Like the proverbial water off a duck’s back, Dominique Fils-Aimé lets people’s differences slowly fade into oblivion. More than anything else, for her music is at the heart of what brings us together, what bonds us. On Stay Tuned!, the second in a trilogy of politically conscious albums, she has a clear plan: detaching ourselves from the need to only be “here.” “No matter who you are, I want to hear what you have to sing,” says Fils-Aimé.
As soon as she was signed to her label, she got carte blanche. “Write down your dream project,” they told her. “I’ve always loved school,” says Fils-Aimé, who didn’t choose the easy way. “I decided I would re-visit Black history. I wanted to know, from a historic perspective, what the things were that we repeat, and could avoid.” It was during this study that Dominique Fils-Aimé realized that even though she didn’t know the history, she had felt it through music. “Music has a historical imprint that you can read,” she explains. “The blues, blue, misery. It was an era when we made music with what we could get our hands on: rocks, your body, your voice.” And thus was born the first part of her trilogy, Nameless (2018), a dense, intentionally heavy album. “Silence was one of the main instruments, and it was almost a metaphor for the silence to which a whole people were reduced.”
Stay Tuned!, which came out in late February, takes us “out of that torpor” and moves us forward into the history Dominique decided to portray. “It’s red, it’s jazz, it’s blood, it’s woman,” she says. “Jazz was born of a desire to break free of the rules of classical, and create new boundaries. Music can change minds. It’s the softest and most empathetic way of doing so.”
The next instalment of the project, due in Spring 2020, will take us toward the sun. “The trilogy will end with the revolution,” says Fils-Aimé. “It’s the part of the history where even though the situations have left marks, we allowed ourselves to be light-hearted. That’s when funk, reggae, and disco came to be.” In a context where artists often feel bogged down by a system that doesn’t move quickly enough to accommodate their creativity, she’s conscious of how lucky she is to have the freedom to create this triple-punch over a three-year period.
Music has proven an unavoidable outlet of African-American culture. For Fils-Aimé, music is therapeutic. “This is true whether you listen to music or play it,” she says. “When you spend night after night, especially as a teen, listening to albums you’re obsessed with, that’s one thing. But it’s important to understand that the concept of mental illness and therapy doesn’t exist in many languages. Mental illness doesn’t exist in Creole. You aren’t depressed, you’re tired.” That’s how, according to her, music becomes unifying; because it fundamentally says that you’re not alone. “There’s part of that in me,” she says. “It comes from the music, this desire to find your therapy, to create it. You finally feel as if you are contributing to the process.”
“People think you need to be a singer with a guitar to have any kind of success. The more artists leave the country to play that music, the less people here have access to it.”
“Let’s destroy the concept of world music,” hisses Fils-Aimé when we touch on that totally unjustified category, that’s crept into our everyday vocabulary. “I don’t even know where it came, from or why it exists. To me, it exemplifies a desire to integrate people by creating a niche, an isolated space where we can point our fingers at them and say the’re different. Underscoring the cultural background of people is putting them in a box. And that box is a huge one containing the world,” she says.
The soulful Fils-Aimé doesn’t need any excuse to get onstage, but she does believe her genre of music tends to want to export itself and leave. “This music doesn’t know if it has a place here,” she says. “There’s a system in place where people think you need to be a singer with a guitar to have any kind of success. The more artists leave the country to play that music, the less people here have access to it, and the cycle begins again.”
Revolt, revolution, and changing minds are ever-present in Dominique Fils-Aimé’s mind and voice. “I dream of true change, she says. “That we literally retire the concept of violence. I want us to re-think the women’s jails system, I want us to find all the First Nations women who’ve disappeared, that we integrate First Nations in our daily lives, as well as black women in feminist movements.” All of those desires aim to ensure the safety and well-being of the ones who come after us. “It’s important for the next generation to know that we care,” she says. “It’s our duty to bring back revolutionary discourse to the present time.”
Musically, Stay Tuned! is emblematic of the artist’s value, diversity being nothing short of a duty: “I invited Elli Miller Maboungou on percussion, and Hichem Khalfa on trumpet,” she says. “But above all, after spending all of my time complaining on Nameless, I wanted to take control again,” she remembers, laughing. “I integrate women more. Salin Cheewapansri, on drums, is the heartbeat that I wanted. I wanted my album to beat to the rhythm of a woman’s heart.”
Fils-Aimé believes the solution is within us and that our will to integrate as much variety as possible in our music will necessarily translate into more diversity in our society. “Music is a metaphor for life,” she believes. “By focusing on what unites us, our passion for music, we’ll discover that we see things the same way. We all have a change to contribute.”