This past Wednesday night, I had the honour of attending and documenting DaniLeigh’s first performance in Toronto, which took place at a venue that I have frequented on many occasions — the Drake Underground.

The evening began with the opening act of MITCH, supported by fellow Los Angeles native DJ Goofy, who was relatively inebriated, but was able to hold down the turntables nonetheless.

MITCH’s performance of the YG-supported record “Ima Dog” single was my first impression of him, and I was impressed by his vocals, his stage presence, and the obvious influence of the west coast of America on his music. Quite often, talented acts like DaniLeigh end up having musicians that are less than impressive opening for them, but MITCH was an exception to that trend, with smooth vocals that were reminiscent of  some of my favourite early to late 90s R&B artists, while still staying true to the soul and R&B climate of 2019. He also performed a record that featured DaniLeigh entitled “Show Her”, which I enjoyed, and which reminded me of Avant in many ways.

Soon after MITCH’s performance, the dungeon-like environment of the Drake Underground was packed with eager DaniLeigh fans, patiently waiting for her to make her entrance, as her DJ excitedly took the stage and announced that the show would be starting soon.

Following a series of record plays that spanned numerous genres, including but not limited to dancehall, hip-hop, r&b, and bachata, three Toronto-based dancers took the stage and began dancing a choreographed piece to DaniLeigh’s hit record “Lil Bebe”.

Apparently, using the hashtag #lilbebechallenge, dancers in the cities featured throughout DaniLeigh’s current “Be Yourself” tour have been encouraged to post videos of themselves dancing to “Lil Bebe”, and each dancer would be invited to open up for DaniLeigh (in their hometown). Given the artist’s background as a professional dancer and choreographer, and given the importance of the art of dance to her performances, I thought that the challenge was a great marketing tool and use of a hashtag.

With that said, the dancers were entertaining and the crowd was primed for the star of the show, who ran on stage with the familiarity of an old friend.

In Taoism, wu wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which one’s actions are effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the the natural world, and it is this state of wu wei that I found DaniLeigh embodied on stage, as soon as her show began. As she started to take the crowd through a musical journey of some of her most popular records, including hits from her debut album “The Plan”, it was quite clear that a great deal of meticulous thought, planning, sweat equity and rehearsal went into the album, her performance, and who DaniLeigh is as an artist, and yet she appeared calm, cool, and collected. A true master of ceremonies with a beautiful smile, playful spirit, and a seductive vibe.

As she continued her show, by performing records like the smooth and confidence-exuding “Blue Chips”, and the Lil Yachty-assisted  “I Do It 4”, not only could I clearly see DaniLeigh’s unwavering professionalism and focus on emotionally engaging with her adoring fans, but I could also get a glimpse of the myriad of influences that have shaped her consciousness and artwork. From my perspective, such influences obviously include Prince — her late mentor and one of my favourite musicians, her Dominican roots, her family, her adopted home of Los Angeles, the American dream that numerous immigrants aspire to manifest, and far more.

Since all human beings have unique genetics, personalities, sensibilities, cognitive biases, motivations, peers, and so on, DaniLeigh is in her own class of artistry, and comparing one musician to another can often be like comparing apples to oranges. But, if I absolutely had to compare her to other musicians, I would say that DaniLeigh is a Dominican Aaliyah with touches of Sade Adu, Missy Elliot, Janet Jackson, and Sheila E — another Prince protégé, with dance and choreography skills that rival all of them.

Coincidentally, during her performance she paid tribute to Aaliyah by singing “I Care 4 U” — one of the late artist’s most popular and sultry ballads. A couple of months ago, I noticed that DaniLeigh had been practicing that particular record, and during her Toronto show, I could tell that she had since improved her vocal abilities through coaching, as I have been surrounded by singers (and other musicians) for the vast majority of my life, and because she sounded much better in comparison to the video of her Aaliyah cover that I had previously viewed. Her tribute to Bryson Tiller via a performance of “D.O.S.E” was also well-received.

As an artist, I know how invaluable practice and persistence are when it comes to cultivating any craft. Keeping that in mind, during a January 2019 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, DaniLeigh described the contrast between her vocals as a teenager to her singing abilities today, by stating the following: “I definitely was more shy when I came to L.A., I feel like I couldn’t belt, or I couldn’t do runs or things like that, so I didn’t think I was a good singer, over all. So doing covers, I was kind of in my own little space, my own little zone where nobody’s around, I could just see what I could do. My confidence has grown tremendously. At this point I feel like I’m dope.”

Between her improved vocals, the amazing costume changes that clearly reflected her personality and love of Aaliyah, the immaculate choreography that DaniLeigh and her two talented male dancers performed, and the fact that she continuously motivated her fans to pursue their dreams, I can say with a great deal of certainty that DaniLeigh has been working her plan for years.

Since moving from Florida to Los Angeles when she was 16 years old, she used her career as a dancer to make the contacts that were necessary to create the musical career that she is now experiencing. Eventually, at the age of 18 she somehow caught Prince’s attention, and eventually directed, choreographed, and co-starred in Prince’s “Breakfast Can Wait” music video. Ultimately, she was given a crash course in the music industry by one of the most influential musicians of the last two centuries, which is an amazing feat for any teenager.

Since Prince’s tragic death, DaniLeigh has been signed Def Jam Recordings — an iconic record label by any standards, her music has far exceeded 100 million streams worldwide, and I have no doubt that the Purple One would be quite pleased with the ways in which she has integrated his advice.

As DaniLeigh’s Toronto tour stop came to an end, she joined the crowd on the dance floor as one of the people, she performed the original rendition of her hit record “Lil Bebe” and the remix featuring none other than Lil Baby, and the crowd went absolutely nuts. In that moment, I could see how Prince’s mentorship, DaniLeigh’s work ethic, her understanding of her perpetually changing sense of self, her love of music and dance, and the support of her family all brought her to the moments that I captured through my photography.

I have no doubt that DaniLeigh will continue to create more beautiful moments such as the ones displayed herein, and I look forward to seeing and hearing the ways in which her long and multifaceted career continues to unfold.

More of my images of DaniLeigh can be viewed below, the Live Nation-facilitated “Be Yourself Tour” ends next Tuesday in Denver, Colorado, and more information on DaniLeigh can be found via her Instagram profile.