At the outset, Iyadede sounds like your typical Brooklynite. She makes and sells her own line of jewelry. She appears on an MTV show. She records hybridized, cutting-edge pop with a hint of soul. She’s stylish. She’s gorgeous. In other words, Brooklyn loves her.
But Iyadede’s history has made her one of the more thought-provoking artists in the borough these days. Hailing from Kigali, Rwanda, Iyadede fled the heinous genocide in the ’90s to bounce around Europe. She eventually moved to New York, dropped her debut album Talking to God, opened for Spoek Mathambo and Blitz the Amabassador, and embarked on her true artist’s destiny.
Despite all these changes, Iyadede’s history and art remain permanently intertwined. We spoke to the burgeoning singer/songwriter about DJing in Rwanda, Africa-inspired jewelry, and how her mother landed her MTV Iggy’s Artist of the Week crown.
Congratulations. At the final hour you came up and beat D’Banj for Artist of the Week! D’Banj is a pretty big star. Did you know you had that much support from your fans?
I’m psyched!!! D’banj is a big star, I know that, and I was already happy with being nominated because I though it would be normal for him to win this. But people were not giving up (especially my mother, ha ha) and I’m glad now…it always feels good to see the support. As artists that’s all we depend on, people pushing us and my fans and friends showed me a lot of love. That is PRICELESS.
Does the song “The Girl Who Fell to Earth” reference the David Bowie film The Man Who Fell to Earth? If so, what inspired the song? How do you connect with the film?
I can relate to the character in many ways, like being catapulted on an adventure by a bad event happening back home. Then evolving far away and having to learn about yourself in a brand new environment … I can relate to that feeling of loneliness and strangeness.
Of all the songs on your debut album Talking to God, “Brimstone and Fire” seems to deal with the most complex themes. What were you thinking about at the time that you wrote that song?
“Brimstone and Fire” touches on colonialism, war, racism, religion and how it affected me. These are all things that happen in the past but continue to have repercussions on our lives. It is not a anthem against anyone’s beliefs or faith. It was my truth at the time I wrote it. We have to be able to face and accept the truth before we move on and I wanted to express that.
It’s seems like there is a burgeoning scene in Brooklyn of artists and musicians originally from Africa. What’s brewing there?
It is true that Brooklyn is the home of a lot of artists from all over the world. I think its just nice and homey and it has a very chill energy that everyone can appreciate.
We heard that your mother was a DJ on the radio in Rwanda. Can you tell us about your memories of that time? What kind of music did you grow up with? How does it continue to be an influence?
She had a Saturday evening show on the radio and she played all the hits and she also did the news. She didn’t work with turntables but with the old school band tapes. But she doesn’t call herself a DJ, I call her that ha ha. Most people didn’t own TVs so radio was the entertainment. We even listened to comedy theater on the radio.
I remember being exposed to many different genres of music. I remember that at the beginning she had to go to work late nights at the radio which was like one block away. She would wait until I was asleep and go to work for a couple of hours. She would leave the radio on near my crib so I could hear her voice still…It made me see music as a soundtrack to your life. I remember that my sister would ask her to shout out her friends and that people always loved her for her work…The fact that my mom brought so much joy to people playing good music even saved our life on a couple of occasions.
With your music, and your blogging, and your Bowbi-Ladawa jewelry, you are creative in so many directions. What would you like to branch out into next? And would you say there is a common thread running through all of your projects?
I’m always concerned with pushing myself into doing what I love because I know it makes other people want to do the same. So I think that is the common thread in all of my projects to go for my dreams and ideas.
My main goal is to be able to give back to my parents and the people I love. I want to be able to pay the school fees of a long list of children back home, for example. So, if I can achieve to inspire and help, all that while making myself happy, I will be successful.
We read that Bowbi-Ladawa is inspired by the ex-Congolese President’s Mobutu’s second wife, Bobi Ladawa.
It was a little hint at the grandeur and decadence of that time. Congolese people in general are known for loving clothes and fashion. Some say it’s foolish, I think it’s a fun and ingenious way to make one’s life brighter. Bowbi is spelled as such because the logo is a cute little girl with a huge bow in her fro. And Dawa in swahili means medicine, so I made up my own meaning with everything, “cute medicine.” The “la” reminds me of French, which I speak fluently. And there you have Bowbi Ladawa, bold and decadent pieces, tied in the African tradition of personal expression through colors.
When did you start making music? How did it grow into your passion?
I was always singing. I loved musicals, I loved Annie Captain Eo and The Wiz like crazy as a child. Music was always playing in the house, in the car… and I just started imitating what I heard. I started writing poetry, then full songs once in Belgium. I found that I sort of understood harmonies, and the concept of song writing, rhymes, chorus. I followed up. I started realizing I wanted to do that only because anything that didn’t involve music or colors was boring to me and I was unable to focus. I did finish school with good grades, but my books had lyrics and drawings all over them. Eventually, I got noticed by different musicians, producers, and sound engineers. And then from there, one thing led to another.
What is your songwriting process like now? What tools do you start with?
It depends, sometimes I write with a beat, sometimes I just write lyrics in my head then when I get a chance I match that to a sound, I produce as well, I work with different programs. I make my sketches and roughs that way. Studio people love me because when they get tired I can get down and clean up and mix my own vocals too. I try to write playing the guitar, but I always prefer having a knocking beat to write to. I have awesome producers like Blessoill with his crazy beats (including “Brimstone and Fire”), Abdul, who is Nigerian and who brings out the African flavor, and The Music Geekz, and I’m working with all three and more on my new music.
Tells us about some of your activities with MTV Base Africa, like interviewing Alicia Keys. Are you working with them a lot?
It was like walking into the television and sitting with the superstar in it. Alicia is very graceful. MTV Base Meets is a show produced in South Africa. It brings together one international celebrity and a panel of young Africans in order to debate over important matters. We asked Alicia Keys about her involvement in fighting AIDS in the world and her foundation Keep a Child Alive. I know on what door to knock on when I go to South Africa! I know they will be playing my videos and they have been a great support so far.
We love the URL for your site, That Girl From Africa, and all the girls from Africa on the site. What do you wish more people knew about the girls from Africa?
We are individuals with dreams and aspirations and a lot of love…Our basic needs go beyond food and water and just like every other girl from (insert any other continent) we want to make the most of life, see, experience and grow in the world … since Africa is the motherland, we can say that we all are girls from Africa a little bit.
What is the next thing we should watch out for from you? What can you tell us?
I’m working on new music. I know you will love my next single and video coming up. The song is called “The Last Time.” I’m working on Bowbi-Ladawa. It’s a labor of love, so I take my time, not too long, but still. In the meantime, if you haven’t downloaded my free demo you must go to www.iyadede.bandcamp.com.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Only one? That’s so hard to answer! I have to give you a detailed list. A big record will involve Kanye West, William Orbit, Pharrell Williams, Matthew Herbert, Dev Hines, Daisuke Tanabe, Cassius, Air, The Roots, Big Krit, Spoek Mathambo, Alec Lomami, Cocknbull kid, Azari & iii, Blitz the Ambassador, Solange, Feist, Camille, Kalenna, Little Dragon, Cecile Kayirebwa, Viviane N’dour, Killer Mike, Kendrick Lamar, D’banj! among many.. that’s like a 10 hours long record….while I am at it, I’d love to write a song for Rihanna and Beyonce too (am I asking for too much?) …I hope not lol…. there’s a tiny part of my wish list out in the universe.