Three is the magic number when it comes to Dominique Fils-Aimé. She works in trilogies of albums and concluded the last set of three records in 2021 with Three Little Words. Now, she is back with another first. Our Roots Run Deep is the first chapter of three. In conversation, Dominique shares that her love for trilogies comes from her love for new beginnings. As an artist, who loves being in the studio these narrative structures allow her to zoom in on the topics that are on her mind at that moment in time. Our Roots Run Deep breaks the linear concepts of time and connects the past, future, and present by envisioning the ways of living that Dominique Fils-Aimé strives for.
“The first chapter was about how I understood and explored Blues, Jazz, and Soul music. I felt like this new chapter had to start with me. Now, I can start talking about my heart here, today, where we are at, and work towards my dreams of the future. I can talk about what I wish to see and try to contribute to that future by creating music that is a representation of that future that I dream of where people are free to be themselves and live in safer spaces. Spaces where there is more room for everyone to live together support each other in their differences and talk about what they have in common. Our souls feel the same emotions, but our bodies, depending on what body you have, and where you are, will be treated differently.”
In your songs, a lot of space is left to the voice. Often, only drums, choral singing, and some strings can be heard in the background. What motivated this stylistic decision on Our Roots Run Deep?
Since I don’t play any instruments, I started by singing what I would hear, phonetic parts, the base, anything. At first, the idea was to replace my voice with instruments but with time we realized it was part of my creative process and my aesthetics. It allowed me to feel more like a musician. Even though I didn’t acknowledge that at first – I had a bit of an imposter syndrome when I was with my musicians who had all studied and played many different instruments. It took me some time to realize that the voice is just as much a legitimate instrument.
The voice is the one instrument you always have with you. I think it’s the perfect instrument, and I think it is a great way to encourage everyone to make music because if you have a voice, you have an instrument that you already know how to play. Just connect your heart with your voice and let it out!
Your voice is layered and comes in all forms and shapes.
I think there is something powerful about combining many layers of voice because every voice, every sound, has a vibration. By adding different vibrations, it feels like we’re able to allow more sounds to enter the person, to be wrapped around the person. I want to make music that, by having many harmonies, makes people feel enveloped like it’s a hug. It’s surrounding you and going through you.
Connection to Percussion
What kind of rhythms are important in your work?
I wanted percussions for this album because they are the root of it all. When you think about the ways music has started, there has always been rhythm. Percussive instruments have this similarity to the heartbeat and this album specifically is about the heart, about my heart. It is about being more open about my emotions and how I deal with things. It is about me going back to the roots, the roots of music, and our ancestors. And it is about having these conversations with our hearts, about connecting our voice with the rhythm of the drums.
Two of my musicians have very small kids. When we were sound-checking, the first thing that both wanted to do, was play the drums. When I saw this, it reminded me of the first thing we do as kids: we tap everywhere, and we create drumming sounds because it is the most accessible way to make music. There is something instinctual about drumming and about percussions that makes me feel like it’s the roots of us culturally when we go back to our ancestors but even roots of us as children, the joy of playing percussion. The only instruments besides my voice that I started playing are percussive because that way I can connect with my inner child.
When I saw the children playing the drums, they were having so much fun. They were using all their strength. The joy that it brings them reminded me of the joy that I want to bring with my music. I feel like children and plants are the best teachers. They remind me that music and rhythm are inside us from a very young age and that we must be connected to it to create music that is close to the heart.
As kids, we make art for fun, just because it feels good. When we grow older there is a pressure that I would like for people to have the chance to not care about anymore. Make art for pleasure, not to be in a museum, not to be on a stage, just reconnect with your inner child. Draw something for fun, dance, sing. Art is for everyone, and I think the world would be a happier place if we all could take the time to create some art.
The first part of your new trilogy comes with many plant-related songs and images. What was the intention behind that?
During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time with my plants at home. I feel like they taught me a lot of lessons. The more attention I pay to the trees, the plants, and the way they grow, I realize this connection with how we grow – except they take their time. Sometimes the growth is so slow that we don’t even notice it, only if we pay attention, we can see it.
We plant a seed, we give it water, we give it love, we give it sunshine and whenever there is a tiny leaf growing, we are so excited! I wish we could be the same with ourselves, with the way we evolve, take our time, and just give ourselves some water, some sun, and some love instead of being upset about the speed of our process. It’s okay to be a small plant. It’s okay if you are not a tree yet, it’s okay to take your time to grow slowly.
Why is “Our Roots Run Deep” green?
There are many reasons for the green. Since the first trilogy was primary colors – blue, red, and yellow – now I’ll use secondary colors. Green is the color that connects the first album of the new trilogy with the last one of my first trilogy. It is also the color of the heart chakra. I felt like it all made sense to start my new trilogy in green for it to be something more personal, more vulnerable.
Musical Roots Run Deep
You talked about how paying attention to plants shaped the way you think about creative progress and making music. Who are the musical roots that formed you as a musician?
Nina [Simone] and Etta [James], they will always stay with me ‘cause they raised me. B.B. King raised me. All this music raised me. But also, other musicians like Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu. There is something so empowering about looking at a woman who is just being herself, free to present however she wants to present herself. That is something I am working on myself. I want to free myself and just accept who I am. I’m working on accepting that we are not going to please everybody. The most important thing is to feel like we can be authentic to ourselves. These women have inspired me a lot in that direction.
Every person living their life freely and with passion is inspiring. The girl who makes my coffee in the morning, loves what she does, and talks about coffee with passion. That is art to me. It is art whenever you are doing things from your heart. That is the most inspiring thing to me. It is the way I want to live my life; being passionate and talking about things the way everyone who is driven by heart does.
When you look at a forest, you see many trees separate. When you look at a crowd, you see many people. But we have found out that underground, all the roots are feeding each other. They are talking to each other. They are united. But we don’t see it, so we don’t notice it. I think it is the same for humans. We are all separate but there is something that connects us all, that we don’t see. I would love for people to realize that and reconnect with the world around them and pay attention to that connection.
Note by Note
To learn more about the individual songs on Our Roots Run Deep by Dominique Fils-Aimé, we took a closer look at some of the most interesting songs on the new album.
Feeling Like A Plant
The song is about how good it can feel to just sit in peace in the sun take it in and let yourself evolve. Give yourself some love and some water. The song represents my love for summer, for sunshine, and for taking the time to remember that we are nature too. Sometimes we talk about nature like it’s something separate. I wish we could reconnect with it and be more aware of everything it is bringing us.
Quiet Down the Voices
When we try to meditate and quiet everything down, sometimes there are just more and more voices coming in. The idea was that, by sharing how it feels, someone who has those moments and listens to that song can feel how it feels inside my head. And maybe that will distract them from the voices in their head. I hope it can take away a little bit of stress and pressure. That is one of the aspects of meditation that is important to me in this chapter. The goal was to create a space for someone who needs that moment of just recentering themselves.
My Mind At Ease
This song was me trying to share that side that we sometimes kind of hide because it is not socially acceptable to share bad feelings. When you look at social media, people are always sharing their happy moments. One time something made me sad, and I shared it in a story. Some people wrote, “You can’t show this on Instagram!” Why not? If I can share when I’m happy, I should be able to share when I’m sad. Mental health is still a taboo and my purpose with this song was to open up a space of discussion about the fact that we all have moments where we feel low, that we have bad thoughts coming in, or thoughts we want to get rid of. The best way is to accept that they are here, allow them to be, and then think: enough now, I hear what you are saying, and now I am going to breathe you out and slowly put my mind at ease. I wanted anyone having those feelings to feel heard. No one is alone in sadness. We all experience that. I hope we can welcome it a little more altogether instead of hiding it.
Cheers to New Beginnings
Sometimes we go through changes that might not be super obvious, but they can be very important too. The song is about this idea of celebrating change, of celebrating our evolution. Most of the time, instead of celebrating or being proud, we already think about what we must do next. We don’t give ourselves this little pat on the back. I think it’s good to remember to do that sometimes. I want to shift our perspective and celebrate everyone who is growing, and who is evolving. That’s me sending them my congratulations.
Our Roots Run Deep by Dominique Fils-Aimé is out now via Ensoul Records.