, a smart, multi-cultural collection of lung-emptying neo-soul. The disc opens—very hiply—with an old recording of her grandfather’s voice: “He was a surgeon in the army, and he used to do hypnosis for his patients,” says Wolf. “The track was taken from a tape that he had given my mom. I just kind of took some of the things that he said and created this soundscape of someone traveling on a train, basically going on a journey to where I feel this album takes me—a place of peace. It’s just saying, ‘Get ready, relax the mind, and get ready to feel it.’”

The smooth, sexy and utterly spellbinding “Revelation” introduces Wolf, who does a little hypnotization of her own in the chorus, repeating: “Guided by my heart/Feel the strength of love/Got to have faith.” The track boasts a line that encapsulates the album’s mission, if not summing up what, to a large degree, she’s all about as a human being: “Opening my mind/Clearing with the breadth of laughter, journey to that space where hearts and god are one.”

“Ain’t Worth It,” meanwhile, is a call for the same sort of strength she seems to radiate: “It’s a long way to go/Will my heart feel what I already know?/Pride ain’t worth losing your soul.” In “Enchanted Soul,” she gives us a glimpse at a rocky yet balanced relationship, while “You Should Know” is “kind of me talking to some of my girlfriends and saying, ‘Get rid of the guy who’s just not as good and great as you.’ A lot of people settle and get stuck with somebody that they’re not trying to be with.”

“When I write, I’m just trying to ease my own mind,” says Destani, who splits time between Santa Monica and the Bay Area. “Music is a very powerful and spiritual thing and people, I think, soak in what you’re saying better when you say it through a melody.”

Raised in the famous artistic and intellectual haven of Berkeley, California, Destani grew

up surrounded by music. Heavy into soul and especially the blues, her parents (of Mexican and European descent) spun records by the greats—Otis, Aretha, Los Panchos—spurring both her and her two sisters to be enthusiastic music lovers. Destani told her mom she wanted to be a singer at age two, and would perform with her parents in the living room, or outside, singing into a hose.

Having attended a slew of music camps and having performed in recitals as a child, by the time she was 14, she found herself performing before 3,000 people with the Zasu Pitts Memorial Orchestra at the San Mateo Fair Grounds and in front of hundreds of people at the fabled Great American Music Hall. Before she was old enough to drive, she was performing original blues songs in clubs she wasn’t even old enough to get into yet.

“Growing up, I found that I had this really big voice,” she says. “And I realized quite quickly how powerful it was—to be able to share, to be open and vulnerable. To be able to do that gave me a sense of freeness—being able to let go— I realized at a young age that I was touching people.”

As she got older, she became enamored with the work of Bob Marley—whose “Soul Rebel” she slyly tips her hat to on the new album—and Stevie Wonder, learning from the musical simplicity of the former and the melodic sense of the latter. Janis Joplin, Zap Mama and Nina Simone are among the others who registered a major impact on the 29-year-old singer, who holds a degree in music from San Francisco State University.

Her first taste of bigger appeal came with her membership in the a cappella band SoVoSó, with whom she toured the U.S. and Europe. She has—and continues to—collaborate with a host of Bay Area musicians and groups onstage and in the studio. In 2003, a John Santos album on which she added vocals was nominated for a Grammy Award. Also in that same year, her former group O-Maya (currently re-grouped as AguaLibre) won a SF Weekly “Best of the Bay” award for best Latin/hip-hop band, and her vocals were featured on My Flesh and Blood, an HBO documentary that won the audience award at The Sundance Film Festival. In October 2007, her composition “We Will Rise” was featured on the Sundance Channel, in the film “A Summer in the Cage”. Benny Rietveld (Santana), Bobi Cespedes, The Pharcyde, Crown City Rockers, The 88 and Omar Sosa are among her many musical collaborators.

Over the years, she’s accumulated love from media that spans the musical spectrum. Latin Beat Magazine wrote: “Displaying a powerful and soulful voice, she put her heart into her delivery with a sanctified bell, resonance and clarity.” The San Francisco Bay Guardian called her an “incredible vocalist with a supple, throaty alto who’s equally at home harmonizing or soaring solo.”

“Music, to me, is a way to enjoy life, and a way to tell stories. I really feel that it’s something beyond me—it’s higher than me. I’m just a vehicle, and the music is just traveling through me. It’s a release in so many ways. And when I perform, I can feel the release. I think one of the reasons I relate to different people—and especially women—is because when I get onstage, I have a strong presence, and I think I help to represent strong women.”