madafi pierre on her group MADDAM, "mind twerking," and her musical inspirations
Now, as one half of the Switzerland-based group MADDAM, Madafi has recently released “Mind Twerking”—a high octane album, blending pop, rock, funk, and electronica, that really makes you want to move.
I had a few questions for my friend, about her creative process and her journey as an artist.
KGA: At what moment did you realize that music was the path you wanted to walk professionally?
MP: Well, I actually wanted to be a writer first. I started writing poems, songs, and short stories at 13. When I was 15, I started singing for friends at their parties. I never wanted to be on stage; I wanted to be in the background. But when I was 18, I was signed to BMG UK and my plans changed. I was now writing and singing. That's when I got into the music business professionally. But I've been an independent artist for over 15 years, and although I've been making music for this amount of time professionally, I've had to simultaneously keep a regular 9 to 5 job to invest in myself.
KGA: Describe to me the essence of your personal sound/style, as an artist.
MP: I am a gypsy, a nomad. I was born in Miami, FL. My parents come from Haiti. My mother grew up in Spain. My father was a Pan-Africanist. I grew up around gays, lesbians, Seventh-Day Adventists, and the ocean. All of these things make me who I am, and are the energy and essence that drive my creativity, my music.
I speak 4 languages and that too, can influence the energy or story that will be told. Sometimes when I'm on stage, I have to be careful because depending on the song, I can easily go into a trance. I don't have a specific style. I allow whatever wants to come out of my body to come out. When the ancestors appear, it's hard to have them sit down, if you know what I mean.
KGA: I definitely know what you mean. How has the cultivation of your art transformed you as a person? How would you like your work to impact others?
MP: This is a very complex question. I never really thought about it. I can only say that everyday I am growing as an artist and as a woman. I feel like this is the best time for me to make music and create other mediums of art. I was unsure of so many things in my 20's. I didn't know my power and I didn't know how to say "no". But now, I don't have a problem saying I'm uncertain about something, or no. I'm enjoying growing, getting older. I'm enjoying my womanhood. I would hope that all of my work, my music, my lyrics encourage people to be patient with themselves and to stand up for themselves. It's important that people feel like they have a voice and they can and should use it any time they wish.
KGA: Take me on your musical journey form the US to Europe. How did you find yourself in Switzerland, and with your current musical partner?
MP: Wow, this is going to be long. A part of my family has been living in Europe for over 40 years and I have been coming to Switzerland since I was 6 years old, every summer. Right after I got signed with BMG UK, we spent some time in London, but I wasn't happy. I wasn't ready emotionally for the business-part at that age. When 9/11 happened the division I was signed to closed and my project was shelved. By then I had moved to NYC. There I started going to open mics, meeting other singers, songwriters and musicians and we became a family. In early 2000, I put together a band and we were doing soul music and jazz. We played throughout New York and the tri-state area in places like the Blue Note, Baggott Inn, Nuyorican Poets Café, and other cool venues.
Fast forward to 2014. I had just arrived in Switzerland and I was asked to sing backup on a small hip-hop tour called "One Track Live." It was on this tour that I met Roberto "Roccobelly" who is a rapper, producer and trained theater actor. He also happens to be my musical partner in the group MADDAM. When we met I had no intention of doing music with him; I just enjoyed his company and conversations. One afternoon, he invited me to his studio, let me listen to some of his tracks, and the rest as they say, is history.
But I gotta say this: The Universe has been kind to me, and so have the people I've met and shared with along this path. I've had great opportunities that allowed for me and my music to go further than most would imagine for an independent artist. My music has been played on the radio, it's been in films, advertisements, covered by other artists. I've opened up for Cody ChesnuTT, recorded with Goldie, met Roberta Flack (who told me she enjoyed my music), and participated in a bunch of other amazing artistic projects.
KGA: Tell me about your latest album. What was the impetus for creating it? What were you trying to do artistically with it?
MP: Our latest album (it's actually MADDAM's first album) is called MIND TWERKING. Why? Because we want people to exercise their brains and thoughts. We want people to free their minds and share love. Roberto and I are very creative people, but we are also pensive people. Both of us have a background in theater and music. We like German films and punk bands, as much as we like Blaxploitation films and Miami Bass. Sonically we didn't have a goal when we started working on the songs that would become this album. We really just allowed ourselves to create. Little by little, we realized that what was coming out were sounds and imagery from the 70's and 80's, from Europe and North America.
KGA: I hear so many different musical styles in this project, form rock to pop to funk. How did you determine which genre was best for which track?
MP: Roberto and I don't think about genre when we create. We just create. Sometimes he comes with a beat and if I'm feeling it, I give myself time to write something. Other times I'll write a song with a melody and I'll share it with him. Then he'll produce around that. Everything depends on where we are during the day, how we're feeling. Maybe even an article we read or a conversation we overheard. Individually we're not just one thing, or one way. I don't just listen to a certain type of music or watch a certain type of film. I listen to everything and watch everything, and so does Rocco. I promise you, we just create in an organic fashion, nothing preconceived, no brainstorming.
KGA: Talk to me about your understanding of the power of music and what it means for you to wield that power.
MP: I believe that all art is powerful and can be used as a weapon and as medicine. I believe that music is a healer, but can also do harm. Music doesn't only contain a beat but can also contain words, and words are alive. Each word has its own energy and vibration.
I feel like those of us who create art should understand this and recognize the various powers within our hands and voices. We got to be conscious and responsible with this power. I believe that I was created to share love and uplift people. If I do this with a pure heart, responsibly, I believe that The Universe will meet me and together we can magnify the love.
KGA: What is something we'd be surprised to learn about your creative process?
MP: I write a lot in the shower.
KGA: Name three of your favorite artistic influences and why.
MP: So many artists have influenced me throughout the years. The three that are always present are Miles Davis's ex-wife Betty Davis, Chavela Vargas, and Pedro Almodovar. These three artists changed my life. Through them I found freedom, not only as an artist, but as a woman. And then, just as a human. They have been nothing but loyal to their art, and I can dig that. I live by that philosophy.
KGA: What is your personal philosophy as an artist?
MP: My philosophy as an artist is the same one I practice in my everyday life which is to be honest and loyal to life, and to the creative process. Everyday that I am alive, I try my best to show life how appreciative I am of that gift. With my work... well I simply wish to show people that all is possible, no matter where you come from and your story. You just have to believe, have discipline, and patience. The right things happen when they are supposed to.