Film by: Homer and Farley
My name is Lafawndah—people seem to have a hard time pronouncing it—and I am a musician.
Tell us about the early days; what was your vision when you set out? Have things played out how you expected?
In the early days there wasn't so much of a vision but an urge, a necessity, it was an urge to make music because I couldn't really see the thing I wanted to hear. There wasn't really any other vision than that. There was an urgency to say things in a loud way. For a very long time, I was making music in the basement of a squat in Paris, with a lot of humidity, rats and a really bad mic so there wasn’t really any room for a vision. I would say that little by little it became more and more clear that I just wanted to make music.
I was always a bit distressed when a signer comes on a beat, and there's always so much room. It sounded so kind and nice and I was never attracted to that. I wanted to have some kind of tension between the two. I think it was always more interesting for me to start composing, it would make me want to get into all the places where there was room, like a carpet for vocals to be layered over. The vision was always to have some kind of container to be able to have people in and out of the project, that's why it’s not my real name. I wanted it to be like a box for things to happen, to move and take different shapes. I think the initial vision that happened has gone far beyond what I could have imagined.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell her that everything looks like it’s not going to be possible, and that I’m sorry that's how it looks, and there's not much that you can look up to but in fact, you can just pave. I would tell her to find ‘the others’ and it looks likes there aren't any but that there are always ‘the others’, they're just not around right now and it’s feel really lonely but they will come around. Be patient, because you will find ‘the others’ and everything is going to feel possible.
What are your thoughts on modern day creative, music and fashion industry?
We have access to a lot of excitement, talking about ‘the others’ I think it is a really good time in history to be able to do that. I think it’s less lonely for people who are not represented in a larger way and I think it makes a lot of people strive in a very special and new way. It’s extremely valuable to be able to see beyond what's right in your neighbourhood or your country. This gives birth to a lot of amazing art because it emboldens people to do stuff they might not have the courage to do, so I’m quite excited to be part of that moment in history. But there's also stuff that I’m a bit worried about, of course. I'm thinking about Instagram a lot and I feel like our brains got hijacked and we were all like “yeah please take our brains away”. I’m mostly trying to think about how to navigate privacy, how to navigate engaging with other people, what it is I want to say, what it is I want to keep for myself, how much I want to participate. I think that it is very close to a serious addiction, and that also has consequences on creativity, self-care and self-esteem.
How would you describe your sound?
I don’t describe my sound. I’ve tried to describe it too many times, but it just is what it is.
Where did you grow up and how has that shaped your sound?
I grew up in the suburbs of Paris, I was surrounded by mostly white people listening to a lot of emotional 90’s, love songs I guess. A lot of Alanis Morissette, a lot of chokers, a lot of stuff that it was hard to relate to at the time, but its coming out in very surprising ways. I also don't think that what I was listening to when growing up has shaped my music. Life did. My music was shaped by what the people were listening to around me, a lot of gospel, a lot of classical, a lot of Persian folk. I was obsessed with grunge of course. There’s the other places I lived in, all the people I love, all my friends, all of that is adding up.
Will we see a kind of political statement in your music?
For me it’s weird, because I feel like that question is not for people of colour. I feel like my entire life, me being in front on this camera and answering these questions, is a political statement. Me waking up every morning is a political statement, and me putting my vagina on stage a few times a year is a political statement. My life and a political statement have never been separate.
Who are your female role models?
Usually, I like them strong, and I like them one-of-a kind, and I like the ones who open the highways for everyone else. My grandmother is definitely one of them. I recently collaborated with Midori Takada, a Japanese composer, who has been my role model for a few years now. Yesterday I was listening to Missy Elliot all day, she's one of my role models. The people who have been making space for everyone to come after are usually the ones.
Do you see yourself as a role model?
I don't think it’s for a person to consider themselves as a role model but I think that having the consciousness, that whenever you choose to put yourself in a situation and be seen by larger numbers, that part of my job is to be public, I think with this there comes responsibility, for sure. Whatever people want to do with that, that's not my thing to say.
For any women out there who are looking to break into music, what's your advice on where they should begin?
Clarity, to come into a situation with a really strong core, because it’s very easy to be a branch. You will find yourself with people who are not like you, who will think they know better, and who will project a lot of things on you. I think that if you come as a tree instead of as a branch you’ll be much harder to move around. People will also have a lot of respect for that and will back off, it's very important. Unfortunately, if you are not clear it's very easy to be shuffled around.
Tell us about the new EP collaboration 'Le Renard Bleu’
‘Le Renard Bleu’ is a 20-minute track that I have collaborated with Midori Takada. First of all, she is one of my role models, musically, spiritually and creatively. I went to Japan to be with her for two weeks and we worked on this track. She composed the bare structure, I wrote the lyrics with my partner, and we had this beautiful time. It was kind of my favourite musical moment ever.
The story started because I needed money for mixing my other project and I asked my friends, I was like “I’ll do anything, and by anything I mean anything”, so it was a bit of an absurd situation where I was begging for any kind of job and they came back to me, “do you want to work with your hero?”.
She had an idea as she’s kind of obsessed with the Dogon people from Mali, who have a really complex mythology. They have a special relationship to cosmos and have figured out things that we’re only really catching up with now, and without any access to technology. In Japan there's a figure of the fox, a kind of rebellious figure, very chaotic, good chaos I call it. Some people really like the fox and some people don’t. I’m really interested in it, and it was her idea to make a song about it.
The worlds of music and fashion have always been tightly interlinked, how is fashion importance to what you do?
Fashion is really important to what I do. Well, clothes are. I know that there’s a lot of politics around how to navigate the relationship, but what works is when it serves the actual purpose, which is music-making and whether a brand facilitates that.
What brands are you wearing?
Who are we shouting? This is the moment where I shout out all the homies. I really love Luar from, New York. For a few years we’ve been dealing with the idea of future, but in the way that people were imagining it twenty years ago. We’re still catching up to Missy Elliot basically. It’s twenty years later, can we not see the future of the 90’s? I think Luar is the future, in a contemporary way.
What are you listening to right now?
At the moment I'm actually quite obsessed with Rosalía, she is a flamenco singer from Spain and she did her first pop tune a month ago. I think the intersection of someone who has mad skills, who is extremely charismatic, but who crosses over in a very elegant way to what a white audience can relate to. I think this is a very rare intersection. I know that even after, there might not be an after, but it won't be a fashion thing with her. She is just an amazing performer, amazing singer, and now she's doing something in pop and it's so tasteful. And then there is Elheist, an MC and a singer from South London. She’s very talented, and you will be hearing more things coming your way very soon. I’m very excited about her!
What’s next for Lafawndah?
I’m releasing a project called ‘The Honey Colony II’ soon, it's a project that I'm doing once a year, where I don't sing but only produce, and I take other people’s vocals, mostly friends. That's coming out soon. Then I have a single coming out after that which I’m really excited to share. There’s is a lot of stuff coming your way.
Watch Le Renard Bleu by Midori Takada & Lafawndah Buy and download Le Renard Bleu by Midori Takada & Lafawndah