Mainstream/pop seems to be shorthand for $hit music that makes someone a lot of money and is designed for mass consumption primarily by children.
So no, I have never been tempted to make $hitty music for kids.”
Though somewhat reluctant to be crowned the ‘queen of Soulful House’ Monique Bingham’s two decades of producing thoughtfully crafted music has placed her in the realm of House Music royalty.
In the first part of our rather intense interaction with the muso, she talked about how she manages to stay in love with the music, the creative process behind her musical gems and still having to put out her debut album after 20 years in the industry.
Join us in the second and last part of our journey as the intriguing Monique chats about creating her runaway hit, ‘Take Me to My Love’, being ‘cursed’ with depth, while she pulls the proverbial middle finger to the mainstream.
Your soulful-jazz dominated sound is often regarded as being quite ‘niche’. Have there ever been moments where you have been tempted to go ‘pop/mainstream’?
Monique Bingham: Mainstream/pop seems to be shorthand for $hit music that makes someone a lot of money and is designed for mass consumption primarily by children.
So no, I have never been tempted to make $hitty music for kids.
But tempted to be ridiculously wealthy?
Especially when the musical bar seems to be set so low you could step over it.
I would love the creative freedom that wealth could provide.
My horn section on my next album would be sick!
They don’t call it ‘selling out’ because you don’t get paid.
But alas I have been cursed with depth.
The mainstream is where art goes to die”
How do you balance the need to ‘keep it real’ with the need to pay the bills?
Monique Bingham: I worked a job for 20 years that’s how.
Music started paying some of my bills like a minute ago and I may go back to the day gig if no one buys this upcoming album!
There is no shame in an honest day’s work doing whatever you have to do and I mean that.
You know that show ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’?
They interview Hollywood stars and at the end they ask ‘what job would you hate to do?’
These spoiled motherf@*#ers are like ‘oh I would hate to sell insurance or work in an office’ or something…
F@#k you bitch. People do what they have to do to survive.
Being a recording artist hasn’t been a profession for even 100 years and it is not written that it will remain a profession.
Betting one’s life on a music career was (and is now more than ever) a seriously risky thing to do.
It does not work out for 90% of those who attempt it.
Making music is a rapturous orgasmic riddle that I will spend the rest of forever trying to solve and no one can ever take that from me.
But trying to figure out how to make it pay your bills and keep you comfortable without compromising that experience?
Sorry kids bad news.
It’s a beast out there so saddle up for real long f@#ked up ride!
What elements from the ‘commercial/pop’ scene do you think artists that are regarded as ‘niche or underground’ can incorporate into their work to enhance it?
Monique Bingham: Nothing.
The mainstream is where art goes to die.
It is the opposite of what we are supposed to be doing down here.
This is where the trends are set and the boundaries are pushed.
Any underground artist who thinks commercial success ‘enhances their work’ is not an artist, but a mercenary, an @#hole who is part of the problem.
Niche artists lead, the mainstream follows.
And when we die everyone pretends to have been listening to us for years.
My man Black Coffee said it best in a documentary I saw. He said he went all over the globe just to realise he has the best House scene in the world right in his backyard.”
Every collaboration with Ralf Gum has been quite magical for lack of a better word. Tell us a bit about working with Ralf?
Monique Bingham: Thank you for the compliment.
We have been incredibly lucky to have our projects received as well as they have been.
Both of us really care about every little detail.
It actually was ridiculously easy working with him for a while.
Truth be told it takes me a long time to write lyrics and record vocals but we always ended on the same page.
We hit our first impasse with ‘The Pap’ six years into our creative relationship and it was totally weird [laughs].
When you have two headstrong people who have definite ideas and have never really disagreed before it’s tough.
But you plow through because at the end of the day it has to come out, decisions have to be made.
It’s not personal.
We are both always focused on the production.
That’s why it works.
‘Take me to my Love’ became arguably the track for 2013. When you put it together with Ralf, did you foresee that it would have such a huge impact on radio and the club scene?
Monique Bingham: No way.
You can never tell because it’s not up to you.
It’s up to the universe.
You just give it your everything and then move on hoping it resonates.
That one took the standard year for me to write too [laughs].
Ralf gave me some tracks and I couldn’t come up with anything I loved to them.
So I actually demoed TMTML from scratch in my studio with a vocal and my little bass, drums, keys and Ralf built a monster out of it.
That thing hits from the first note.
You know as singers we live with these songs for a long time if we’re lucky.
Producer/DJs are through with them after they are finished recording and play them out for a while.
But I have been singing ‘We had a thing’ since 1998!
If I get stuck with a song I am unhappy with I am literally stuck with it forever.
So I take my time and in the case of TMTML it was really worth it.
That one will endure…pats back
Are there any other South African producers/singers you would love to work with?
Monique Bingham: Oh yeah of course.
I am working now with Black Coffee on a new track for the ‘Best of the Last’ album and was so happy to snag Chymamusique for the ‘Bloody Lucky’ remix.
He did a beautiful job.
The future is wide open and the more time I spend in the country the more time I will have to make real connections with more artists.
[There is] so much talent in SA.
…there is nothing worse than listening to the radio in SA and hearing some hip-hop record with some lazy American Southern accented vocal and finding out the rapper’s from like Mamelodi or something.”
In what ways do you think the South African House Music scene can improve itself in terms of production, vocals and organisation in the industry?
Monique Bingham: I don’t know if I’m in a position to lecture SA on improving the industry.
As far as organisation regarding House Music: you all could teach the world a thing or two!
In the US, Soulful House is underground.
My man Black Coffee said it best in a documentary I saw. He said he went all over the globe just to realise he has the best House scene in the world right in his backyard.
You have real raw talent and an energy unmatched by anything we have in the US.
You have a viable platform for house music, myriad festivals and major national radio play and prime time television shows that showcase House DJs!
That is unheard of in the US.
I would say stay sound focused where the US is image focused.
Keep your culture and your music together.
For example there is nothing worse than listening to the radio in SA and hearing some hip-hop record with some lazy American Southern accented vocal and finding out the rapper’s from like Mamelodi or something.
It’s like uh… the worst of Black American music culture is being consumed and regurgitated in Africa.
It’s like W.E.B. Dubois worst nightmare.
Not much is known about your personal life. How have you managed to maintain this ‘mystique’ of sorts?
Monique Bingham: It’s easy to have a ‘mystique’ in the age of oversharing.
All you need do is mind your own f#@king business and just do your work.
When everyone else seems to be posting every single thought they have and pictures of every place they went and what they wore and what they ate and the constant unsolicited insights into every f@$king current or random event, all you have to do is have some modicum of modesty and boom, instant mystique.
I am notoriously quiet on social media.
It feels like I’m in a room and everyone is shouting different unrelated things at the same time.
Tragedy, then comedy, then porn, then ‘happy birthday grandma’.
It’s like a bad surrealist poem that won’t end.
The song ‘Outta Sight’ with DJ Christos is about my aversion to social media.
Monique Bingham: Briefly, I have been living in glorious sin for over 15 years with the hippest, most righteous Nuyorican Negro Spanish Harlem has ever produced and I have loved him since the day he told me to stop straightening my hair and read ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X.’
He was 15 and I was 14.
We have no kids because we travel a lot for business and pleasure.
Can’t go to Tokyo for the weekend on a whim when you’re breast feeding right? (Sidenote: I have never gone to Tokyo for the weekend on a whim but that’s what people who do not have kids say instead of we like to sleep late and have lots of good sex and marijuana without kids bugging us every day for food and shelter)
Away from the music what are some of the things you enjoy doing?
Monique Bingham: Base jumping.
Every chance I get. (Sidenote: I have never base jumped) The real answer would ruin the mystique you said I have.
WITH MONIQUE BINGHAM