meta-scriptHaiti's Michael Brun Talks Debut LP 'LOKAL,' Friendship With J Balvin & Diplo & His Legacy As Global Artist | GRAMMY.com
Michael Brun

Michael Brun

Photo: Steve Baboun

news

Haiti's Michael Brun Talks Debut LP 'LOKAL,' Friendship With J Balvin & Diplo & His Legacy As Global Artist

"The deeper I got into my own culture, the more it allowed me to connect with others. I felt like that was so important to get a clear vision of what Haiti represents to me and that led the album," Brun told the Recording Academy

GRAMMYs/Jun 26, 2019 - 09:32 pm

Haitian DJ/producer Michael Brun may just be 27, but he is already focused on his musical legacy: to serve his life-long vision of being able to give back to his community in a meaningful way. With his music, he wants to world to also get to know and love the vibrant sounds of his home country, and to showcase other Haitian and global artists in the process.

His new debut album, LOKAL, which dropped today, does just that. On the project, he collabed with more than a dozen featured artists for its nine upbeat, joyful tracks, weaving in traditional Haitian Rara and Konpa sounds with hip-hop, reggaetón, house and other danceable beats in a beautiful sonic tapestry. While it is his first full-length, Brun has been releasing tracks since he was in college, then with a more EDM during its early '10s boom.

Brun also aims to recreate the sound and liveliness of the block parties he used to throw back home to new audiences; his hugely successful North American Bayo 2019 tour, which he recently wrapped, featured a selection of Haitian artists and more special guests in every city.

"Those kinds of moments with the music that I grew up and to see artists that I really love and support have this platform, I think that's my personal favorite. That's this whole mission that I'm working on, to get my culture and my music heard," Brun told the Recording Academy in a recent phone interview that dove deep into the new album and his vision. He also tells the story of how he serendipitously met one of his mentors, Colombian reggaetón sta, J Balvin, and what he learned in working with him, among other topics.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c0MkwdebUr0" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

You're releasing your album LOKAL soon. What are you most looking forward to about sharing it with the world?

I think just the fact that I've been making music now for coming into eight years professionally, and this is my first album project that I've ever done. So just being able to take all these different experiences from the last eight years of touring and collaborations with all these different types of people around the world, and then also bringing my culture, Haitian culture, and sounds in a really unique way to this project, I felt like this was the moment to do it and it's just representative of that whole journey.

Where did the idea for the project start? And how did it grow and shift as you began working on the songs and working with different collaborators?

I think part of the concept for this came from the tour that I was doing. It's called the Bayo tour; "bayo" in Creole means give it to them, or to give. The concept for that was just to create a showcase and a presentation of Haiti and Haitian sounds and culture for the whole world to be able to learn something new, hopefully, and then maybe find a new genre of music or artist that they like a lot.

So I was doing that tour, and that incorporated Haitian sounds but then also in my sets and in the actual live performance I'd play Latin music and I'd be playing African music. And I realized that they were way more similar than I ever initially thought. And I had these moments where I was like, I want to transition from an African song to a Haitian song or Caribbean song to a Latin song, and I felt like with the album it was an opportunity to create those transition moments where it showed the links between those different cultures. It was just over the course of two years of touring, finding those pockets where I could come up with something that would help tell that story.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bayo Tour 2015 vs Bayo Tour 2019<br><br>Never give up on your dreams. <a href="https://t.co/AO5rnlA8ET">pic.twitter.com/AO5rnlA8ET</a></p>&mdash; Michaël Brun (@MichaelBrun) <a href="https://twitter.com/MichaelBrun/status/1112729592912117760?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 1, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

That's so cool. You did the Bayo tour first in 2016 and then again this past year, correct?

Yeah, so it started out as literally a free block party in and around Haiti. I would just set up speakers or find a spot, it would be in the street sometimes, sometimes it would be in a venue, but we would just set up, and I'd invite all these different artists around Haiti to come and perform and it just a complete surprise. So we did that in 2016 and it started out with 50 people, if that. It was super small, but just, it was more about the sound and the vibe, but it grew.

When I brought it to the States, I did it in Miami first at the Little Haiti Cultural Center and then I did the first New York show in Brooklyn. And then it just went from like 50 people to like 500 people to 1,000 to now we sold over 10,000 tickets for the tour in the last year. So it's crazy how it's continued to evolve and just become this way bigger concept than I thought it would be.

It must be surreal and also just really powerful to share Bayo outside of Haiti to such big crowds.

It's been such an amazing experience to see the crowds and then also just to see the artist support too. Because I think what made this tour special, the one that we did in the spring, is we had such a diverse Haitian line-up but then we also had Maxwell in New York and Major Lazer and Mr Eazi in Miami, and then Adekunle Gold in Boston and Demarco and Kevin Lyttle, and all these different artists from around the world came in for the support. That was just so cool seeing all these different genres represented and these different countries and cultures, but somehow it could connect via Haiti. That was what I always hoped for this.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_ljAAFJFXUE" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

I want to talk a little bit about some of the different collaborators on the album. Did you know who you wanted to work with going into it? Or did that sort of grow organically as you started working on the album?

Partially. I knew that I wanted to work with the best of the best from Haiti. I wanted to find all the artists that I thought were doing a really amazing job across the board, not only as musicians but also as representatives of the country and supporting community and building up the image and the sound of Haiti. I had actually so many songs that didn't even make it on the album, just for the sake of time.

From those artists to the international artists that I was close with, like Diplo and Major Lazer. I'd been doing some stuff with them for years now and to finally get a track together was really, really cool. Diplo's been so supportive with everything. They came out in Miami it was a complete surprise, him and Walshy Fire [who is in Major Lazer with Diplo and Ape Drums]. It was really cool. Yeah, so they were one of the artists, just talking to them about the song and saying, "Let's make a song that represents the streets of Haiti that's a hot track but we can take it into a place where it can also be international and global." So that was one example.

And then Mr Eazi was another example. I went on tour with him, opening forJ Balvinlast fall, and we became really, really good friends and collaborating on so many different things outside of even just the two songs on the album. We have dozens of stuff together, music and projects that we've been doing. He's an amazingly talented artist, so getting him on there was a no-brainer.

And then Arcade Fire too. They had invited me to New Orleans for this project that they were doing and we got to spend a few days together, playing music and just talking. Win and Régine [of Arcade Fire] are such amazing people and to have them and the Preservation Hall and RAM all together on one song, it's such an honor really. I feel that all these international artists and the Haitian artists, they really are some of the best in their entire industry so it's really incredible.

The track list, with all of its featured artists, is really impressive. Was it a powerful experience for you, working with all these different artists?

Yeah, I'm so grateful, honestly. Because I feel like when you make a collaborative album, you're dealing with so many different people, you can have a vision, but if people don't fully connect with your vision maybe it won't work out. But in this case, it was so smooth. I think also just the fact that I worked with people who are friends and people that I really look up to, so that we've connected on a level before we even made the music helped. I think you hear it when you listen to the songs, even if it's in Creole or in French or in English, whatever language it is, I think it does feel really authentic and honest.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This song is really special to me because it not only features many of the artists from the Bayo Tour, but it also samples a song from my dad’s band Skandal. I also found out that it’s the 25th anniversary of that project. There are no coincidences in life I guess. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LOKAL?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LOKAL</a> <a href="https://t.co/y8wRPFuOWw">pic.twitter.com/y8wRPFuOWw</a></p>&mdash; Michaël Brun (@MichaelBrun) <a href="https://twitter.com/MichaelBrun/status/1142778642918977536?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 23, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Can you speak to the different styles and sounds that you explore in the album? You mentioned how some of them are native sounds to Haiti, so it would be really cool to learn a bit more about those specifically.

I would say there's probably two specific genres that really were the focal point for me in Haitian music. One them is Konpa music, which is slower dance music, very Caribbean sounding with guitars and keyboards and a very iconic beat. It's mid-tempo. That dominated Haitian music for years. My dad actually had a band that made Konpa music, when I was a baby, so that's probably where I got some of the music production genes or whatever. [laughs] And actually, "Nouvo Jenerasyon," which is the second to last song on the album, has a sample of his band, funny enough. 

That was one genre. I feel like that's probably the most iconic Haitian genre that's existed. Somebody like Wyclef [Jean], for example, sampled that for some of his stuff. It's been known for a while. Then Rara music is the other kind that I really, really love. That's honestly one of my favorite genres of music in the whole world. It's this traditional, ceremonial music that's a mix of the Western African vodou rhythms and Haitian vodou rhythms with the tying of original native sounds. It's very percussive, it's very ritualistic. It's so hypnotic and powerful, when you hear that music it just puts you in a trance. 

I used to hear it every Sunday, actually. There was a Rara band that would always be near our neighborhood that would play and I love the rhythm so much. That very drum-heavy vibe, you hear throughout most of the album. You feel that accent, it feels like the earth. 

That whole combination of the two genres and then Afrobeat, and electronic music and hip-hop, and all these other genres that I was listening to and making, I wanted to infuse them and find a way to tell both of those stories.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The fourth preview off LOKAL is a reinterpretation of my brother <a href="https://twitter.com/PaulBeaubrun?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@paulbeaubrun</a>’s amazing song Voudou Ceremony! The rara sounds were recorded with <a href="https://twitter.com/LakouMizik?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@lakoumizik</a> and it was also an honor to bring in Lolo from <a href="https://twitter.com/BoukmanEKS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BoukmanEKS</a> as a special guest. <a href="https://t.co/a8d7HDVpoy">pic.twitter.com/a8d7HDVpoy</a></p>&mdash; Michaël Brun (@MichaelBrun) <a href="https://twitter.com/MichaelBrun/status/1142070207407697921?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 21, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Do you feel like the two Haitian genres were the threads throughout the album that kind of tied it together? Or, as you were integrating all these different sounds, what was the thing that kept it sounding so cohesive?

I think the main thing actually was, as a producer and why I haven't done an album yet, this is the first time I ever felt confident in it, as I wanted to have a really clear vision with the music I was making. I wanted to make sure that when I was going to do a project like this, that it would be timeless and be something that I could be proud of in my legacy as an artist, I wanted to make sure I could put these different sounds and genres and artists, put them into this vision of a mosaic of Haiti. Actually, when you look at the artwork for the album, it is a mosaic. It's meant to be connecting all these different parts of my culture and Haitian culture as a whole and putting that into perspective via this music.

And then something that I learned while being on tour with J Balvin and also just working with him and Mr Eazi, who are Colombian and Nigerian, was seeing how much they connected with what I was doing. The deeper I got into my own culture, the more it allowed me to connect with others. I felt like that was so important to get a clear vision of what Haiti represents to me and that led the album, that led the organization of it and the sounds. Because really genre-wise, there's all types of vibes on this album but I still feel like it's cohesive.

It's that transition from local, very, very local sounds, to global that I think is what I wanted that album to be about. If there was one thing I could say about it, you listen to it and you feel like, this is Haitian, but then also wait this makes me connect with all these other cultures too.

"The deeper I got into my own culture, the more it allowed me to connect with others. I felt like that was so important to get a clear vision of what Haiti represents to me and that led the album, that led the organization of it and the sounds."

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/uJ9M_7zSa3s" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

So you collaborated with J Balvin on "Positivo," the 2018 World Cup song, in addition to joining his Vibras tour. How did you guys originally connect? What was the biggest thing you learned from working with him?

It was really so random, it was one of the craziest experiences of my life. I was in a meeting with Apple Music for my label, because I have my own label that I founded with my manager called Kid Coconut. We were doing a label meeting with upcoming releases and we were meeting with a few different people at Apple, and they asked at the end of the meeting, "Hey, do you have anything that you wanted to play that you're working on?" Because I was actually not focused on me, it was more like a general label meeting. And I was like, "Actually, yeah, I have this song 'Bayo' that I'm working on." I had made a list of international collaborators a few weeks earlier, and I was like, "I want to work with these artists around the world." J Balvin was the person that I had in mind for "Bayo."

I played them a 30-second section of the song and then they're like, "One sec. Can we get somebody else to come in here?" And so they brought the Latin editor at Apple, her name was Marisa. I spoke to her for a bit and played her the song. She was amazing, I mean everyone on the team was so nice, but she said, "Hey, you want to get J Balvin on this. I actually know José. I'll put you in touch." And I've heard that a million times and in every kind of way, like, "Yeah, I know that person." I was like, "Okay, but thank you, I don't expect that at all, but I appreciate you saying that." And then legitimately one week later, she messaged me, "Hey, José loved the song and he wants to speak with you."

And that was it. He sent me "Positivo" one week later and then three months later he hit me up again and he was like, "Hey, the World Cup's been asking me if I had a song that we could use." I was like, "Of course, use that. Why are you even asking?"

It just happened so naturally and he's been such a leading mentor and also given me a really great spotlight consistently, bringing me on any way he can. Bringing me, for example, to work on his upcoming album. It's been blessings for the last two years, nonstop blessings. I'm really grateful and also excited because I feel like all these different things I'm working on, they're now going to be coming out. I can't wait for people to see it.

<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/BwhZiGih4t1/" data-instgrm-version="12" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:540px; min-width:326px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:16px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BwhZiGih4t1/" style=" background:#FFFFFF; line-height:0; padding:0 0; text-align:center; text-decoration:none; width:100%;" target="_blank"> <div style=" display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div></div></div><div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display:block; height:50px; margin:0 auto 12px; width:50px;"><svg width="50px" height="50px" viewBox="0 0 60 60" version="1.1" xmlns="https://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="https://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"><g stroke="none" stroke-width="1" fill="none" fill-rule="evenodd"><g transform="translate(-511.000000, -20.000000)" fill="#000000"><g><path d="M556.869,30.41 C554.814,30.41 553.148,32.076 553.148,34.131 C553.148,36.186 554.814,37.852 556.869,37.852 C558.924,37.852 560.59,36.186 560.59,34.131 C560.59,32.076 558.924,30.41 556.869,30.41 M541,60.657 C535.114,60.657 530.342,55.887 530.342,50 C530.342,44.114 535.114,39.342 541,39.342 C546.887,39.342 551.658,44.114 551.658,50 C551.658,55.887 546.887,60.657 541,60.657 M541,33.886 C532.1,33.886 524.886,41.1 524.886,50 C524.886,58.899 532.1,66.113 541,66.113 C549.9,66.113 557.115,58.899 557.115,50 C557.115,41.1 549.9,33.886 541,33.886 M565.378,62.101 C565.244,65.022 564.756,66.606 564.346,67.663 C563.803,69.06 563.154,70.057 562.106,71.106 C561.058,72.155 560.06,72.803 558.662,73.347 C557.607,73.757 556.021,74.244 553.102,74.378 C549.944,74.521 548.997,74.552 541,74.552 C533.003,74.552 532.056,74.521 528.898,74.378 C525.979,74.244 524.393,73.757 523.338,73.347 C521.94,72.803 520.942,72.155 519.894,71.106 C518.846,70.057 518.197,69.06 517.654,67.663 C517.244,66.606 516.755,65.022 516.623,62.101 C516.479,58.943 516.448,57.996 516.448,50 C516.448,42.003 516.479,41.056 516.623,37.899 C516.755,34.978 517.244,33.391 517.654,32.338 C518.197,30.938 518.846,29.942 519.894,28.894 C520.942,27.846 521.94,27.196 523.338,26.654 C524.393,26.244 525.979,25.756 528.898,25.623 C532.057,25.479 533.004,25.448 541,25.448 C548.997,25.448 549.943,25.479 553.102,25.623 C556.021,25.756 557.607,26.244 558.662,26.654 C560.06,27.196 561.058,27.846 562.106,28.894 C563.154,29.942 563.803,30.938 564.346,32.338 C564.756,33.391 565.244,34.978 565.378,37.899 C565.522,41.056 565.552,42.003 565.552,50 C565.552,57.996 565.522,58.943 565.378,62.101 M570.82,37.631 C570.674,34.438 570.167,32.258 569.425,30.349 C568.659,28.377 567.633,26.702 565.965,25.035 C564.297,23.368 562.623,22.342 560.652,21.575 C558.743,20.834 556.562,20.326 553.369,20.18 C550.169,20.033 549.148,20 541,20 C532.853,20 531.831,20.033 528.631,20.18 C525.438,20.326 523.257,20.834 521.349,21.575 C519.376,22.342 517.703,23.368 516.035,25.035 C514.368,26.702 513.342,28.377 512.574,30.349 C511.834,32.258 511.326,34.438 511.181,37.631 C511.035,40.831 511,41.851 511,50 C511,58.147 511.035,59.17 511.181,62.369 C511.326,65.562 511.834,67.743 512.574,69.651 C513.342,71.625 514.368,73.296 516.035,74.965 C517.703,76.634 519.376,77.658 521.349,78.425 C523.257,79.167 525.438,79.673 528.631,79.82 C531.831,79.965 532.853,80.001 541,80.001 C549.148,80.001 550.169,79.965 553.369,79.82 C556.562,79.673 558.743,79.167 560.652,78.425 C562.623,77.658 564.297,76.634 565.965,74.965 C567.633,73.296 568.659,71.625 569.425,69.651 C570.167,67.743 570.674,65.562 570.82,62.369 C570.966,59.17 571,58.147 571,50 C571,41.851 570.966,40.831 570.82,37.631"></path></g></g></g></svg></div><div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style=" color:#3897f0; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:550; line-height:18px;"> View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style="padding: 12.5% 0;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; margin-bottom: 14px; align-items: center;"><div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(0px) translateY(7px);"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; height: 12.5px; transform: rotate(-45deg) translateX(3px) translateY(1px); width: 12.5px; flex-grow: 0; margin-right: 14px; margin-left: 2px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(9px) translateY(-18px);"></div></div><div style="margin-left: 8px;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 20px; width: 20px;"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 2px solid transparent; border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4; border-bottom: 2px solid transparent; transform: translateX(16px) translateY(-4px) rotate(30deg)"></div></div><div style="margin-left: auto;"> <div style=" width: 0px; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-right: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(16px);"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; flex-grow: 0; height: 12px; width: 16px; transform: translateY(-4px);"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-left: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(-4px) translateX(8px);"></div></div></div></a> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BwhZiGih4t1/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">Global music taking over in 2019!! Elevating our cultures and breaking boundaries  @jbalvin @rosalia.vt @mreazi</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A post shared by <a href="https://www.instagram.com/michaelbrun/" style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px;" target="_blank"> Michaël Brun</a> (@michaelbrun) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2019-04-21T15:01:13+00:00">Apr 21, 2019 at 8:01am PDT</time></p></div></blockquote><script async src="//www.instagram.com/embed.js"></script>

That just sounds like such a serendipitous but also very much meant-to-happen moment of connecting you and J together.

I know. Another really funny thing, which is insane, was I was with Arcade Fire in New Orleans in February for this event that we were doing together. Diplo was there too, so I met up with him and spoke for a bit and then was like, "So where are you going next?" He's like, "Yeah, I'm going to Colombia." I'm like, "You're going where?" And he's like, "Medellín. Wait are you going to Medellín?" And we literally went to J Balvin's camp, like the day after, where we were working on music. We played football and made music, it was something crazy. I can't imagine anybody else in the world besides Diplo going from New Orleans to Medellín, working with Arcade Fire and then working with J Balvin. It was crazy.

You talked a little bit about your Bayo tour, which you just wrapped up. What's your favorite part about sharing music in that format?

I think there's a few parts. One of the personal favorite things was just the fact that all these artists that are on the tour, we had I think it was about 15, both women and men, of so many different genres. They're some of my favorite artists. And I feel like the diversity and just the quality of the music is so special, and yet it's not really known outside of Haiti. So being able to bring these different people on these pretty big stages. Like some of these shows are like 2,000 people and sold out. We sold out Brooklyn Steel, which was nuts to have all Haitian lineup sell out there.

Those kinds of moments with the music that I grew up and to see artists that I really love and support have this platform, I think that's my personal favorite. That's this whole mission that I'm working on, to get my culture and my music heard. So to see it happen from this tour so relatively quickly and to get the kind of support and feedback that we have been, it's been worth the sleepless nights and the crazy investments in every way possible. Like, making sure that everything goes as smoothly as it could, it's been worth it all. Because just to see further opportunity come up for some of these different artists has been amazing.

"Those kinds of moments with the music that I grew up and to see artists that I really love and support have this platform, I think that's my personal favorite. That's this whole mission that I'm working on, to get my culture and my music heard."

You mentioned your dad was in a band when you were growing up; what music were you jamming to when you were younger? Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to make music yourself?

Funny enough, I was pre-med in college and I thought I was going to be a pediatrician my whole life. That was my whole plan, because I grew up in Haiti and I felt a responsibility for the community that I was in that I had to give as much as I possibly could because I received so much. I felt like being a doctor was the most direct way. And I was volunteering at different hospitals. I got a full scholarship at Davidson College for that, to be a doctor.

But I loved music too. And both my parents were really musical. They played piano and different instruments. I did violin also, I sang, played guitar, a bunch of different things. Eventually I was producing when I was like 14, 15. And it was a hobby, I never thought, "I'm going to do this as a career." And then while I was in college, there was this one thing that ended up going viral on Hype Machine and it opened up this Pandora's box of music stuff. But it was really serendipitous. I feel like I've had a lot of serendipity in my life. The fact that I was able to speak with the school and with my family and friends and making music was the option that everybody supported. Because school was always going to be there for me, so that was amazing.

And then the other part of your question; musically, I listened to so much different stuff. My parents were really, really into '70s and '80s music, so like Earth, Wind & Fire. And everything from the '80s, my dad was a huge Tears for Fears fan, he loves, loves, loves that group. And my mom listened to everything contemporary too, so it was a mix of all these different international genres and then whatever was on in Haiti at the time, so Kompa music and Rara music, hip-hop and all of that informed my music. EDM too, because I made it for like the first five years of my career. That was during that whole amazing boom of that music, so it really gave me an opportunity.

When you tell that story it really makes sense with how your musical path has all come together now, exactly where you are today.

Yeah, I mean the thing is, even though I'm making music now versus being a doctor, I feel like that is also improving the community that I came from. And to work with those tools and with the people and provide more opportunities and just have that as the focus of what I do; it's always been there. And I can see the results now with music, that maybe as a doctor you get to reach a few thousand people in your life, which is already incredible, right? But then with music you can reach millions. And I think that as I continue on with this, I always want to keep that really in the forefront of what I do, because it's a responsibility and I want to create as much good as I can.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ETVVckJTp1s" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

I love that. And it goes perfectly into my next question; what do you feel is your biggest duty and goal as a rising global artist in 2019?

I think as a global artist, the people that I really look up to in the industry like J Balvin or Mr. Eazi or any of these international artists that I feel like are representing their cultures really proudly; they know where they come from, they really know who they are. And that allows them to not only have the support of their entire community and wherever they grew up or their country or even the continent. Eazi represents all of Africa in my opinion, not just Nigeria. J Balvin represents all of Latin America, he doesn't just represent Colombia. And the reason they can do that is because their identities are so strong that you just know that's what they are and they know that too. I really want that same level of clarity when I'm working as an artist so people can connect with that.

And I see that honestly, I've already seen it in the last few years of working on it, and being able to work with some of these impossible-to-reach people, it's been such a blessing. And I think that goes hand-in-hand with making great art. And then also representing your community; when you do that, I feel like doors open for you and it allows you to create bridges.

What is your biggest dream for the trajectory of your path in music over the next few years?

I really want to leave an amazing legacy for what I do. I don't want to ever have anything that's middle of the road. I'd rather you hate it than you love it, honestly. I feel like that's the purpose of art, it's supposed to make you feel something. And with my legacy, when you first listen to something that I worked on, I think you'll have that reaction. Then when you look deeper into it and you see how carefully I've been thinking about this and how much I'm incorporating community into the work that I do, I hope that it inspires people too.

I feel like education allowed me to get this far in my life, especially coming from Haiti where that's not always that accessible, and it can really completely change the course of your life. I hope that when people see how I've been able to get to where I am today, it's because of a combination of all these different things. They're tools you can share, it's not things that only a few people have access too. I want it to be accessible to everybody. So, legacy is really important to me right now.

It's been amazing talking to you and learning more about your story and being able to hear your music, thanks so much for sharing it with us. 

I really appreciate it, because that's what helps to get this further out to the rest of the world. Everybody that's helped support this has made it into something way bigger than I could have imagined, and I'm really grateful. 

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Thank you all for supporting me. <br><br>Thank you all for believing in me. <br><br>Thank you all for allowing me to do what I love. <a href="https://t.co/wdTlWX12SV">pic.twitter.com/wdTlWX12SV</a></p>&mdash; Michaël Brun (@MichaelBrun) <a href="https://twitter.com/MichaelBrun/status/1118908664968957953?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 18, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

SOFI TUKKER Announce R.I.P. Shame World Tour, Reveal New Music Is Coming

DJ Deorro performs  during the Mextour Live Concert at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles in 2023
DJ Deorro performs on stage during the Mextour Live Concert at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 14, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images

list

8 Essential Latin Electronic Releases: Songs And Albums From Bizarrap, Arca & More

Electronic sounds can be heard throughout Latin music and will be recognized in a new Field and Category at the 2024 Latin GRAMMYs. In honor of the new Best Latin Electronic Music Performance award, read on for eight Latin electronic music essentials.

GRAMMYs/May 2, 2024 - 01:22 pm

Electronic music is embedded within the diverse world of Latin music and, for the first time, will be recognized in a new Field and Category at the 2024 Latin GRAMMYs. Within that field, the award for Best Latin Electronic Music Performance was created to shine a light on DJs, producers, and artists blending proudly blending electronic music with the sounds of their cultures.

Electronic music embodies various subgenres like house music, techno, trance, electronica, and many others rooted that have been popularized by DJs and producers. Latin artists have long enriched those subgenres: Mexico's Belanova globalized the electro-pop wave, while Bomba Estéreo blended cumbia with electronica in Colombia. 

The explosion of EDM in the 2010s also allowed the careers of Latinx DJs to flourish. Mexican American DJ Deorro has showcased both cultures during sets at music festivals like EDC, Coachella, Tomorrowland, and more. Arca's music pushes the boundaries of electronic music through a Venezuelan and Latin American lens. More recently, Colombian producer Víctor Cárdenas bridged the gap between EDM and reggaeton with the global hit "Pepas" by Farruko. Since then, electronic music has seeped through the work of Latin hit-makers like Tainy, Caleb Calloway, Bizarrap and Diego Raposo. "Pepas" and many of Bizarrap's music sessions crossed over onto Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs.

"That’s something that’s very big for us," Deorro tells GRAMMY.com about the new category. "How beautiful that this is happening, because it shows that what we’re doing is working, we’re breaking down doors, and we’re creating more opportunities for artists like us in the future." 

In honor of the Latin Recording Academy's new Field and Category, here are eight must-hear Latin electronic music essentials.

Belanova - Cocktail (2003)

Belanova revolutionized the Latin music space with their 2003 debut album Cocktail, an atmospheric LP that seamlessly blends Latin pop with electronic music. In the dreamy deep house of "Tu Ojos," singer Denisse Guerrero sang about getting lost in her lover's eyes. The trippy techno of "Barco De Papel" was reminiscent of the music from Madonna's Ray of Light album. Electronic music on the ambient level wasn’t common in Latin music until Belenova changed the game in Mexico, which later reverberated into the rest of Latin America and the U.S. 

The trio — which includes guitarist Ricardo Arreol and keyboardist Edgar Huerta — later delved into electro-pop on 2007's Fantasía Pop, which won a Latin GRAMMY for Best Pop Album by a Group or Duo the following year. 

Arca - Kick I-II (2020)

Venezuelan producer/artist Arca is a pioneer in the Latin electronic music space. Arca first began producing her experimental electronica in Spanish with her 2017 self-titled album.

Arca then masterfully mixed the diverse sounds of Latin America and beyond with EDM throughout her Kick album series. 

For Kick I, she combined Venezuelan gaita music and reggaeton with a cyberpunk edge in "KLK" featuring Spanish pop star Rosalía. Arca then blended electronica with neo-perreo on Kick II's "Prada" and "Rakata." Both albums garnered Arca GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY nominations. 

As a trans and non-binary artist, she is also breaking boundaries for the LGBTQ+ community in the genre. Arca is just not creating more space for queer artists in Latin music, but also in EDM at large by embracing the totality of herself in song.  

Bomba Estéreo - Deja (2021)

Bomba Estéreo, which is comprised of core members Simón Mejía and Liliana "Li" Saumet, has masterfully melded the music of Colombia’s Caribbean coast with electronic music. Since breaking out in 2008 with their sophomore album, the group has often reimagined the African and Indigenous rhythms of their country like cumbia through dance music. Bomba Estéreo’s folkloric approach to EDM has led to collaborations with Bad Bunny, Tainy, and Sofi Tukker.    

In 2021, Bomba Estéreo released its most ambitious album Deja, which garnered a GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY nominations. The title track put a funky spin on the band's signature electro-tropical sound. House music collided with the Afro-Colombian rhythms of champeta in "Conexión Total" featuring Nigerian singer Yemi Alade. Their album that was based on the four classical elements was a breath of fresh air in the Latin music scene. 

Bizarrap - "BZRP Music Sessions #52" (2022)

Argentine producer Bizarrap launched the BZRP Music Sessions on YouTube in 2018, first remaining behind the console for freestyle rapping sessions with local acts. The sessions quickly went viral, and have featured increasingly larger names in music.

Over the past five years, Bizarrap worked elements of electronic music into his hip-hop productions. In 2022, he fully delved into EDM with his global hit "BZRP Music Sessions #52" featuring Spanish singer Quevedo. The traptronica banger peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs and earned Bizarrap his first Latin GRAMMY Award. 

Since then, his music sessions have become a global event. Bizarrap later infused electro-pop with a trap breakdown in "BZRP Music Sessions #53" with Shakira, which garnered him two more Latin GRAMMY awards. 

Javiera Mena - Nocturna (2022)

Javiera Mena first debuted as an indie act in 2006 with Esquemas Juveniles. With that freedom as a producer and artist, the Chilean star pushed Latin music into the electronic space with her 2010 album Mena

She fully immersed herself into Latin electronica on her latest album, 2022's Nocturna — an album filled with nighttime club bangers that invite everyone to dance with her. Mena also proudly sings about being part of the LGBTQ+ community in the alluring "La Isla de Lesbos" and the fierce house music of "Diva" featuring Chico Blanco. Considering the influence of queer artists in the formation of electronic genres like house, it’s refreshing to see an artist like Mena remind people of those roots and bring that into Latin music.  

Deorro - Orro (2022)

Mexican American producer Deorro has established himself as one of the world's top DJs, and is known for mixing both of his cultures into his music festival sets. Even before the música mexicana explosion last year, he was one of the first mainstream EDM acts to bring the genre to music festivals around the world through his songs and remixes.   

With his debut album, 2022's Orro, Deorro fully bridged música mexicana with house music. He collaborated with Latin acts like Mexico's Los Tucanes De Tijuana and Maffio in "Yo Las Pongo," which blended the band's norteño sound with EDM. Deorro also explored cumbia with deep house in the sweeping "Dime" featuring Los Ángeles Azules and Lauri Garcia. In his recent sets, he is spinning a fiery remix of "Ella Baila Sola" by Eslabon Armado and Peso Pluma

Sinego - Alterego (2023)

Sinego first broke through in 2019 thanks to his house bolero sound like in "Verte Triste," which put a refreshing spin on an age-old Cuban genre. With traditional genres within the Latin diaspora often falling to the wayside as the years go on, he is reintroducing them to new audiences through EDM reimaginings.   

For his debut album, 2023's Alterego, the Colombian producer pushed his electronic music to another level. Sinego traveled to different Latin American countries and Spain to record with local musicians, reimagining genres like cumbia, tango, and mambo through Sinego's EDM lens. With the sultry "Mala," he blended Venezuela's variation of calypso with house music. He also gave Brazilian samba a house music makeover in "Boa Noite" featuring Tonina. 

Diego Raposo - Yo No Era Así Pero De Ahora En Adelante Sí (2023)

Dominican producer Diego Raposo has helped Latin acts like Danny Ocean, Blue Rojo, and Letón Pé embrace elements of electronic music. In 2018, Raposo released his debut album Caribe Express, which demonstrated his knack for mixing the sounds of the Caribbean with EDM. 

Raposo took that inventive mix into overdrive with last year's Yo No Era Así Pero De Ahora En Adelante Sí. The otherworldly "Si Supieras" featuring Okeiflou blended house music with reggaeton, while "Al Contrario" with Akrilla aggressively mixes drum 'n 'bass with dembow. Rapaso also channels Dance Dance Revolution-esque electronica in the spellbinding "Quédate" with Kablito. 

7 Latin DJs To Watch In 2023: Gordo, Arca, The Martinez Brothers & More

Mike Piacentini
Mike Piacentini

Photo: Screenshot from video

video

Family Matters: How Mike Piacentini’s Family Fuels His Success As His Biggest Champions

Mastering engineer Mike Piacentini shares how his family supported his career, from switching to a music major in college to accompanying him to the GRAMMY ceremony for his Best Immersive Album nomination.

GRAMMYs/Apr 26, 2024 - 07:17 pm

Since Mike Piacentini’s switch from computer science to audio engineering in college, his family has been his biggest champions. So, when he received his nomination for Best Immersive Album for Madison Beer's pop album Silence Between Songs, at the 2024 GRAMMYs, it was a no-brainer to invite his parents and wife.

“He’s always been into music. He had his own band, so [the shift] wasn’t surprising at all,” Piacentini’s mother says in the newest episode of Family Matters. “He’s very talented. I knew one day he would be here. It’s great to see it actually happen.”

In homage to his parents’ support, Piacentini offered to let his father write a short but simple acceptance in case he won: “Thank you, Mom and Dad,” he jokes.

Alongside his blood relatives, Piacentini also had support from his colleague Sean Brennan. "It's a tremendous honor, especially to be here with [Piacentini]. We work day in and day out in the studio," Brennan explains. "He's someone who's always there."

Press play on the video above to learn more about Mike Piacentini's support system, and remember to check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Family Matters.

How Madison Beer Broke Free From Pressures Of Internet Fame & Created Her New Album 'Silence Between Songs'

Curtis Jones, aka Cajmere & Green Velvet, performing live. Jones is wearing dark sunglasses amid a dark background and green strobe lights.
Curtis Jones performs as Green Velvet

Photo: Matt Jelonek/WireImage

interview

Dance Legend Curtis Jones On Cajmere, Green Velvet & 30 Years Of Cajual Records

As Green Velvet and Cajmere, DJ/producer Curtis Jones celebrates everything from Chicago to acid house. With a new party and revived record label, Jones says he wants to "shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive."

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 02:19 pm

Curtis Jones is a dance music legend, whose multiple monikers only begin to demonstrate his deep and varied influence in the genre.

Jones has been active as a producer and DJ for decades, and is among a cadre of dance music acts forging a connection between the genre's origins and its modern iterations. Crucially, he  joined Chicago house legends Honey Dijon and Terry Hunter on Beyoncé's house-infused RENAISSANCE, providing a sample for "Cozy." He’s also produced tracks with house favorites Chris Lake and Oliver Heldens, and DJed with Dom Dolla and John Summit.

Jones contributed to the aforementioned collaborations, young and old, as Green Velvet. He’s been releasing dance hits like "Flash" and "Answering Machine" under that name since the mid- '90s. He is also currently a staple of the live circuit, his signature green mohawk vibing in clubs and festivals around the globe — including at his own La La Land parties in Los Angeles, Denver, Orlando, and elsewhere.

Green Velvet is appropriately braggadocious, even releasing the popular "Bigger Than Prince" in 2013. But by the time Jones had released the heavy-grooving tech house track, his artistry had been percolating for decades as Cajmere.

Where Green Velvet releases lean into acid house and Detroit techno, Cajmere is all about the traditional house sound of Jones’ hometown of Chicago. When Jones first debuted Cajmere in 1991, Chicago’s now-historic reputation for house music was still developing. Decades after the original release, Cajmere tracks like "Percolator,” have sustained the Windy City sound via remixes by prominent house artists like Will Clarke, Jamie Jones, and Claude VonStroke.

"I love doing music under both of my aliases, so it’s great when fans discover the truth,” Jones tells GRAMMY.com over email. Often, Jones performs as Cajmere to open his La La Land parties, and closes as Green Velvet. 

But beyond a few scattered performances and new tracks, Cajmere has remained dormant while Green Velvet became a worldwide headliner, topping bills in Mexico City, Toronto, Bogotá and other international dance destinations. He’s only shared two original releases as Cajmere since 2016: "Baby Talk,” and "Love Foundation,” a co-production with fellow veteran Chicago producer/DJ Gene Farris.

This year, Jones is reviving Cajmere to headliner status with his new live event series, Legends. First held in March in Miami, Jones' Legends aims to highlight other dance music legends, from Detroit techno pioneers Stacey Pullen and Carl Craig, to Chicago house maven Marshall Jefferson. 

"My intention is to shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive," Jones writes. "The sad reality is that most of the legendary artists aren’t celebrated or compensated as well as they should be."

Given that dance music came into the popular music zeitgeist relatively recently, the originators of the genre — like the artists Jones booked for his Legends party — are still in their prime. Giving them space to perform allows them to apply the same innovation they had in the early '90s in 2024.

Jones says the Miami Legends launch was an amazing success."Seeing the passion everyone, young and old, displayed was so inspiring."

Curtis Jones Talks House, Cajmere & Green Velvet performs at Legends Miami

Curtis Jones, center, DJs at the Miami Legends party ┃Courtesy of the artist

The first Legends party also served as a celebration of Cajual Records, the label Jones launched in 1992 as a home for his Cajmere music. Over the past three decades, Cajual has also released tracks from dance music veterans such as Riva Starr, as well as contemporary tastemakers like Sonny Fodera and DJ E-Clyps. 

Furthermore, Jones’ partnership with revered singers such as Russoul and Dajae (the latter of whom still performs with him to this day) on Cajual releases like "Say U Will” and "Waterfall” helped to define the vocal-house style.

Like the Cajmere project, Cajual Records has been moving slower in recent years. The label has only shared four releases since 2018. True to form, though, Jones started another label; Relief Records, the home of Green Velvet's music, shared 10 releases in 2023 alone.

Jones says he's been particularly prolific as Green Velvet because "the genres of tech house and techno have allowed me the creative freedom I require as an artist."

Now Jones is making "loads of music” as Cajmere again and recently signed a new distribution deal for Cajual Records. The true sound of Chicago is resonating with audiences in 2024, Jones says, adding "it's nice that house is making a comeback."

Jones remembers when house music was especially unpopular. He used to call radio stations in the '80s to play tracks like Jamie Principle's underground classic "Waiting On My Angel,” only to be told they didn’t play house music whatsoever. In 2024, house music records like FISHER’s "Losing It” were certified gold, and received nominations for Best Dance Recording at the 66th GRAMMY Awards. Jones is embracing this popularity with open arms.

Read more: The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

"The new audience it’s attracting is excited to hear unique underground-style house records now. This is perfect for my Cajmere sets,” Jones says. "I never saw Green Velvet being more popular than Cajmere, and both sounds being as popular as they are even today.” 

While Jones is finding success in his own artistic endeavors, he points to a general lack of appreciation for Black dance artists in festival bookings. Looking at the run-of-show for ARC Festival, a festival in Chicago dedicated to house and techno music, legendary artists play some of the earliest slots. 

For the 2023 edition, Carl Craig played at 3 p.m on Saturday while the young, white John Summit, closed the festival the same night. In 2021, the acid house inventor, Chicago’s DJ Pierre, played the opening set at 2 p.m. on Saturday, while FISHER, another younger white artist, was the headliner.

In 2020, Marshall Jefferson penned an op-ed in Mixmag about the losing battle he is fighting as a Black DJ from the '90s. He mentions that younger white artists often receive upwards of $250,000 for one gig, whereas he receives around $2,000, despite the fact that he still DJs to packed crowds 30 years after he started.

Jones is doing his part to even the playing field with Legends, and according to him, things are going well after the first edition. "Seeing how much respect the fans have for the Legends was so special,” Jones says. "Hopefully they become trendy again.” 

The story of Curtis Jones is already one of legend, but it is far from over. "I feel it’s my duty to continue to make creative and innovative tracks as well as musical events. I love shining the light on new upcoming and emerging artists as well as giving the originators their proper dues,” Jones says. 

How LP Giobbi & Femme House Are Making Space For Women In Dance Music: "If You Really Want To Make A Change, It Can Be Done"

Elyanna
Elyanna

Photo: Courtesy of Elyanna

news

Inside Elyanna's World: How Creating 'Woledto' Allowed The Singer/Songwriter To Find A New Layer Of Herself

Elyanna's distinctive new album, 'Woledto,' combines the sounds of her Palestinian and Chilean heritage with an appetite for powerful pop songstresses.

GRAMMYs/Apr 11, 2024 - 01:34 pm

Elyanna is every bit an artist of our specific moment. The 22-year-old Los Angeles-based singer weaves together global influences, merging sounds from her personal history with a wider pop sensibility. 

With hints of Rihanna’s sultriness and Astrud Gilberto's effortless cool, Elyanna's music is often accompanied by a pulsating beat and traditional Middle Eastern instruments. 

By uniting musical traditions from the Palestinian and Chilean sides of her family, she creates songs that are at once sweetly enticing and bracing. "Al Sham," for example, opens with ethereal, floating vocals before morphing to incorporate aggressive synths and drums. The result is a growing, idiosyncratic body of work made for both crying on the dancefloor and rump-shaking. 

Paradoxical? Sure, but there are no contradictions in Elyanna’s art, only unexpected connections that make sense as soon as she starts talking about how they fit together. Of her forthcoming album, Woledto (in English, I Am Born), Elyanna explains that she and her brother/co-composer/producer Feras wanted to create music with unusual depth. "I want people to find these clues, because that’s the kind of art I like, when it’s deep and not always on the surface," she tells GRAMMY.com.

She knows Woledto is a big swing, and relishes the feeling of freedom and self-determination that comes with that kind of risk. "I really put my heart and all my emotions, everything I feel in it, and what I love about it is that I think that it's ahead of its time."  

In 2023, Elyanna notched a unique milestone as the first Arab artist to perform in Arabic at Coachella. Her subsequent debut tour sold out every date, and her next performance in the U.S. is set for April 27 at Los Angeles’ storied Wiltern Theater. The singer/songwriter takes it all in stride, with a natural self-possession; Elyanna is an energetic, curious young woman who’s as at ease on the road as she is in the living room studio she maintains at her parents’ home. 

With Woledto out April 12, Elyanna sat down with GRAMMY.com to chat about writing authentic bangers, repping every facet of her identities at Coachella and beyond, and her seamless approach to sound and vision. 

This conversation has been condensed and edited.

Woledto is out this week – congratulations! How are you feeling about it?

I'm excited – it feels so cool! I really took my time with this one, because I was able to figure out this new layer of myself and was able to connect with my roots more than ever. 

I know that not everyone's gonna get it right away, and I believe that when you want to create art that feels timeless, you have to make sure that you don't rush it. It's fine if it takes its time. I just wanted to create something that felt outside of the world, and had its own feeling and world. 

Can you expand a bit about pouring your whole self into this album? You mentioned your feelings, your identity, and you have such an interesting, multinational identity as a Palestinian-Chilean woman who now lives in Los Angeles. How did you incorporate all of that – and other aspects of yourself – into Woledto?

I come from two different backgrounds, and it's always very natural for me to put those together; I was born and raised in Nazareth, Palestine, and I am also part Chilean, so this is my world. I love to dig deeper into culture, and find more inspirations — there's so many hidden gems in my cultures, and I feel like it's time for the world to see it and to hear about it. 

I took inspiration from my grandfather — he’s the only featured performer on this album. I saw this video of him singing in a wedding; he was a singer and a poet, and he was doing a freestyle in Arabic. I sampled that video in a song called "Sad in Pali" — me and my brother were in Palestine for a visit after a few years away, and we felt very disconnected from everything there. This album has a lot of intentional inspirations that I want people to find.

Your music videos feed into that goal, too — they’re very arty, the imagery is so distinctive. The song that leaps to mind first is "Gheneni", which opens with a male vocal — I thought maybe it was a call to worship — and then channels Rihanna in your vocal, while the visuals are a hybrid of belly dance and you and your girls all hanging out in the desert. How do you weave all of those things together into a song that means "Drive Me Crazy"?

So my studio is at home in the living room, super humble, and it’s always full of friends and family sitting around while me and my brother [Feras] are working there. 

One day my dad was watching a very dramatic Arabic show, and my brother heard this music in the back that felt so powerful, so spiritual. So my brother took that and sampled it, and that’s the vocal that opens the song. Then he made a beat that feels like tribal fusion to follow. I always say "Gheneni" is spiritual, and also reminds me of "Gasolina" by Daddy Yankee, because it’s got so much swag. I’m rapping and just doing my thing on it, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions and very sassy. I love it. 

You look so free in that video, and I noticed that in most of your videos, there’s at least a few big moments of you being surrounded by other women. It’s really memorable in "Mama Eh," too. Tell me a little bit about the aesthetic and approach you use when you’re making these videos?

I really love to collab with people — I try my best, always, to be open to ideas. Usually how it starts is with my brother, we make the music and take care of the visual creativity of it. He’s my creative director, so we always keep sharing ideas together, brainstorming, and we save it all in this little folder to use whenever the time’s right. I love to always come in ready for my videos, live performances, but I never want to forget to be natural, and I don't want to be too ready, sometimes I want to be free. Sometimes all you need is just to be you, singing on camera, and that's enough. 

I love having a lot of female empowerment around me, too. I was raised that way — my mom is a very strong woman, my grandma is a very strong woman, my sister is a very strong woman, and I find so much power, if I'm feeling down, to talk to my sister and to talk to my girlfriends. So especially as an Arab woman, I want to make sure that I lift this female energy up for all the girls out there, and all the girls in the Middle East to feel that they can dream big, and they don't have to be always so soft. 

That’s really who I am, sometimes aggressive, very passionate and on fire. I feel like every human, we have a little bit of both, and I don't want to hide any of them. I want to be real and honest.

It seems like another throughline in your music is its cinematic quality. Woledto’s title track is also the album opener, and it sounds like it could as easily have been something you wrote for a film. If you could pick any film scene for your music to play over, what would it be?

I'm such a movie nerd! Right now, the film that felt so much like the world that I create in my music is Dune, Part Two or The Black Swan. There's so many scenes that I love, but it makes so much sense from what we were just talking about the different, changing parts of our personalities that I feel like the last performance where Natalie Portman had to perform as both the white swan and the black swan would be perfect for the outros of "Kon Nafsak" or "Sad in Pali." 

I understand you had a really special experience meeting Lana del Rey on one of your music videos. It makes sense that you’d love her, her work is so cinematic and she has such a recognizable style. 

Yes! Lana’s sister Chuck is an amazing director, and she shot one of my videos, for "La Vie en Rose." It’s a cover of the Edith Piaf song, and Chuck has such a beautiful vision. 

So Lana was there for the whole shoot, and she picked my dresses, and gifted them to me! She was an angel, just the coolest, and she did not disappoint. I've been listening to Lana since I was 10, and was obsessed with her. She was literally on my phone case. Meeting her and working with her and fully trusting what she says — I cried at the end, it was amazing

How great to have an experience that disproves the advice never to meet your heroes. In your cover, do you sing in French, English, or Arabic? 

It’s in Arabic, the title for my version is "Al Kawn Janni Maak." I actually co-wrote that translation with my mom and my brother; I’d always wanted to hear it in Arabic. 

That's really cool. It sounds like your work is very rooted in your family, not just having them with you at home or on tour, but they’re a big part of your music itself, too. 

It was always this way, even when I was little — I was 7 years old, 10 years old, and just dreaming of being an artist. My brother is the one who discovered my talent — he’s a pianist, and he would sit next to me for hours while I'm singing with a big mic, saying "Yo, you can do this note better." 

My mom writes my music with me, and it’s very powerful and so interesting. My sister Tali is part of it, too; she’s always been very good with fashion and is my stylist. We’d always be doing fashion shoots in our backyard, where my sister would dress me and my brother would take the pictures. I don't think anything’s changed since then, it’s just on another level, a bigger scale. We complete each other. 

Let’s talk about your influences and how you find your way to them. You’ve got this great playlist on Spotify that includes such a diverse group of artists, including ones that were delightful surprises: Pink Floyd, Nancy Sinatra, Chris Isaac, and Sadé. How do you discover artists who have a long history but are new to you?

I grew up listening to and singing jazz, I used to be obsessed with it. And it was very rare in Nazareth, but I must have found videos on YouTube. Etta James’ songs feel so real and timeless. There’s a lot of live instruments, it’s very detailed and very raw. It’s so beautiful! The lyrics, the production, even the fashion —it’s a world that I just really, really love.

I am very open when it comes to music. The best thing is to have conversations with people and meet new people, they bring you so much knowledge that you can bring into your own world. 

Speaking of sharing worlds, you did that on a massive scale by playing at Coachella last year. You’re the first Arab artist to perform in Arabic at that festival, and it’s kind of shocking that it took so long for that milestone to happen. What does that experience mean to you?

I like to look at the bigger picture; you know, it was very exciting, and it's not only for me, it's for our culture, for our people. It was an honor singing at an iconic festival, and I do not want to be the last person that performs there in Arabic. 

It was a moment that I feel like we needed for our culture, and I was surprised by how many people saw that performance — I didn’t expect it, so many people were there from completely different cultures, probably not knowing what I was saying, but they still loved it. 

That mirrors your interest in and embrace of always experiencing and looking for something new, giving that to the audience, too. 

Exactly. It was new to me, too, because Coachella was really my first real performance. I'm there thinking that's a lot of responsibility on me now, so I have to make it work, to make it the best I can. I was able to bring the belly dancing, the tribal fusion dancing, all these elements that we have in our culture, like the coins on my hips — it means a lot to me that people took it in like that. 

Empress Of Is Here 'For Your Consideration': How Heartbreak, Horniness & Self-Acceptance Led To An Actualized Album