July 11, 2018 | Abby O’Neill — Mumu Fresh sings that the teacher arrives when the student is ready. During a recent trip to the Tiny Desk, she came bearing life lessons from the depths of her soul.
A regal combination of black power and Native American pride, Mumu Fresh — also known by her birth name Maimouna Youssef — is an abundantly gifted singer and emcee who prances between genres and styles. The Baltimore native fuses her rich multi-octave range and ferocious rap delivery with spiritually-inclined lyrics so potent and mindful they precipitated a wellspring of emotion throughout the room.
Mumu is not new to NPR Music. During her guest appearance at February’s August Greene Tiny Desk, she stirred emotions with her verse on “Practice,” which spoke cathartically about the realities of being a black woman. Mumu began her own Tiny Desk in her native Lakota tongue with “Ink Pata,” signaling a call to prayer in a sacred ritual. Looped tribal chants of her own harmonies set the mood as delivered a stirring spoken word performance that journeyed through her ancestral lineage to the struggles of the present day.
With a buoyant and thoughtful spirit, Mumu and her band transitioned into the classic-sounding “Miracles” from Vintage Babies, her collaborative album with group mate DJ Dummy. Declaring it a celebration of soul music, she mixed sweet tender melodies with lyrics to empower those devoid of hope. It’s in this song that Mumu shared the proverb about the teacher and the student, while reminding us that we all have to be ready for blessings yet to come. It made for a fluid segue into “Work In Progress,” accented by the feel-good chords of The Roots keyboardist Ray Angry, an ebullient backdrop to Mumu’s humanizing and candid rap verse detailing her pathway to personal growth and self-love.
The set concludes with a new version of “Say My Name,” a song Mumu wrote about Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in 2015, and the impact it had on her. Starting off with a 1950s doo-wop circle, she blends traditional soul elements with politically relevant lyrics. Given Mumu’s stint writing and touring with The Roots after high school, it was only fitting to have front man and lyrical force Black Thought make a special guest appearance.
“Miracles/Work in Progress”
“Say My Name” (feat. Black Thought)
Maimouna Youssef (vocals), Andre “DJ Dummy” Smith (DJ), Black Thought (vocals), Chelsey Green (violin), Monique Brooks-Roberts (violin), Kevin Jones (cello), Corey Fonville (drums), Romier Mendez (bass), Ray Angry (keys), Amber Harmon (supporting vocals)
Producers: Abby O’Neill, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kara Frame, CJ Riculan, Beck Harlan; Production Assistants: Catherine Zhang, Téa Mottolese; Photo: Eslah Attar/NPR.