Interview by Joana Meurkens
Creative Direction by Taylor Mew
Photography by Maia Bertrand
Murielle (Mu-ree-elle) is a Belgian born, American raised, NYC based singer/songwriter/producer/dancer with strong Congolese roots. Murielle recently released her self written and produced mixtape “Cancer Moon Child”, which stemmed from deep rooted personal growth and showcases the personal and powerful art that can be created in isolation. In this interview, Murielle sits down with Joana Meurkens and discusses a variety of topics ranging from the importance of raising up Black women to her dream collaborations with the Fenty empire.
So tell us who you are, where you’re from, what your background is, etc…Give us a nice little introduction.
My name is Murielle (Mu-ree-elle) and I am a 23 year old singer, songwriter, producer, and dancer. I was born in Belgium to Congolese parents. I grew up in a lot of different places; Minnesota, the DC Area, I lived in London for some time, and I am most recently based in NYC.
How has your cultural identity influenced your sense of self?
I love that you’re asking about how my culture impacts my sense of self before asking about how it translates into my art. For so long I was worried about my culture translating into the art that it almost became inauthentic. It turned into something I felt like I had to wear versus something that is simply embedded in who I am. I’m a Congolese-American girl who grew up in a household that was super connected to our culture. My mom and dad really had us know our roots. At home, we eat Congolese food, listen to Congolese music and speak French and Lingala. But in the same breath, there are times when my culture is different to my parents’ because of my American upbringing. There are many ways in which I identify with Black American culture. My narrative is complex. The Diaspora is vast. I think that so many Black narratives are super nuanced, which can make it difficult to find your sense of self.
When did you move here?
I moved to the states when I was three turning four years old, so I was super super young.
How has your cultural identity influenced your music?
Growing up my parents listened to so much Congolese music. They were also fans of Luther Vandross, Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion and so many more, but Congolese music was very much the soundtrack to my childhood. We had a lot of family parties and there was a very large Congolese community in Minnesota that we were around all the time. It’s always been a huge part of my life to the point that sometimes I’d be in the car as a child and would complain like, “papa why are you playing this again?” but as you get older you realize how much those rhythms and instrumentation fit within you. Because of the moments that I had rejected it in my youth, I used to feel a responsibility to specifically make “Congolese” or “African” music. I realized very quickly that that thought process came from wanting to please my family and wanting them to like my music. The truth is, while the influence will always be there, it isn’t necessarily what I make. There are so many genres of music and artforms that influence me, and to sit there and try to police how a specific part of me comes through in my art is actually incredibly inhibiting. Sometimes it comes through in how I decide to move my hips on stage or how I pronounce a specific word. Sometimes it comes through in a rhythm that I wanted to produce because I was listening to something like it with my dad. And sometimes that part of me won’t come through at all, at least not explicitly. It’s not as calculated as I tried to make it before, which makes room for other parts of me. For all of me.
What were musical influences that you had as a child?
When I was little I would listen to the stuff that my brothers and cousins listened to, but I understood very quickly that I could also choose the music I liked. My dad and I would go on these daddy daughter dates when I was 5-9 years old, where we would go to Target or Toys R Us and he’d buy me a Bratz doll or something. We quickly switched over from dolls to CDs. I was picking up stuff like Destiny’s Child and Ashanti. I saw so many parts of myself in these iconic Black girl groups and women in R&B. The Jackson family also played a big role in childhood. I always say that I don’t think I would be who I am if it weren’t for them and their talent. Treasures of Black America, like Janet Jackson, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston had a huge influence on me. While my parents listened to them as well, these artists were key in developing an independent music taste for me.
I feel like when you’re becoming an artist, those initial artists that inspire you have a huge impact on who you become as a person. It’s a very powerful thing, especially as a Black woman.
Exactly. I feel like we were so lucky to be as young as we were during that era of icons. There were so many women who really inspired me, I mean even the Cheetah Girls were killer. From a very young age I was able to see Black women reign in such an incredible way, in my own home as well as in pop music.
I think that pop music too is one of the only ways unfortunately that Black women are really celebrated.
I think Black women’s sound and aesthetic are celebrated more than we actually are in pop music. And we can’t have that conversation without having the conversation about the industry pushing so many of these Black women into the R&B category. We also can’t have that conversation without talking about the colorism that exists within these structures too. I said pop very intentionally because the women that I mentioned are pop stars who paved the way. They are the blueprint, they have always been and too often, they do not get the recognition they deserve.
How was “Cancer Moon Child” born? What drove you to make this piece in this period of time?
“Cancer Moon Child” was born through a really terrible habit I have of suppressing my emotions. It was born through an experience that I really think the universe pushed me to have. When we get hurt, we point fingers and while there are ways that people may wrong you, I think it is very important to look at yourself and think about why a situation hurt you the way that it did. What lesson did you need to learn? “Cancer Moonchild” taught me how to unpack. I liked someone very deeply and it was a confusing thing. And then COVID hit and I left NYC. I think NYC is a place that can be difficult to process your emotions because it’s a go go go city, which is why I love it but also why I need to get the hell out of it every once in a while. So I went home to my mom, to my family, and to my roots. I went back to my childhood bedroom and excavated a lot of emotions that needed to be dug out. We live in a generation that puts the word “casual” on a lot of emotional, physical and romantic relationships. When you blanket something as “casual,” all too often, there is an assumption that respect doesn’t need to be had or given. I felt really disrespected and it was such a deep disrespect that, as a Black woman, has happened to me multiple times. We’re taught to put walls up in order to protect ourselves. But what happens when you take those bricks down for someone and that foundation gets rocked? What happens when you make room for vulnerability? As confusing and scary as this pandemic has been, it’s given me a moment of silence that I really needed. When you force yourself into silence there are things that become very freaking loudly because you’ve been trying to silence them for so long, but the conversation needs to start somewhere. I sat down and communicated in the best way I know how. I made music.
Listen to “Cancer Moonchild” Here:
Were there any obstacles you ran into while recording and filming this especially in Quarantine? What did that process look like?
The first song that I wrote was pretty minimalistic. I sent it to a friend, Von, because I thought I should get a producer on it. She reminded me that I was fully capable of doing it myself. So on the music side, the main person that helped bring “Cancer Moon Child” to life was my mixer, Jack Kleinick. I’m super grateful for him. In terms of the visuals, my childhood best friends, Hannah Isakowitz and Olivia Frankel and I ran around my neighborhood and went to the beach with a camcorder that I bought at Best Buy. We took some photos and Monique Litombe, a close friend of mine, killed it with the graphic design. We were all putting our heads together in a virtual way because of the state of the world. When you are stripped of your traditional options, you get a more interesting result because you need to delve a bit deeper.
In your opinion, what role does music play in the Black Lives Matter movement and in activism in general?
Oh a huge role. When we speak of the Black Lives Matter Movement I think everybody thinks back to the Civil Rights Movement. It’s an extension of that, it’s a part of the same bloodline and unfortunately we are fighting a lot of the same fights. I was watching an interview with John Lewis and he was saying that music had so much to do with the Civil Rights movement, whether that be humming while marching or just listening to Sam Cooke. Music is a universal language, but it’s also a universal religion. It’s a very spiritual thing so naturally, it plays a huge role in any movement for social justice, but I also don’t think it always needs to be presented so obviously. Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” is one of the strongest protest songs of this generation and it isn’t blatantly a protest song. He’s rapping about his life. So many Black artists are bringing hope through their music and lyrics, whether they are explicitly talking about what’s happening in the world or not. Just seeing the exaltation of Black joy or any expression of Black emotions is protest within itself.
Who are your musical influences now? Are they the same as your childhood influences or do you look to more contemporary artists?
Some albums that have really changed my life over the past few years have been Solange’s A Seat At the Table, SZA’s Ctrl, Nao’s For All We Know, Kelela’s Take Me Apart, MAGDALENE by FKA twigs, and of course Rihanna’s Anti and Beyonce’s Lemonade. All of these Black women have played with so many different genres to express themselves. Those albums have shaped the way I look at music and expression. Going even deeper into who’s inspiring me right now, I think Megan Thee Stallion is one of the most important artists of this generation. She shows how complex the narrative of Black womanhood can be. She displays confidence within her sexuality, pride in her education, confidence in being an Anime stan, love for her beautiful, tall, curvy figure and SO much more, all in the same breath. And sis has bars for DAYS. She is an ode to the women that paved the way for her while also embodying so much that we haven’t seen before. I’m so excited for her. And in terms of genres that influence me, R&B will always be my love, but I’ve been finding myself returning to rap lately, specifically female rappers.
I feel like seeing all of these women on the forefront makes pursuing that art more approachable.
Absolutely. And I want to tap into electronic music as well and talk about the Black women in that industry. Kelela, FKA twigs, and Nao were incredibly important to me because these women tapped into these spaces that aren’t always accepting of Black women. All of these themes of reclamation that we are seeing in music right now being driven by Black women is really exciting.
What is your dream collaboration?
In terms of brand collaboration, anything under the Fenty umbrella. Rihanna is truly so amazing. I’m such a fan of what she has created, not just the music but the artistic expression that lives within her entire brand. She inspires so many to be whoever the hell they want to be.
For music collaboration, there’s the obvious people that I am inspired by that I mentioned before, as well as producers such as Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Pharrell, Timbaland, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and Swizz Beatz. But there are also so many people within our age group who inspire me. I would love to sit in a session with Chloe Bailey. She’s an amazing producer.
How did living in so many different places affect your artistry?
Moving around taught me to associate home and a sense of stability with people and myself rather than places. While I completely understand it is a privilege, travelling is an amazing way to explore yourself. There is nothing like getting to know yourself in a different context. I feel like a different person in every city that I go to. They’re all holistically a part of me, but I think that because I’ve had access to these deeper parts of myself, I have a lot that I can draw from when I make art.
What have you been doing to supplement that live music isn’t really possible right now?
It’s really hard. I have to say that my first love was performance. Singing and dancing are what I feel like I do best. It’s always been so intrinsic to my artistry so the fact that everything has to be reimagined in a virtual way has definitely been difficult. There’s nothing like the exchange of energy that happens at a show between performer and audience. It’s spiritual.
What is your dream venue or event to play?
I want to play stadiums. I saw the On The Run II stadium tour and that really changed my life. To fill a space like that with so many people just to celebrate music is incredible. It’s bigger than the artist. My dream stadium to play is the Stade des Martyrs in Kinshasa. I hope that I can reach a point in my career where I can go there and bring a full fleshed concert experience to my people. Looking out into the crowd to see my sweet grandmothers, that’s the dream.
How much do your personal goals influence your artistic goals? And what are they?
I tie personal and artistic goals with life purpose. I’m constantly just trying to 1. Live truthfully, even when there are some slip ups and mishaps and 2. Feel good in myself and find the strength to fully understand my worth . And when I say myself I’m speaking specifically through the lens of a Black woman. Black women get knocked down in so many ways and it gets to be so toxic and exhausting. My personal goals are always first and foremost to uplift myself as a Black woman and to uplift the Black women around me through my life and music. If through doing that I uplift anyone else, I’m doing great sweetie.
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