Ahead of the second annual Same Same But Different Festival coming to beautiful Lake Perris on September 20th and 21st, I had the chance to share a moment with the cosmic being that is Mimi Zulu.
Mimi Zulu is a phenomenal artist based out of San Diego that will be gracing the stage of SSBD on Saturday the 21st with her powerful words, smooth vocals, and ethereal presence. She has become a staple of the San Diego music scene, and I feel so privileged to have been able to get to know Mimi, her mind, and her music before the festival.
Mia: How did you first discover your voice?
Mimi: I discovered that I enjoyed singing when I was a kid. When I thought that I may have a voice, I was listening to a song called “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. That was the first song that I thought, “Hey I can actually sing along to this.” I was a young girl at the time, but I worked really hard on finding strength in my voice. Also, my grandmother was a singer and she passed right before I was born. She had to give up her singing because my grandfather wanted her to have children and to just be a family. And so they had 12 children. I feel that when I was born, it was kind of my grandmother’s second chance to do what she always wanted to do. And I always feel her with me.
Do you think that your parents’ musical tastes play an influence now in your “experimental soul” sound?
Mimi: Yeah. I grew up listening to so many styles of music, I think that’s why I’m into so many now. Growing up my mom really liked Motown and Soul music, yet my father liked Led Zeppelin, CCR and Rock music. And when I was in second grade, my mom bought me my first album which was Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. When I got that I was like, “Oh yeah I’m a music freak.” And I’ve always been a music freak since then.
Mia: Do you have any artists that have inspired you?
Mimi: Billie Holiday. Prince…He is my everything. I love Björk. Erykah Badu. Nirvana.
Mia: I was hoping you’d say Erykah. You give me some similar vibes.
Mimi: Well I think we are about the same age, so we probably grew up listening to the same stuff and had similar influences. It’s kind of interesting to have discussions with other artists and think “we have something in common” and then you meet them and you’re right.
Mia: Identity has so much to do with what we are putting out into the world. What words, cultures, and titles do you identify as? Who is Mimi Zulu?
Mimi: A human being. That’s my number one. I like being considered human. I like being considered a Queen. I definitely feel like I’m an artist. A freedom fighter. Definitely down with that for the long haul.
Mia: What is your favorite part of being a woman?
Mimi: Well you know, once a month, sometimes I’m like, “Damn, it’s so hard to be a woman.” But I feel that there is a lot of power that we have as women. If we can tap into that power, we have some amazing energy work that we can do. We are very connected. I mean we all are. I’m only speaking as a woman because I am one, but I’m sure men feel the same way. I feel blessed to have a special connection to the sun, the moon, the stars and the Earth. And I feel like that is a very womanly thing.
Mia: What are your favorite ways to practice self care?
Mimi: Going to the beach and breathing. Practicing yoga. Massage is very important. Staying around people that have good energy. That’s big. Being a writer and performer, people want to come to me with their “hard stuff,” and it gets hard for me to handle all of that. So I have a lot of feathers, minerals, rocks and sage all around me all the time. That’s huge in my life.
Mia: I feel the same way as you. Do you feel spirituality comes into play daily for you? Would your career be the same without it?
Mimi: I feel having my career in music has kept me healthier in those ways. I am able to practice all of that much deeper because I’m constantly writing and reaching out to other human beings. I think it’s all tied together. If you give yourself time, the closer you feel to that. Does that make sense?
Mia: It absolutely does. If you ever feel “off” how do you come back from that? What steps do you take to get back into the zone?
Mimi: That’s weird that you bring that up, because last week I did have a really tough week.
Mia: I’m sorry to hear that.
Mimi: Thank you. I just think that sometimes everything that is going on in the world just gets really heavy to me. Last week was just a crazy week; the energy of people in my life, and people in general, just fighting and arguing. All of the political things that are going on. Everything! It definitely throws me off. It almost felt like everything I’m doing meant nothing. I felt kind of hopeless. I felt like I’m trying so hard to spread all of this love and positive energy, then I look at the news and think, “Oh my God, what is going on?” But what brings me back is finding like-minded people and connecting with them. That feels like hope. When you meet someone and they’re like, “Yeah! I know what you mean!” It makes me feel like I’m not crazy and that there is hope. Like-minded people and music bring me back when I start to feel like there is nothing.
Mia: Thank you for sharing that with me.
Mimi: Well, it’s funny that you asked, because I had a really hard time. I had to go the beach and stare at the water and go back to the Earth, back to the start. There are so many things going on. I just watched that Central Park Five documentary and things like that are so moving, and so incredible. Us as human beings can withstand so many things. So I know what is going on right now is something that we can endure, and we will come back together because of it.
Mia: We will prevail. I believe it.
Mimi: Me too. I’m back now.
Mia: Good to hear. And you mentioned earlier that going to the beach was grounding for you in hard times. Obviously that is something that comes with living in San Diego. Has the city impacted you at all?
Mimi: I’ve been here for 13 years. And living here has changed everything. I came from Indianapolis which is completely different. I grew up always knowing and always aware of the wrong things going on. So moving out here, you see the differences. My friends that were born and raised in San Diego had a completely different childhood than I did. Not that one was better or worse, they are completely different. And it’s nice to learn from people and learn from each other. If we don’t do that we stay stagnant. I think being here has been good for me and for other people here. And to have the ocean, you feel so small. Not that I feel insignificant, but that I feel a part of it all. In Indiana, it’s a whole different feeling. I almost felt like I didn’t have a voice. It’s a hard and small-minded place to grow up. But if it wasn’t for that, maybe I wouldn’t have fought so hard to have a voice.
Mia: Was music what brought you to San Diego?
Mimi: Actually, no. That’s a deep story. Lets just say that in Indiana, I had to start my life completely over with nothing. When that loss of everything material happened, it was a feeling of “Well, now I can go anywhere and start over.” San Diego sounded like a great idea, but it was very expensive. So I had some time in Arizona before ending up here. And that’s where I met a drummer, we jammed, and I got sucked back into music. When it’s in you, you can’t help it.
Mia: So, is there a specific moment in your past that drove you to pursue music?
Mimi: Yes, moving here [to San Diego]. At that same time I had a friend pass suddenly and I kept hearing his voice in my head saying “What’s wrong with you?” and “Why aren’t you doing music? It’s what you do.” He was just such a huge support in my life. and I kept thinking “I’m alive” and “Maybe I’ll do it, but maybe just open mic.” I was always recording at home and being creative, even if it wasn’t for other people. But honestly, death is a very strange thing for me. When that friend passed, and when Michael Jackson passed, it kind of kicked me to do music. It’s this weird feeling of having to do it and share it, because you just never know. I think that was 2009. And I thought “Let’s just do it.” So I made a new album and went solo. And then Prince died, and I thought, “This is what I’m going to do.” I felt a huge responsibility to constantly share that love and energy that he taught us. It gave me this momentum that I had nothing to lose. And now, with my group, we are very creative and everyone feels very grateful for any opportunity. We write open-heartedly. It’s the best environment I’ve ever been in. No drama. Very safe and wonderful. And really, I was just going with the flow.
Mia: What has been your biggest career milestone?
Some of the shows I’ve gotten to play the past few years have totally blown me away. I’ve gotten to open up for Ibeyi, Macy Gray, Ben Harper, Chromeo, and Thievery Corporation. I’ve just had these great experiences of being able to sing to people that don’t know me yet. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and my fans that are always there. But it is so invigorating to perform at a show that isn’t my show because it’s a whole new experience. The love and the conversations after make me feel like I’m actually making a difference. If I ever felt like I wasn’t making a difference, I don’t know what I’d do. I think I’d be really sad. Those shows have been very moving to me, because we are all human beings and it’s really nice to meet more human beings that have made a difference in my own life. All of those people have inspired my own life, so getting to perform before them has been an honor. So really, feeling honored has been the huge milestone. I don’t expect anything. I’m always tickled.
Mia: So when I was reading up on you and watching your videos, the word that instantly came to mind was “ethereal.” I feel like that comes from the confidence that you exude. How did you find that confidence?
Mimi: I think that confidence comes from being open to what I feel like I’m supposed to be receiving and what I am meant to share. I feel like I have a job to do. I have work to do, and to share with people. The confidence comes from knowing that I am supposed to be an artist. I truly believe in love, and sharing that as much as possible. I think that’s what that “ethereal” feeling is. The love. Everyone feels our music their own way, but it’s a very loving thing that I feel I am supposed to be doing.
Mia: So, what’s next?
Well, Same Same But Different! I’m really excited about it and what the energy is going to feel like. I also host a show once a month called “Metamorphosis” at the US Grant Hotel in Downtown San Diego. It’s where I get to present local artists each month and do a lot of experimental jamming with them. And I’m in the middle of recording, so we are going to have a new EP coming out soon that I’m really excited about. I love sharing music and this is the first EP made with the new band, so it’s kind of like a new baby. All new music, and it’s all sounding wild and cosmic.