Maimouna Youssef and her alter ego Mumu Fresh have been representing for female MCs and soulful singers on the Indie scene for over a decade. Her voice has placed her alongside artists like: Nas, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, D’angelo, Mos Def and Common. While her contribution to the The Roots’ “Do not feel right” earned her a Grammy nomination. If you’ve heard her music then you know that she is not to be slept on. If you haven’t, then allow us the pleasure of introducing you to Mumu Fresh – singer, songwriter, mother, intellectual and world traveler.
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With the introduction of each of your albums and songs, I feel like I’m seeing different sides of your artistry. “You ain’t hard” and “Tell my story” introduced me to the B-more chick who sits on stoops and can’t stand Neo-Soul. While your EP “Journey Home,” which paid homage to your Native American ancestry, sounds like Native gospel music! You’re soulful, but your sound isn’t limited to hip hop, R&B or even jazz. How important is it to you to avoid being pigeon holed into one category of music? And in an industry that prefers to neatly package you into
boxes that they recognize, how difficult is it to continually cross genres?
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I don’t think a lot about being pigeon holed when I make music. I make the music that is authentic for me based on my experiences and based on what’s on my heart at the time. I have lived a very different life from most of my contemporaries in the music industry and I’ve had a wide range of experiences starting as a child through my travels and also through exposure to my blended heritages and the music I make is mostly a direct reflection of what my life is really like or my perceptions of the world around me. It’s not difficult for me to cross genres because I don’t view the genres I mainly utilize as being different from each other. It’s all Black music. All American music finds its origins in the BLUES. There’s a lineage to the music I sing. My parents are both musicians and historians so I learned the true history of Black music as a small child in my home. Genres are just tools in my belt to evoke varied emotions, spark a lightning bolt inside of a mind and heart; connect with God and inspire my listeners to dig deeper and
You can not extract music from the culture and experiences that created it. The album “Journey Home” was an album my mother and I recorded in tribute to my late grandmother who wasfull blood Choctaw and Cherokee. She was also a singer and choir director and water pourer for sweat lodge and moon lodge ceremonies. She taught me to sing spirituals and traditional native songs while we were beading our moccasins and hair barrettes for the pow-wows. I used to dance competition in pow-wows all over the East Coast for the first 13 years of my life. I would spend the summers with my grandmother and then go back to west Baltimore in the winters for homeschool with my mom. That’s where I learned to rap with my Muslim brothers from the Masjid on my block. Ihad 8 blood brothers who loved Wu Tang Clan and they became the sound track of a period in my childhood. All these influences is what you will end up hearing in my music.
You’ve performed in quite a few countries: Switzerland, South Africa and Nigeria to name a few. Where was your first international gig and what do you recall being the most impactful takeaway from that place and performance?
I have travelled all throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Caribbean as of date but my first international gig and experience was when I travelled to Germany to sing for the wedding of Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker. I was nervous because I was still a teenager and this was my first time traveling alone plus internationally. This was before I had a smart phone and I misplaced a page of my itinerary and had to figure out how to get to the meeting place in a new country where English wasn’t the main language. Luckily, English is a Germanic language,
so I was able to figure out the meaning of most of the important words since I couldn’t find hardly anyone who wanted to help me. After a few tough hours navigating the public transportation system, I had a mini break-down-in-tears moment on the train. I started to think I would be lost in Germany forever and that was not a comforting thought considering all of the World War II movies I had seen about anti-black sentiments in Germany.
Just then, I met a group of really nice German guys who had just come from America. They saw me crying and stopped to ask what was wrong. They told me they loved NYC and hip hop and Black American culture and helped me find the right train to arrive at my destination just in time for the wedding rehearsal. The wedding ceremony was absolutely beautiful and heartwarming. Much of Black Hollywood had travelled all the way across the pond to celebrate this auspicious occasion with their co-stars Nicole and Boris. I sang an acapella gospel song during their wedding ceremony and joined up with an all German band for the reception. One cool thing about music is that it transcends all language barriers. I wasn’t really able to explain to the band in words how I wanted the songs played but I just kept singing and let the music speak for itself until we were locked in and playing beautifully in harmony. Their wedding was hands down one of the most memorable performances and experiences I’ve had to date.
Your videos typically have a very global feel to them, mainly due to your wardrobe choices (e.g. African fabrics, headdress, etc.) or the song in general (e.g. Meet Me in Brazil). What influences your style the most – your travels or growing up with Black nationalist parents? Also, what fashion pieces are you most drawn to when traveling?
Both my travels abroad and my exposure to world cultures through being home-schooled growing up influenced my creative decisions when filming my videos. I wanted to bring the world back with me to my communities at home. I have an amazing director B.Kyle Atkins who really helps me see all my visions through. Visuals are just as important to me as the music. Through my music and visuals, I want to share my experiences with those who have not been as fortunate as I have been to get paid to travel around the world. I went on my first world tour when I was 19 years old with The Roots. I experienced things that my family and friends in the neighborhoods I grew up in could never even imagine. Music allows me access that normally would be off limits to a young brown girl from the west side of Baltimore city like me.
I normally style myself for most of my visuals and performances. The headdresses from “The Already Royals” music video were supplied by a cultural curator and designer in Washington, D.C. named Januwa Moja who also happened to be a good friend of my mother’s. When I do have a stylist, I normally seek out ones who are very culturally versatile. I like my clothes to be as original as my music. A good friend of mine from Japan who belongs to the same homeschool co-op as I do makes hand-made African print Kimonos and has styled me for several events. Her company is called Hiko Asiatic Fusion. When I travel abroad I’m always on the prowl for one of a kind items. I especially love jewelry. I always say that my jewelry tells the stories of the places I’ve been and the men who have loved me. Sometimes I forget all of the places I’ve been until I see a piece of my jewelry somewhere in the back of one of my old jewelry boxes and think back to where it came from and reminisce on the experience that brought it to me.
You performed during opening weekend of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and then followed that up with performances at Harry Belafonte’s “Many Rivers To Cross” Festival. That entire week sounds like you marinated in Black excellence! In your own words, can you describe the energy surrounding those two events? Also, what exhibits at NMAAHC do you consider a “must see”?
I’m sooo happy to see the construction of the NMAAHC come into fruition because it has been a long time coming and long overdue. Over the years I’ve taken my son to visit just about all of the Smithsonian Museums and most of them I really enjoy but none were so disappointing as the American History Museum. I couldn’t even complete the tour because I was so disgusted at how blantantly the contributions of people of color had been omitted and white washed. The language used to describe the genocide of Indigenous peoples was so callous and barbaric, I couldn’t stomach it.
There should only
be a need for one
museum to tell the
history of this one
country but because
the colonizers of
America refuse to be
honest about their
past, we have to now
There should only be a need for one American history museum to tell the history of this one country but because the colonizers of America refuse to be honest about their past, we have to now have three Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. The (White) American History Museum, The Native American History Museum, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s exactly what’s wrong with the education system in any colonized country. I travelled all the way to a school in Nigeria just to find out that in Africa, Africans are still not allowed to study themselves either. All of the text books are provided by their colonizers, the British. I talked to a young cat about 19 who played in a band with me in Nigeria and he had no knowledge of the trans atlantic slave trade. I was trying to explain to him that we are the same people but because he didn’t know the history, he couldn’t understand the connection
But don’t let me get started on education…you only asked me about travel. It was an incredible honor to be able to perform for the opening of the NMAAHC alongside my Playlist family – J Period, Rhyme Fest and Masego; especially as a guest of “ America Divided” especially as a guest of “ America Divided” which is a docu-series dealing with examining the inequities in black and brown communities in regards to basic American rights like housing, education, food ect.
Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to stay and see the exhibits because I had to fly to Chicago immediately following my performance in D.C. to perform with Common at his annual event, Ahh Fest! It was bitter-sweet because although I haven’t experienced the museum yet, the Ahh Fest was pretty incredible, I got to battle R.Kelly on stage lol. (just joking a little) and also rock with Ice Cube. We also performed for the opening of the NY Film Festival where filmmaker Ava Duvernay debuted her documentary “13th” about mass incarceration in the US. Then we headed to ATL to perform at “Many Rivers To Cross.” That event did my heart so much good. It was so beautiful to see so many activists and lovers of freedom come together to plan a brighter tomorrow in a new world based on freedom justice and equality for real. I was happy to see my Native family there gathering support to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline too. #SayNotoDAPL GRIOTS REPUBLIC In terms of both music and travel, what’s next for Maimouna Youssef? What are you working on and where are you traveling to?
The first week of November I’ll be traveling to Belgium to perform for about 4 days with an event series called Nuff Said, then I’m back to the U.S. for a fundraiser in Flint, Michigan, and another performance in Miami. Then I have a few more shows with Common coming up. But more than anything, I’m working on sitting my butt at home and completing all this music I’ve been working on. I really wanted to release it all this year, but I decided to wait and drop it in the new year and make 2017’s head nod crazy. Also I’m planning my first ever non-music related vacation this December with my son. He loves to travel too. He’s filling up his passport book as we speak. I’ve made him my official merchandiser when we go on tour. He is serious about his 10% cut too. He deserved a vacation. lol. I haven’t decided where our vacation will be yet, but all I know is that it’s going down! Next year is going to be very busy for me, so I’ve got to rest up. I actually don’t know the meaning of the word “rest” but I’m trying. In January, I’ll be working on my first documentary, launching my record label, and expanding my humanitarian and educational work to new areas of the globe. And maybe have like two more babies (just kidding). Anyway, I’m out. I’ve got to go battle these bamas on Fitbit right quick.