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Interview: Singer Melly B or The Girl with the Big Pipes

Her name is Melly B—B as in Bosschaart, and Melly as in Mélina, and when you hear her sing a note, you’re certain you’ve heard a voice like hers before—but yet there is this other feeling that indicates that you haven’t. Or if you have—well—know that this Melly B’s musical style is not factory mahogany—but the pure type—the type that importers give top money for.

Bosschaart was born in Haiti to a Dutch father and a Haitian mother (the two met while the future Mrs. Bosschaart was vacationing in Europe, and after marrying, they settled in Haiti). Her music mirrors her background: soulful with European inflections.

Her songs are rarely upbeat, and will leave most listeners pensive. A lover’s lamentation about still holding on to a flame after a man’s heartless desertion, the song “Miles Away” has Melly B doing all sorts of vocal acrobatics, reminiscent of the throaty vocals of Joan Armatrading—the 60s and 70s singer-songwriter—and 90s singer Jewel, Pieces of You era.

Miss Bosschaart gives all that she has in the song “Ayiti”. It’s almost as if she felt that the more she gave of herself to the song, somehow…the more Haiti would get some energy towards some sort of transformation. Her style is formulated so that she can touch as many people as she can. A song like “I Don’t Wanna Cry” is so country, you can almost picture cowboy-hatted gents and flower-hat wearing dames dancing to it. “Adieu” is a French-language song and towards the middle, there is an unexpected rap verse.

Q & A

Kreyolicious: How would you describe your style? I don’t like to limit myself to one specific style, but I would say that my style is a mixture of urban, afro-beat, and soul.

Kreyolicious: Do you remember your first performance ever? To be honest, I don’t remember my first performance, but I do remember my first performance in front of a really large audience, which was in Haiti. I remember being so nervous before I got on stage, but once I started singing it felt like all the noise and everyone one around me was gone, it was just me and that microphone. After the performance I thought to myself, I wish I could do this every day.

Kreyolicious: That song “I Don’t Wanna Cry” has some serious country music inflections in it. Are you a fan of country music? I am a fan of any type of music. For me, the important thing is that a song can move me, make me feel a certain type of emotion. But to be honest, the only music that I haven’t developed a real appreciation for—yet—is heavy metal.

Kreyolicious: You were born in Haiti. At which point, did you move to Canada? After having lived in Holland for a while, my parents had decided that it would be a good idea for me to go to Haiti, where my mother was living at the time. But after a few months in Haiti my parents were worried about my safety due to all the kidnappings and problems in the country at the time. At that point, an opportunity for me to attend a really good school in Vancouver Island came up—and since they had a really impressive arts program—the decision was quickly made. I think I was 15 when I moved to Canada.

Kreyolicious: And somehow you ended up in Holland?  After I finished high school, I knew I wanted to continue my studies in Europe. Since Holland was a place where I lived before, and my father was there to help me, it just felt like I was just going back to my second home.

Kreyolicious: You studied audio engineering and actually have a degree in Audio Production. How important do you think it is for a woman artist to have a part in the behind-the-scenes process of her music? Often women artists don’t have an understanding of what happens behind the scenes of their music. For me at least, it was important to learn all that, because now I can be effective in telling another engineer or a producer what I want, or why something is not working for a specific track. In my studies I also had to learn the business side of music, so now I don’t ever have to sign a contract—for example—without having some type of understanding, and having to rely on someone else to tell me wether it’s right or not. I also did not want to just be “the voice”. I want to help others with their careers and produce, and own a studio.

Kreyolicious: How do your parents feel about music being such a big part of your life? I think I am lucky, because my parents have always supported my choices. I think also because the arts have always played a big role in their lives. I remember as a young girl watching my mother in her dance classes—which I think is how I started with dance. My father is also an artist. He designs unique furniture with a combination of materials, and [does] sculptures. They never doubted my abilities, and are still doing all they can so that I can live my dreams.

Kreyolicious: What artists do you find inspiring? Some artists that have inspired me are: Lauryn Hill, Nneka, Nina Simone, Tracy Chapman—just to name a few.

Kreyolicious: Haiti obviously inspired your song “Ayiti”. Did the beat and lyrics come easily?  Haiti has always had a dear place in my heart, even after being away for so long. I wrote the song “Ayiti” when I was in Canada. I remember sitting in front of the piano in the music room of my school, feeling a bit sad because I was missing some aspects of my life of when I lived in Haiti. As I started to improvise, the words just came to me easily, because I knew exactly what I wanted to say. That was also the first song I ever wrote in Creole. At the time, I didn’t have much audio knowledge, but I felt like I did the best I could with the resources I had. The feedback I had from this song really encouraged me to continue on this path.

Kreyolicious: And the song “Adieu”? I think I took a bit of a chance with “Adieu”, because it was the personal experience of someone I knew at the time. The beat production was made by a schoolmate of mine at the time, Shervin Naimi, I had the idea but did not know how to execute it, which is when I asked for his help.

Kreyolicious: That song “Bring Me Back to Life” is not the cookie cutter love song.  “Bring Me Back to Life” is about a woman desperately trying to hold on and get the love that she needs from a man who is afraid of commitment. I think this is a story that many women can relate to. It is a story that I have lived, and dealt with it in the best way I knew how, wrote a song. After taking a small “break” from my own music to do my studies, I wanted my new song to be something that many could relate to, and something I could truly show emotion, so I chose to share something personal. I am quite happy with this song, I feel that it is more mature than my previous work and shows more experience. The song is written and produced by me.

Kreyolicious: What’s life like in Amsterdam? I really enjoy living in Amsterdam. It is such a diverse and open minded place. Till today I am always amazed by the beauty of the architecture and the cute little streets. I think anyone who has the opportunity should visit.

Kreyolicious: Is there a big community of Haitians there? I don’t think there is a big Haitian community here, I have never met another Haitian since I have been here.

Kreyolicious: Most female artists would like their songs to speak for themselves, but then, sometimes the labels that package their music, or even other powers that be, often craft this image for them, that is often far from who they are—but that some deem necessary in order to sell the music. For me, being myself is really important. I am still young. Everyday I learn something new about myself—which is why I think my music and my look is constantly changing. I don’t want to be put in a box and to be told who I am suppose to be. Yes, I would love to be able to sell lots of music and live from that, but not if that is costing me who I am, and my dignity. Individuality should be celebrated. If everyone looks and sounds a certain way, then to me that is boring.

Kreyolicious: In most of your songs, there is this recurring melancholy. What is the most painful things that has happened to you so far?  I think my parent’s divorce was really hard for me, because I was really young and never really understood it. It was also from that point that a lot of the moving around started, So I was often the new girl, and often had to say goodbye to people I started to care about. But I do understand it now and I love my parents. I think given the circumstances and sometimes the distance, they have done more than a good job raising me.

Kreyolicious: You lived in Haiti up until you were a teen, but have been bouncing everywhere from Canada to Guadeloupe. Has it been easy calling somewhere other than Haiti home?  At this point, I don’t really know where to call home. Even when I visit Haiti now, I feel like a stranger. But for now, I have my own place in Amsterdam, and is where I am slowly building my adult life. I’m not sure where I will end up next, but to me my family is my home.

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