PERSON OF INTEREST - DEBBIE REIFER

By Tracy Highland.   Photos by Khalil Goodman.

When you see singer Debbie Reifer walk out on stage with her shy demeanour, half a smile playing on her face, you are almost prepared to be underwhelmed. But then she starts to sing and something magical happens. Debbie’s style is unique. Her vocals are pure, simple and sweet. They draw you in and wrap you up in the essence of the song. Afterwards, when you realise she’s also written the lyrics to much of what you’ve just heard, you’re even more in awe.

Her laid back, soulful sound has been compared to Norah Jones and her music is a hybrid of many different genres. She has an amazing talent and has caught the ear of many, including celebrity couple Erin Fetherston and Gabriel Sporta who hired her to perform at their Barbados wedding which was featured in Martha Stewart Weddings last year. “I was so nervous!” she said of the milestone performance. “But everything went well. The lead actor from Dawson’s Creek (James Van Der Beek) came up to the stage with his little girl and started dancing with her while we were playing,” she added while fondly remembering the event.

Debbie started her career in music just over two short years ago, but her life tells of a love affair with music that started long before that. She was born the first of two children to a Barbadian father and a Jamaican mother, both physicians who were living in the U.S. at the time. They moved back to Barbados when Debbie was two and a half years old. She says she was a bit rebellious, mouthy and slightly awkward as a child. Her one constant was music. “I always loved music, it made me feel amazing whenever I would hear it.”

She attended school in Barbados; first at St. Angela’s, then on to Harrison College where she earned a partial scholarship to Drexel University in Philadelphia to study computer engineering. She moved back to the U.S., enrolled in school and began a journey which would lead her away from her musical inclination but also eventually make her realise its importance in her life. “At the time, music didn’t even cross my mind as a study option because I didn’t think it would be socially accepted as a good choice for a career path,” she explained. 

Debbie finished her studies with a degree in Computer Information Systems, very little to show music wise, and reeling from the loss of her mother who died of cancer during her last few semesters of school.

She decided to stay in the U.S. and look for work.  “It was a bad time in the U.S. job market,” she remembers. “I spent about 7 months just doing jobs I was over qualified for.” Her break came when she was asked by a friend to help her company write proposals for their bidding season. “I drove down to DC and stayed there all weekend. On the way back home I got a call from their HR department offering me a job,” she recalls. She quickly climbed up the ladder and in a short time she found herself contracted to work for the U.S. Department of Defense, next door to the Pentagon, as an Information Security Analyst, a highly sensitive position as it relates to U.S. national security. “I still have to be careful when I talk about it, but what I essentially did was design and enforce policies to ensure that sensitive information within a system is kept safe,” she explained. 

Even though the job required grueling hours, sometimes averaging 90 hours a week, Debbie could not ignore the call of her first love, music. She would carve out time to visit a friend in Philadelphia who had a studio. “At the time I wasn’t dreaming of a career as an artist. I was just going for the sheer love of writing and recording songs,” she said. It eventually got to a point where, according to her, her whole day revolved around the thought of music. “I decided that happiness for me was about contentment, not a six figure salary. It was about spending time with the people I love and doing what makes me feel most content, which is music,” she explained. “Music is the one thing I was born to do.”

Debbie moved back to Barbados to pursue her musical career full time and hasn’t regretted the decision. The past few years have been busy ones and she has quickly made a mark on the music scene. She recorded an EP, Hearts Like Mine, featuring the song Amber, which was recently picked up by the international non-profit organization The Pixel Project for use in their global campaign to stop violence against women. She’s written for the critically acclaimed local movie, Chrissy and her music is featured prominently in the film’s score. She was chosen from a field of thousands to perform last year at Canadian Music Week, Canada’s premier music showcase and she also headlined a show at the legendary Red Bones Café in Jamaica. At the beginning of this year Debbie was nominated for best new artist at the Barbados Music Awards.

Currently, Debbie is working on putting together songs for a new album due for release later on in the year. She’s excited about working with legendary musician and producer Clive Hunt, whom she met and formed an instant connection with in Jamaica. Clive has produced for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Cliff, Beres Hammond, Dean Frazer and the Wailers. “Working with him reminds me of how much this is about creating works of art. I never want to stop,” Debbie said of Hunt.  She’s also focused on growing her catalogue of music in hopes of getting placement in more films and on TV, one of her major career goals.

Despite her successes so far, Debbie remains driven by the fact that she still has a long way to go. “I don’t think I’ve even scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I really want to achieve,” she stated humbly. “For someone who started so late, I’ve made great strides.” “For me, it’s about the music. I feel like I still have so much growing to do. I’m always just striving to put out the best version of the music that’s inside my head.”

 

Q: Where can our readers hear your music?

A:  My songs Amber, We Are Love and Til I Die are on rotation on local radio stations and I perform live every Wednesday night at Cin Cin by the Sea.

 

Q: What do you in your spare time?

A:  Hmmm. Do I have spare time? I’m almost ashamed to say this but I catch up on Reality TV. My show is Braxton Family Values. I also like going to the beach and reading. The last novel I read was The Red Queen by Phillipa Gregory.

 

Q: What is on your playlist right now?

A: So many songs, but my favourites right now are Have No Fear by Bird York; Over the Love by Florence and the Machine; and Samba Na Sola by Ceu.

 

Q: How would you describe your personal style?

A:  Bohemian, classic, quirky!

 

Q: What do you want your legacy to be?

A:  Great music. Timeless music. Music that touches, heals and inspires change.

 

You can find out more about Debbie at www.reverbnation.com/debbiereifer, www.facebook.com/debbiereifermusic or follow her on twitter or Instagram @debbiereifer. 

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