“I am the product of a gypsy and a kingpin; I exist somewhere between Egypt and Sing Sing.”
Maimouna “Mumu Fresh” Youssef is a Grammy-nominated seasoned singer, songwriter, producer and emcee. A Baltimore native born into a family of exceptional artists, Maimouna began performing traditional African and Native American songs on stage with her family at the age of five. She received a Grammy nomination for her contribution on the Roots hit “Don’t Feel Right” in 2007 for best rap song. She has swapped musical licks with such artists as Angelique Kidjo, Brian Wilson’s band, Big Daddy Kane, Nas, Dead Prez, Wilco, Zap Mama, Cody Chestnut, Martin Luther, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. Maimouna has also rocked the stages of many renowned venues such as Denver Colorado ‘s Red Rocks Amphitheater, New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, Switzerland’s Moniteau Jazz Festival, and The Carter Baron Amphitheater in Washington, DC. Her musical endeavors were a springboard for Youssef to make her big screen debut in Dave Chapelle’s hip hop documentary “Block Party.” Maimouna released her first Solo EP entitled Black Magic Woman March 1, 2011 and her first full length album – The Blooming on September 20, 2011.
Urban Cusp: What gave you the courage to pursue your art, your sense of calling?
Maimouna Youssef: My courage to pursue my music, as a lightworker, comes from my upbringing, which is steeped in cultural and spiritual responsibility.
UC: What are your historical influences. What traditions have shaped your art?
MY: I am Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee and African American. My family still practices the indigenous cultures of our tribes as well as respects and observes several West African traditions. Being raised “in the culture” has shaped everything about my identity, self dignity and confidence, and my general global awareness and empathy towards human rights issues. Growing up in an Afro/Native household, I developed an overall perspective on life which is rooted in a deep emotional and spiritual connectedness with the earth (our Mother) and the animal kingdom (our spirit guides), which automatically makes me a natural born activist and environmentalist.
UC: How does your sense of racial and cultural identity imprint your work?
MY: I speak from the perspective of an Afro/Native Person. However, I speak for the world to hear and that includes all races and ethnic backgrounds. Some of my earlier work focused on helping to lift some of the blindfolds of urban oppression off of people of color but as times continue to change and become more urgent in nature, I have been led to refocus my newer work to address the complexities of the human spirit, as well as speak on environmental issues that effect us all here on planet earth while being sure to add some comedic relief in here and there to keep the heart light and free from too much burden.
UC: If art has a social responsibility, what would you say that is?
MY: I think art has the responsibility to accurately document the times as well as to educate the masses. It has the responsibility to give encouragement during times of grave disillusionment, to uplift when folks are feeling down, to be an understanding shoulder to cry on, to be that getaway or escape from reality for a little while, and last but surely not least to “give voice to the unspeakable.”
UC: What are you trying to create/ build? What do you want your legacy to be?
MY: I am trying to create a living musical curriculum if you will. 🙂 My plan is to create a catalog you can live to. A catalog of music that can be a soundtrack to every point in time of our existence – that can journey with the spirit through this amazing thing called life.