Five minutes with… Monique Bingham
Monique Bingham is the soulful House songstress from New York who has become a staple in the Mzantsi music scene. After 20 years in the music business she finally has an album out. We caught up with her to talk about why she loves this local audience, her favourite local producers and Jazz.
Tell us about your childhood, do you come from a musical family?
No, there weren’t any musicians in my family. My mother noticed that I would make up songs, so she got me a keyboard – I was about 10 years old. I’ve been banging away ever since. Every couple of years I would upgrade a little bit to a better keyboard. It just sort of happened.
Do you play any instruments?
I don’t, I play bass really badly. I played bass for the first time on a recording with Deep in the Bottom, the new record with [DJ] Black Coffee. That is me on bass. That’s why it’s so simple. I just love to write songs, and the obviously get actual musicians to play.
Has your career always been in house? If not what music were you making in the beginning?
I wanted to be a jazz musician. I started off with Abstract Truth – serious jazz musicians. It was a remix of the song We Had a Thing, by Matty Heilbronn, that sucked me in to the House scene. House producers just started calling me.
Who are your favourite Jazz Musicians?
Ella Fitzgerald is my vocal hero. Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, those are the people I listened to as I was crate digging through my mother’s records as a young girl. My mother and her friends always talked about jazz.
Do you feel you have to conform to genres or is it all about the music for you?
It’s just about the music. I’ve never felt limited to House. The only limitation with house is the BPM: singing between 123 and 128. I’m getting faster as I get older, I’m finding [laughs]. I’m just writing songs. The song I did with Louie Vega song Elevator, is a jazz record. I feel like house is so wide open, you can be anything.
You are in Mzantsi a lot, how does that work itself out with the people in your life?
The song Pap is really about that…16 hours each way is getting to be too much [laughs]. I’ve been here a couple of months with the album coming out and so many dates, I can’t be flying back and forth to New York. I’m getting old.
I love coming here. I wish they still had the Concorde, back in the day it would take you from New York to Tokyo in like five hours then I could go back and forth. This happens to be the territory where House music is loved and embraced the most but I love coming here.
What makes the South African live audience different from others around the world?
In the States, especially in New York, House is underground so the crowds are small. Here there’s so much more love, you play it on the radio and it’s part of everyday life.
What have you picked up about the South African music and culture here?
You what I have really noticed? I’m from New York but my people came from Jamaica, so I’m a Caribbean person, and I’ve noticed similarities in the music. The beats are very Caribbean, which I guess is true of African music. I don’t understand why reggae isn’t bigger here.
Who would you love to collaborate with in future?
Everyone asks me that and I shoot for Quincy Jones. But there are new cats doing new things, I don’t know the producer or the singer for this record, Mamelodi, that’s out now…that is the jam! I don’t know those people are and that’s how I feel about production. I don’t need to know who you are but if you have something hot, I’ll work on it.
What can your fans expect from the album?
It came out on the 2nd of October. It’s a double disc with 26 tracks. Poor People is on there, The Pap is on there, Take me to my Love, Don’t You Love me…just 20 years’ worth of stuff. So a lot.
Your read of Osunlande was great. The country is not without problems but his “assessment” was very disrespectful.
My read you say? People said that, and honestly I’m not that sort of person. My mother did not appreciate all the profanity. I saw people responding to his post saying, “oh I was gonna go to South Africa now I’m not gonna go,” and that’s where I was like, “OK, somebody has to say something.” I’ve been coming here for four years, I thought I could speak to this and speak to him in a way he will understand.
He was coming at South Africa with an American point of view. Sometimes, we as black folk think we can talk to each other however we want. We can’t. Especially when you are from the West but not of the West, of Africa but not from Africa, I think you have to have a respect level. We all know there is a huge income disparity that cuts across racial lines. You just got finished with apartheid 10 minutes ago. For him to be, in my opinion, so judgemental and paint anyone in that brush as though they are complicit in their oppression was just beyond the pale. It’s not right to go to New York and Europe and then say international artists shouldn’t come to South Africa, it’s hypocrisy.
I don’t like doing that sort of thing on social media and I probably won’t do it again because it’s just so emotional. Hundreds of people giving their opinions, although they were overwhelmingly positive, you only really remember the digs. But somebody had to say something. I’m glad I did.
You are performing with Micasa LIVE @ Bassline, how are you feeling about that?
It’s going to be so exciting! I just started this year performing with a live band. These guys are Jazzmeloz from Tembisa, and the young ladies I’m with today…the whole band is South African. I’m getting on stage and interacting with musicians, which is something new as a house artist it’s usually singing over tracks. You don’t get to have much fun because there is no spontaneity. I’m excited about doing a full set with the band, and Micasa are so great and so huge. They have a large following and I think it will bring diverse tastes to the room.
Kaya has been so supportive, must shout out Greg Maloka, he has always supported what I do.
Buy tickets for the last Live @Bassline featuring Monique Bingham and Micasa. Listen to Monique perform live on Kaya. Best of the Last is out in good music stores.
What is your favourite Monique Bingham song?