On 'Death Before Mourning,' Lady Midnight's many styles form a singular sound


Lady Midnight is in no rush.

Not till late 2016, after six years performing and recording music, did she celebrate what she now calls her “debut” at the 7th St. Entry. “Midnight Special” was a showcase for the producers she’d worked with, each of whom took center stage for a mini-set, and for the St. Paul-born singer herself, who came out and performed with each of her collaborators in ornate, self-designed costumes and hair-styling. The event was a perfect distillation of the Lady Midnight aesthetic: a well-planned spectacle designed for a small space, a combination of the intimate and the elaborate, splitting the difference between DIY and polish.

Since that show Adriana Rimpel’s alter ego has kept plenty busy. She’s recorded features for P.O.S and sung backing vocals for Brother Ali. She’s contributed to the compilation Dismembered and Unarmed and recorded an EP as Parables of Neptune with Afrokeys. She even put out an EP of her own in collaboration with Mike the Martyr. She’s done just about everything, in fact, but release a solo full-length.

“I haven’t really established my own sense of voice and said, ‘This is me,’” Rimpel says, plainspoken and quietly composed, but with a giddy undercurrent, as she sits in a back room at Sound Vérité Studios in Falcon Heights. “And I think that’s exactly what this record is going to do.”

“This record” is Death Before Mourning, which comes out this Friday, and on it Lady Midnight is no longer the versatile shape-shifter we’ve heard on previous recordings. She’s instead the clear vocal presence that anyone who’s seen her perform will recognize. And, maybe paradoxically, she’s achieved that consistency of tone by increasing her range of producers, bringing in multiple local heavy hitters from Psymun to MMYKK.

“What I really wanted to do was get away from working with one producer, so I knew that I wasn’t making compromises based on their sounds or capacity,” she says. “I was able to work with everybody and let the songs speak to me as far as what seemed like a collection or a cohesive thought.”

The sound is diverse but unified, held together not just by the voice of Lady Midnight but by her sensibility, a political thrust that’s still luxurious, rejecting the sense that hardening or austerity is necessary to take a committed stance. At times her voice floats amid the dense electronics as though intoning a mantra, as on the opening line “This is my blood song for all of my loved ones.” At others, it takes on a slightly seductive tone, like a more companionable Sade, or is unstably Auto-Tuned to create wobbly harmonies with itself.

Recorded primarily at Medium Zach’s Woodgrain Studios in south Minneapolis, Death Before Mourning has been a long-gestating work: Rimpel began work on the title track back in 2015. And in some ways it is the culmination (for now) of a career that started almost accidentally when Rimpel was an MCAD T.A. A friend asked her, “Are you still singing?” one day, which surprised her because she only sang around friends. But this led to an audition for the Afro-Cuban band Malamanya, with whom she began singing in 2010 before leaving to help form the electronic project Vandaam, and, eventually, step out for a solo careeer.

That background in visual arts still plays a role in Rimpel’s music. “As a photographer you’re fascinated with and almost obsessed with light, because that’s how you make an image, with light, and with the different tones, particularly in black and white,” she says. “In my work, that translates to this balance of light and dark that can be heard not only in the content of my work but also within the production and the phrasing. Perhaps how I frame a story and also the space that gives in between each note is important to me.”

Her performances integrate her visual style too. “I was creating these portraits of these pretty far-out people that could have been, like, Star Wars extras,” she says of her photography work. “And then I started dressing myself for shows, and I started seeing the connection: OK, this is this character I’ve been performing for some time now. I definitely had this vision of ‘I’m going to wrap you in hair’—I was just so obsessed with hair! I would make sculptures out of hair. In my early days as Lady Midnight I would wear this coat made out of weave.”

That look has drawn, though not consciously at first, from her background, which is Mexican, Haitian, and Aztec. “The aesthetic in many ways almost looks very indigenous, primordial in some ways, but there’s also this futuristic element within it, just creating new shapes for the body, new shapes for what the crown might look like,” she says. Similarly, her music has drawn from her childhood experiences, going to powwows and on marches to the Capital with her mother, a singer with a philosophy degree who became a social worker and an activist for battered women and victims of sexual abuse.

In addition to music, Rimpel is an educator, working primarily with teens and preteens who “are marginalized who have experienced abuse and trauma, and using the power of the arts to validate their identity and their existence.” She began managing teen programs at the Walker, moved on to the nonprofit Kulture Klub Collaborative, and most recently has work at Red Lake Middle School, where she led 70 seventh-graders in creating a song and a video in a week. “I feel like I can do anything if I can do that,” she says.

True to her pacing, Lady Midnight’s been indulging in a slow rollout for the album. She’ll be performing a few shows in the early summer with a five-piece live band before a proper release show in August that will offer people a chance to see how she’s integrated the various sounds she’s mastered over the years.

“Growing up, Tyrone Guzman, a Chicano and Latino activist, he used to always call me ‘Butterfly,’ because he said like a social butterfly I used to go from one group to the next to the next. It was like I belonged to all of them and I belonged to none of them,” she recalls. “I think that’s still how I am.” - Keith Harris s/o City Pages


Lady Midnight Sparks Transformation in “Ode to a Burning Building”


As the Twin Cities patiently awaits the release of her upcoming solo debut, Minneapolis songstress Lady Midnight continues to stoke anticipation in her new video “Ode to a Burning Building.”

Premiered over the weekend as part of her immersive Ritual performances, “Ode to a Burning Building” acts as another match, illuminating her transcendent vision. By employing an unlikely allegory befitting of the post-Mayday rejuvenations, it offers a sense of hope for all those learning to accept and let go.

Directed, shot & filmed by Teddy Grimes as well as co-directed by Adja Gildersleve & A. Rimpel, the video opens with Lady Midnight slipping under the surface of the bathwater to escape the grey malaise of the world around her. As MMYYKK‘s meditative chords drone about, she is greeted by the shrouded ancestors (portrayed by the uber talented New Black City) in the wake of the sacred waters. She is soon lead into the forest to be transformed and reaffirm her connection through the eras. As the bubbles slow and the music’s ethereal cries begin to settle, she emerges from the waters to embody the generational flame that burns within her, embolden to carrying the torch forward on behalf of her forgotten lineage.

With gentle yet commanding vocal tones, Lady Midnight’s third single continues to allude comparison as well as sets the stage for a new wave of celestial R&B for the Twin Cities and beyond.

Check out “Ode to a Burning Building” above and get ready for her full-length solo debut, Death Before Mourning set to be released digitally on May 17th and on vinyl on June 19th on Sound Verite.

s/o Breaks X Lakes


City Pages Best R&B Artist Astralblak

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Best R&B Artist


“R&B” feels like a narrow term to describe the sound that this renamed collective (originally known as ZuluZuluu) explore on their 2018 album Seeds. But the old Minneapolis Sound was never simply straight-up R&B, so why should the new one be? Proper-T, Just Nine, MMYYKK, elliott., and Greg Grease serve up electronic ripples, soulful improvisations, spacey beats, and incisive rhymes to forge an Afrofuturist groove that rises from many strands of black music—funk, hip-hop, jazz, and, yes, R&B. 


‘You’ve got to be fully you’: FAARROW share their strong spirit in Astralblak collaboration

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FAARROW at Astralblak's Minneapolis studio. Photos and video by Minju Kim/MPR.

When sisters Iman and Siham Hashi were children, they both dreamed of singing, writing and producing music someday, but the road to becoming musicians would prove to be far from easy.

Iman, meaning “faith,” and Siham, meaning “arrow,” come together to form the duo’s name FAARROW. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia and now based in Toronto, the sisters and their parents fled in 1991 when civil war erupted, but they still remember what life was like for them as refugees.

“We were very young when we came to Canada as refugees,” Siham said. “We didn’t really notice the impact until much later. Even before that we were staying in a few shelters, and I still remember the smell and the music that was being played.”

Although the transition of moving to a new and culturally different country was difficult, Iman also has fond memories about living with her parents in the shelters.

“One thing I really love and remember is that our parents were really sheltering us,” said Iman. “We didn’t even realize we were living in shelters until they explained it to us later on. When we came to the country we didn’t have a home. We didn’t become citizens until five years later. There’s a process and these are things our parents told us later. We thought, ‘This isn’t out house?’ It was a shelter with many other families, but we always felt safe because of their positivity and being appreciative about being in Canada as well.”

As teenagers, the sisters developed a serious interest in pursuing music as a career, but were hesitant to follow their dream because of the cultural taboos associated with being Muslim and working as musicians.

“I remember in high school, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I cannot pursue music,’ said Siham. “Number one, I’m going to hell and number two, I would be shunned from my family and my entire community.”

Even if a career in music wouldn’t work, the sisters wanted to try as hard as they could to meet their goal. They decided to move forward, expressing their aspirations to their parents in order to garner their support.

“Both of us realized that we really do want to pursue this,” said Siham. “We don’t know how it’s going to happen, we don’t know who is going to accept it, but we are going to figure it out.”

Although Iman and Siham were able to convince their mother to allow them to try and pursue music, their father was more reluctant to agree.

“For a long time we just thought he was being hard on us, because it was all about school,” said Siham. “We are Muslim, we are Somali. I think he wanted to protect us because he didn’t understand the music industry. We understood that is where he was coming from. He really loves us and supports us.”

Eventually, the Hashis travelled to Atlanta and became the first women of Somali descent to be signed to a major record label in the U.S. “We were young and in a place where we had split energy,” said Iman. “We were excited and we knew we were born to do this, but we had all of this guilt and shame of not belonging.”

Even though starting out wasn’t easy, the sisters eventually started to find ways to center themselves with spirituality and developed confidence in their own voices.

“You’ve got to be fully you,” said Siham. “You have to forget about all of your insecurities and all of the shame and guilt that you are bringing onto this side.” 

FAARROW are currently in Minnesota as a part of the Cedar Cultural Center’s Midnimo program. Midnimo, meaning unity, is a residency program focused on increasing understanding of Somali culture through music. The program, established in 2014, includes community engagement opportunities as well as workshops, discussions, and live music performance.

The pair will be sharing the stage with Minnesota hip hop group Astralblak; Ashley Du Bose; and DJ Flavio, a local Somali artist, as they fuse their music together for three shows in St. Cloud, Mankato, and Minneapolis. Astralblak and FAARROW have been collaborating and reworking some of their existing songs to create a musical fusion.

“I think it is a fun and interesting challenge,” said Astralblak’s Mychal Fisher, a.k.a. MMYYKK. “It is cool to experience another culture musically, and think about incorporating into what we are already doing.”

“It’s always fun when you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone musically and especially when it is cultural,” said Greg Grease of Astralblak. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do in terms of crossing borders and collaborating with artists from the African continent.”

Inspired by iconic musicians like Bob Marley, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, and Mariah Carey, the sisters started to make music that fused hip-hop, soul, pop, and African sounds. Somali influences, culture, and language also pervade their music. The sisters cite late Somali artist Saado Ali as a towering influence.

Not only do the sisters write, produce, and perform music, they also participate in humanitarian work. The two women have been involved in initiatives mainly focused on Somali women and children, including advocacy work with the United Nations.

They also have a podcast called PowHer that focuses on mental health, advocacy for Somali women, spirituality, culture, and what they’ve coined as “soul health,” which promotes listening to one’s body and feelings. They focus on relaying the experiences they’ve encountered as black, Muslim women in a patriarchal world.

For musicians like FAARROW, not only has Midnimo provided the women a chance to share their music and understanding of the Somali culture, but has also allowed them to make everlasting social connections in their community.

FAARROW, along with Astralblak, Ashley DuBose, and DJ Flavio will conclude the residency at the Cedar Cultural Center this Friday, Apr. 5, at 8 p.m. The duo will be performing previously released material reworked with Astralblak, but have a new EP in the works.

Marla Khan-Schwartz is a writer that is mostly inspired by dessert, deep conversation and a glass of bold red wine.