04 Oct China Moses
Photo: Sylvain Norget
Her father named her ‘China’ because she was fragile like porcelain. The sensitivity of her songwriting and the veracity of her speech have touch many. A conversation with a beautiful soul, raw, moving and real.
By Victoria Adelaide | OCT 23. 2017
Victoria Adelaide: China, what was the inspiration behind your name?
China Moses: My father gave it to me. I was supposed to be named Anais. When my father brought me back to my mother after they cleaned me up when I was born, he said that my name was China and my mother was way too tired to fight about that. He said it was because I was fragile like porcelain so he called me China, that simple.
VA: Have you been there?
CM: Yeah, I have actually, I’ve been to Shanghai, to Beijing… yeah, Shanghai is really cool. I went to the Great Wall, I performed in China; when I go on stage I’m like ‘Hey my name is John Woo’, and people are like ‘No, stop it’, I’m like ‘Yeah I am your country, all your country inside of me’ (laughs)!
VA: You share your time between Paris and New York. How different is it to be an artist, doing what you do whether you are in New York or in Paris?
CM: They are actually; it’s the audience that changes. You as a person, you do your best to stay who you are. As an artist, you don’t adapt to different places because you’re in different places. I don’t perform a lot in the States, I perform mainly in Europe and in Asia. India, Japan, Korea, yeah I get around. I’ve been touring for the past ten years of my life around the world. There are no differences as to how I am; every city has its own pulse, has its own vibrations, every audience, festival, it’s something different every night and you adapt accordingly.
VA: Nightintales, your latest album. You swing beautifully between Jazz and RnB. How would you define your style?
CM: My album is considered a jazz album. I’m a child of jazz and I do Black American Music. That’s how I would define it. I am a woman who was born in 1978, my influences are going to be varied and wild, that’s just me. I try to have a sound which is respectful of the past but clearly in the present. So I think with this album I finally found myself, and my sound has to have live instrumentation, musicians, we can play together in the same room. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like extra producing on top of a track – that’s what we did for this album – but it has to stay fresh and stay live, it has to have the input of other humans because the more the merrier. I’m just not the type of person who likes to work alone, it’s not fun working alone. I prefer to bounce off people’s energy and they bounce off mine and sometimes when you find the right musical partners, magic happens, and that’s what happened with this album. It doesn’t sound like anybody, I don’t want to sound like anybody, I shouldn’t have to. It’s what I’ve been trying to do my whole life; you try, you try. It’s like baking you know. You have this complicated recipe that you try to get right and you keep messing up, messing up until you get it right, and now I got it kind of right, so I keep on baking this recipe and try to make it better and better. I just try to be me, and have this vision, I don’t think that a jazz singer needs to only sing standards, I don’t think that it always has to be mellow. I don’t think a jazz singer cannot be energetic. For me, Ella Fitzgerald was just as energetic as Tina Turner, there is no difference for me. Those are two amazing vocalists and musicians. One dances around, shakes her legs, and the other one dances around with notes. It’s all the same and there shouldn’t be a difference, and I shouldn’t have to choose. I’m not saying that people put me in a box, you have to define a style so people can find you; there’s so many artists, so much music, you have to define yourself. So I would say I do ‘Jazzified Soul’.
VA: Do you see yourself as a story teller?
CM: Yeah! Every singer should. If a singer is not a story teller, then she should get the fuck out and change jobs, for real. Put down the mic. If you’re not telling a story when you’re singing, then what are you doing? It’s like, ‘Oh yeah yeah, pretty voice, greeaatt’. Telling a story is sharing emotions, that’s the job of the singer, it’s to convey emotions, a presence. You take everyday emotions and vocalize on them to one point, so if you are not working on that as a singer and you are more worried about your technique than your emotional portrayal and way of the words, then you’re doing it wrong, to me, but that’s just me.
VA: What inspires you to write?
CM: Oh lots of drunk nights (laughs)! Hanging with the boys, drinking a lot of champagne, traveling, meeting people, getting upset, crying, laughing, life! People’s stories, my life stories, but mostly other people’s stories. I think my writing comes from a place of angst. I’m just constantly worrying that I’m not going to do it right, or not portray things right, or not be heard or not be good enough. I think all my writing comes from a place of me worrying, am I good enough? So it pushes me to push myself out of my comfort zone, and every song I write, it’s me being out of my comfort zone, because there is nothing more vulnerable than writing.
VA: Being the daughter of Dee Dee Bridgewater, in which way do you think it impacted your career?
CM: It put very high expectations on me. So it made everything a little bit harder actually. Getting in the door is actually the easy part, it’s trying in into a career and longevity, and finding yourself as a human which is harder. That’s what we all deserve, that’s what we are trying to do, all scrambling and wondering ‘What the fuck am I doing here, why am I here, what’s happening, why did my parents make me, I don’t get it..’, to some extent that’s what we are all doing, just wondering, trying to figure something out. So, I’m blessed that my mom encouraged me; she is the one who told me that I had talent and I didn’t believe her. So now that I’m older, I can truly thank her, not only for pushing me out but for pushing me in, and pushing me and always reminding me that what makes me different, my weaknesses are my strengths. My voice is not a regular around-the-way voice. That’s a good thing! I always thought it was a bad thing because I don’t sound like everybody, I have this weird thing going on, and she always told me, ‘Just embrace it!’. I think her path, she created this path for herself that gave me a blueprint to walk along and to make my own personal modifications. I think it’s great! Of course it’s been hard, of course I have to measure up to a giant, but the whole thing is that I’m not a giant and I know that. I didn’t really ask for anything, kind of ended up with the chance of a lifetime to do this, because I have very loving parents who encouraged me. I’m lucky! I mean, the weight of people’s expectations is so nothing compared to the love that my parents gave me, and audiences, all the festivals, programmers and so many people involved, bringing the artist out of the dark, that pressure of expectations, people who are just like ‘Oh, she can’t sing like her mother’, you know, all that negativity, it doesn’t mean shit. Yes, it was hard, but we all have hard things to face, you just get shit done.
VA: On several occasions you’ve shared the stage with your mother. Do you ever plan to record together someday?
CM: We’re working on a project together, but it’s going to take some time. We recorded together before, she is on my first two albums, she is doing all my background vocals, which is funny. My mom and I, we do concerts together, which is amazing, she always knocks me out, she always reminds me that she is Dee Dee Bridgewater and it’s great. I learn more in one concert singing beside my mom than I learn in years. She doesn’t go easy on me and she expects me to do my best, so it’s no joke. Stepping up on stage with my mom, it’s like stepping into a ring and you know you’re going to get knocked out, but you’re going to do your best. So it’s a wonderful experience, I love singing with my mom, it’s the best seat in the world. Being on stage, being close to her, being able to see how she moves, how her fingers move, how she takes her breath, how she interacts with the audience. I’ve been observing her my whole life, and she is still my favorite artist on stage. I truly don’t think that there are many people who can beat my mom on stage, not even Mike Jagger; she is just this amazing incredible forest. I want to write songs for her…we have a beautiful relationship.
VA: You are on tour until the end of the year in the whole of Europe. How do you prepare for such a tour, do you eat a certain way, do you work out, meditate?
CM: Angélique Kidjo is telling me that she got into meditation. She is the most hyper woman I ever saw. I’ve really got to try this meditation thing but I don’t know how to get into it, I wanna go see her. I just don’t know how to be in that quietness, I get bored and I fall asleep and that’s it. She is going to mentor me a bit on that. Well I’m a bad girl (smiles). I drink, I just recently stopped smoking three days ago, I don’t know how long it’s going to last but I am not a smoker, I have to say it like that: ‘I Am Not A Smoker’. No, I don’t do anything special, but I have been working out regularly for two years, because I had health problems; you just got to exercise. I’m not built like my mom, my mom is so strong. She’s been doing this for over forty years, and she still has all this energy, and me, I’ve been just touring for ten years and I’m like, “Ooh, I don’t know how you do this’, and my mom is like, ‘Hey you want a Tequila shot?’ I’m like ‘Nooooo! Stop it woman!’ (laughs). She is just from another generation, like the old school car that never breaks down. I’m the new generation with all these little microshifts and shit; I’m breaking down all the time. I’ve learned that I need to work out, no matter what I’m doing, I need to work out. It doesn’t mean that I stop drinking, because I love my champagne way too much. I honestly believe that human beings, we have a tendency to build beautiful things and break something else, so I have to keep some sort of balance.
VA: André Manoukian sees you as a joyous person . Would you say that this is a good definition of your character?
CM: Yeah, that’s pretty much me. We’ve been working together for almost three years, so he pretty much knows who I am. I remember when I played him the album for the first time, two years ago, he was blown away, he was like ‘What!? What did you do?’, and I couldn’t find a label to release it. I went to all the people I know in France – and I know a lot of people – nobody wanted to put the album out. I was telling him I didn’t know what to do. I finally made something that I’m very proud of, I found a sound and the stories and even vocally, I never sounded this good. He was like ‘Fuck French people, they don’t know’. He said they wouldn’t know a good thing especially when it comes to Black American Music, they love it but they don’t understand it; they don’t understand where it’s coming from, so therefore they can’t get into it. So he wrote that text, so I could go to record companies and introduce the album. With this album, we played around with Anthony Marshall. We just took things that we wanted to do, like I wanted to have a swing song, a ballad, a funk song, I wanted to have something sexy. We took all these ideas and we decided that it wouldn’t be a regular jazz album, that there wouldn’t be any solo on it, that we would smash the song there because it was about the song, it was about the storytelling, the songs, the voice, and then that leaves so much room for the concert. You know, if you put certain solo on an album, for a vocalist it’s like, what’s left for the concert? What’s left for the musicians to have fun with? So yeah, I kind of agree with his very elegant and flattering description that I like nothing better than to delve into themes to explore them, expand and explode them, yeah, get it hard, I like breaking shit!
...to some extent that's what we are all doing, just wondering, trying to figure out something``