“Music is powerful because it’s disempowering. You can’t touch it and you can’t see it. When you can’t touch or see anything, you’re totally disarmed. It’s the most vulnerable you can be.”
Daniela Jimenez is an eclectic fusion of influences spanning genres as well as countries. She is a second-year majoring in classical piano at Oberlin Conservatory. Daniela is known as Dani by anyone relatively close with her, which seems to be most people. Full of energy and friendliness, Dani makes conversation with everyone around her. I got to know Dani over a shared appreciation for musician Phoebe Bridgers. We then became close friends and occasional bandmates. I sat down with her to talk about her music as well as her gig at The ‘Sco on March 26th at 10pm.
Growing up in Cuba, Dani began playing classical piano at the age of six. After moving to the United States in 2016, she added jazz piano to her repertoire. She started writing her own songs when the pandemic hit in 2020. She recalled “I started writing songs because I needed an outlet and I haven’t stopped doing it.” Her music sounds as if Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers had a baby who came out of the womb being able to play a Bach partita.
I asked Dani what we can expect from Saturday’s show. She said that her show will be all original material with “some faster, some slower, some sadder, some happier.” A signature aspect of Dani’s show is her keytar that she rips fantastic solos on. This past week she spray painted it purple and covered it with stars. A new addition for her live show will be a vocoder used to create stacks of vocal harmonies. She also includes a lot of chances for her bandmates to express themselves musically. She specifically highlighted her talented guitarist, Rahsaan Nance, a jazz guitar major.
Dani also discussed how the context in which she plays music influences the arrangement. She likes to incorporate more improvisation in live settings, whereas in recordings she would have it more stripped back. She explained how a 10pm weekend crowd of college students at The ‘Sco will not be listening for the same things as someone listening to a recording would.
Dani’s life has been a suitcase packed full of the music she encounters along the way. When asked what inspires her to continue playing, Dani described it as being cathartic. She used a metaphor of a vehicle to express how writing a song can travel from being a personal to collective experience. She said it begins as “an excuse for me to talk about my feelings,” but continues as a way she connects with other people. She carries around a small purple notebook that is filled with a scattering of lyrics, drawings, thoughts, and feelings. These daily musings are all written in purple pen. Dani gives Harold and the Purple Crayon a run for his money.
While the pianist is always comfortable doing things alone, she expresses an anxious eagerness to share her music with other people. “When you start showing people you start to worry what they’re going to think and how they’re going to receive it.” Dani clearly articulates a very human feeling of wanting to share experiences, but having a fear of rejection.
When asked what sets her apart as a person and musician, Dani laughed that she is a “nutcase who’s fun to talk to and makes connections well.” Dani seems to talk faster than her brain can comprehend, so the answers she gives seem to form before your eyes. She continued genuinely by saying, “I don’t know what makes it different. I don’t think it necessarily has to be different to be good. I just want it to be enjoyable and fun and I want to share that with people. I don’t know, I think I put a lot of love into it. I don’t think it makes it different, but I think it makes it good.”
She then described how her wide range of musical backgrounds has shaped her original material. The Cuban singer-songwriter music that she grew up listening to is what her family members associate with her sound. Taylor Swift is also a major influence on Dani’s songs, laying a basis of catchy choruses and melodic cadences associated with pop songs from the 2010s. Her training in classical piano allows her to stretch this basic format, while her jazz background sprinkles in dense chords along the way.
What you end up with is something that spans centuries, genres, and countries. Though grandiose in description, her music is still relatable and accessible to the listener. When classical music throws her into a sea of complexity, her love for pop music reigns it in. This push and pull is an ever-evolving process revealing the many layers to her music.
When everything is stripped back, Dani writes songs in her room about first loves, heartbreak, body image, and family dynamics. Being a close friend of hers, I have seen the stories play out before my eyes in real time to then be expressed through song. Dani has a life full of twists and turns, and I’m the introvert who cheers her on from the sidelines.
At only 20 years old, Dani has a long life of music ahead of her. One of her future goals is to record and release her music “so people can listen to it and know it.” In addition, she wants to create bigger arrangements for her songs, welcoming even more musicians into her creative plans. She enjoys playing her songs live and wishes to continue that, whether it be in Oberlin or traveling around the world. What “getting big” for her means right now would really just be playing in Wilder bowl and seeing it fill up with a crowd of everyone she has come to know and love here at Oberlin.