Let me introduce you to a Baltimore-based funk band called Deja Vu. The band consists of five teens: Elek Yuhas (singer, guitarist); Isaac Chang (keys, trumpet, synthesizer); Roy’el Byrd (bass); Graham Hogan (drums); and Leo Hickman (mandolin, double bass). Beloved by its community, Deja Vu has amassed a tight-knit following of parents, teens and other local musicians.
The group was assembled, funnily enough, on a “sad ride home” using the Baltimore subway. Chang and Byrd, who were in the same year at Baltimore School for the Arts, were looking to record something after playing with different ideas at school. Yuhas and Hogan, who are a year younger than the other members, were also frequent users of the subway. Magically, the group came together after the members’ interactions on their commute home.
Deja Vu gained traction in its rise to local fame after playing gigs at music festivals and small events. A large part of its following stems from high school connections across private and public city schools in Baltimore. After a successful run in 2019, the band, like many others, had its endeavors halted by the pandemic. For a while, Deja Vu couldn’t play live shows in front of an audience — that is, until the availability of vaccines increased earlier this year.
The band’s most recent performance was on Halloween Eve. The surprise show, marketed as “Deja Boo,” was advertised on the band’s Instagram a week before Halloween and promised a “spooky night of good fun and Halloween vibes.”
The outdoor show was held in Sabina Mattfeldt, a neighborhood in North Baltimore just shy of the city-county line. The band provided a lit path off the main street into its spooky tent setup, which definitely provided a Halloween vibe.
The stage was well lit by green and purple lights and was also decorated with cobwebs, skulls and hanging lights. The band members, who were all dressed in costume, played their original music and some classic Halloween covers like “Thriller” and “Monster Mash.”
What makes Deja Vu special is the different musical background that each member offers. Chang spoke with The News-Letter, breaking down each member’s musical influence.
“We all bring a different sort of spice to the table,” he said. “So, for example, I’m really big into jazz. All of my training is in jazz. Leo — his training is kind of in bluegrass and folk-like with the mandolin. Elek — he is a really big guitar guy. He loves Bruce Springsteen, loves the Beatles. And with Graham, it’s sort of the same thing. They love playing rock and grunge. Roy’el makes his own music, and he plays around with R&B sounds.”
The breadth of Deja Vu’s musical directionality was clearly shown by the range of sounds in the members’ performances. Chang was versatile with the keys and synthesizer, unafraid of jumping from instrument to instrument. During some songs, he even started playing the trumpet. Hickman similarly moved from the mandolin to the double bass. Their ability to include all of these instruments into one show was truly remarkable, and for those who aren’t familiar with music production or live music, this can be very eye-opening to witness.
Not only was I captivated by Deja Vu’s energetic performance, but as an audience member and native Baltimorean, I was happily sucked into a larger sense of community. I looked around the crowd and saw many familiar faces from high school and even middle school. Parents and friends of friends showed up to support Deja Vu, and in some ways, it was a reunion of people old and new to the band.
While recent vaccination breakthroughs have allowed the band to play in front of a live audience, a new challenge has arisen for the five members: distance. Hickman, Chang and Byrd have all graduated high school and are pursuing their studies outside of the Baltimore area while Yuhas and Hogan, who are current high school seniors, are busy applying to college.
Yuhas spoke with The News-Letter about where he sees the future of the band heading.
“We’re looking to release an EP soon with the help of Roy’el — he has experience on some streaming platforms so he’s going to help us set that up maybe even in the next week or so,” he said.
Hogan also shared their vision for the band in an interview with The News-Letter.
“Actually, all of us in the band have been busy, with Elek and I having to do our college applications, but I really love these guys and I love performing with them. It’s very special and I hope we can continue on with it,” they said.
Despite the distance that could affect the band’s future, the members are still eager to find time to practice and come together. With the support of its community and drive to make music, Deja Vu continues to impress.
Correction: The previous version of this article referred to Hogan using incorrect pronouns. The News-Letter regrets this error.