Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
The Ranavalona album I released with Twani in March feels like a breakthrough project because it’s my first solo project and it’s also the album where I fully grew into my rap persona. I started working on it during the first lockdown. Twani & I had worked on a single together a couple of months prior called "Cortex Iuxta" and we worked really well together and had fun while doing so. So Galant Records asked us if we wanted to work on more material together and we did.
The name of the album was a nod to the last queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona III. I came across her story last year at a time when I was reading a lot and was particularly interested in the journeys of several Black women activists like Claudia Jones, Assata Shakur, Titina Silá. Ranavalona III fought against several attempts of french colonial invasion and paid the price by being sent into exile. I chose this figure to remind us that women also participated in the anti-colonial struggles on the African continent, even though their legacies are still silenced today.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I feel more creative when I’m relaxed, when I don’t have any looming deadlines and when I’m able to log off social media. A good routine helps me make the most out of my creative time.
Social media is definitely a huuuge distraction, but there are ways to reduce your screen-time: falling asleep with your phone in another room so you don’t grab it as soon as you wake up, using apps to limit your screen-time and putting your phone on air-plane mode while you’re working; once you’re in that zone, you won’t even notice you’ve gone hours without looking at it.
Also, I’m all about setting a mood, so I like finding a comfortable spot, making some herbal tea, burning some incense, and if it’s night-time, lighting a few candles - et voilà.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
One of the most beautiful things about music is that it’s with us in all of our moments, whether that be joy or sadness, mourning or celebration. There’s something reassuring about that. Music has the power to either be in sync with your mood or to change it completely. It’s like when you’re having a rough day and listen to an album that you really love, by the end of the record, your whole mood’s changed. It’s magical.
I also think that singing is a powerful tool for exteriorising one’s emotions. It just feels good. We sing in the shower or while cleaning the house and think nothing of it, but it actually makes our brains feel good. Music therapists would probably have a lot more to say about music’s healing nature than I do, so I’ll let them explain it better (laughs).
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
My problem with cultural appropriation is when people who are outside of said cultures gain economic wealth from “borrowing” / stealing from those cultures. In music that trend looks like Western labels buying vinyl from Global South countries for cheap and re-releasing that music as their own, without properly compensating the artists or the artists’ families and being very sneaky about royalties and rights. These people then become the leading voices in music genres that they knew nothing about 5 years ago, yet the people who grew up with this knowledge can barely survive.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses like seeing, smelling and touching. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses?
I have a big imagination so I tend to imagine wild, colourful scenarios when I’m listening to music or writing lyrics. Again, since I’m really big on comfort, if I’m making music I want to feel immersed in softness, I want to touch soft textures, whether it’s what I’m wearing or where I’m seated. I feel like [making] music is best enjoyed in areas of extreme comfort.
I also feel like incense or essential oils enhance the multi-sensory experience so I always have them nearby. I actually always travel with both because they have a way of making a place feel familiar right away.
Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I feel like I ran away from a career as an artist for a long time, then I eventually stopped fighting the idea and succumbed to it. I feel like that’s something a lot of children of immigrants can relate to, we often feel like our parents sacrificed so much by moving to Western countries that we “owe” them at least a normal job with a steady flow of income. An artist life is nothing like that. I actually went to med school for a year, failed all my exams but still briefly pursued biochemistry before finally realising that I just didn’t fit into those worlds. The weight of that was a lot. At that point, I accepted the writings on the wall and returned to my first love: music.
I don’t feel like I’ve had a typically artistic journey but all of those experiences were instrumental to my growth. If you look close enough, you can pick up on all the nerdy references in my art (laughs).
What can music express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
I guess in some ways music with lyrics can be less abstract than other forms of art, and sometimes that’s what you’re craving for, to hear someone sing or rap about the exact thing you’re going through.
In the same vein, instrumental music doesn’t have any words and yet still can convey so much emotion. Hiroshi Suzuki’s song Romance, off his 1975 Cat album is one of my favourite songs of all time and it’s entirely instrumental. There’s just something about sound that touches the chords of my being, I can’t really explain it. It also depends on my mood, because sometimes I just want to contemplate a painting in a quiet corner of a museum on the days/hours where no one’s around and find that to be the balm my soul needed.