Vancouver's Missy D on dropping the recorder in Zimbabwe and falling in love with hip-hop

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      Missy D remembers well the day her love affair with hip-hop started.

      She was an 11-year-old schoolkid in Zimbabwe, and her class was preparing for the year-end talent show. But they were learning to play the recorder, which isn't the most thrilling instrument in the world.

      "We pretty much sucked," recalls the 29-year-old rapper on the line from her East Van home, "and we were all complaining to our music teacher, 'Hey, you should be teaching us music that's relevant to us.' Hip-hop was a big thing at the time, and he somehow changed the curriculum for the next three months in preparation for that big talent show and was like, 'Okay, you guys wanna study hip-hop, so we're gonna study the history of hip-hop, from deejays to dancing to instrumentals to rapping.'

      "And one of the assignments was to write a rap and perform it at that talent show. So we dropped the recorder--although I still have mine to this day--and I wound up writing a rap with one of my best friends. It came easy, because I used to write poetry as a kid. I just fell in love with hip-hop that day."

      It was at that point that the budding rapper, born Diane Mutabaruka, transformed into Missy D. Missy Elliott was big at the time, and because of her look and how she performed at the talent show, people started to compare her to the American superstar. Before long Mutabaruka's new nickname, Missy D, had stuck.

      Ten years ago the Rwanda-born, Ivory Coast-raised artist moved to Vancouver to study at UBC and earn a Bachelor of Science degree. Since then she's worked to develop a musical style that fuses African flavours with hip-hop, rap, and R&B.

      "I call it 'rap & soul'," she explains, "and the reason I say that is that I think it's a fusion of hip-hop, rap, neo-soul, and soul music. That's what you usually get when you're coming to watch my band."

      Missy D has performed with the likes of Maestro Fresh Wes, Jully Black, Nomadic Massive, and Busty and the Bass. On Friday (February 19) she will take part in Winter Jazz with a show streamed live from Performance Works on Granville Island. She'll be accompanied by her band--guitarist Vinay Lobo, bassist Dave Taylor, and drummer Ian Cardona--on a bill with DJ Kookum and dancer Sierra Baker.

      "We've shared a few stages over the years," points out Missy D. "I've had the chance to open up for Snotty Nose Rez Kids--they're a hip-hop Indigenous group--a few times, and DJ Kookum usually deejays with them. She's opening up, so it'll be awesome to see this femme/woman energy from the start to the end of the show. I think she's gonna play some EDM, some hip-hop, some fusions of music that she enjoys, and then you get me in the second half where I'm giving you the soul, jazzy, hip-hop, reggae, live band aspect to the show."

      Last March Missy D released the six-song EP Yes Mama, which opened with the track "Paint", an exploration of intergenerational pain, trauma, catharsis, and healing through creativity. A video for the song, compiled and edited by Gavin Hartigan, features contributions from visual artists Kimmortal, Matt Hans, Michele Jubilee, Samaneh, Kafiya Mudey, and Corrina Keeling.

      Missy D reveals that a second video for "Paint", featuring the art of Sofia Shamsunahar, will be released the day before her Winter Jazz gig. She hopes it will help cement her status as an emerging artist on the Vancouver music scene.

      "The current goal I have this year is just grounding myself and ensuring that people know who I am and know what my music is about," she says. "And the goal post-COVID is just to do more shows and to tour and to share the music with more people across oceans and across continents."

      Missy D performs on February 19 as part of the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society's free online Winter Jazz program, presented in association with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.