Miki Vale is a hip-hop artist, playwright, teaching artist and co-founder of Soulkiss Theatre. She is also part of the cast and creative team of The Old Globe’s forthcoming production of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
As part of KPBS’ “Influential” series, we asked Miki Vale to make us a playlist of songs that have influenced her career as an artist. Here are the tracks she chose, in her own words.
“In My Love” by Minnie Riperton
Music from my childhood is essential because, on the one hand, we couldn’t just listen to it whenever we wanted unless you bought the record. But as a child, I had no money. I wasn’t going to buy records, so I listened to what my parents were playing and I listened to what was on the radio, and every time he played it was so exciting to hear him. It was just like, “Oh, that’s it. I can hear it again. It’s so exciting.” So the mere fact that it’s not immediately accessible makes music even more valuable.
Minnie Riperton,”In my love– Actually, I can’t remember when I first heard it. I just feel like Minnie Riperton’s music has always been a part of my life, always a part of my childhood. And that song in particular, it just moved me because it sounds ethereal, the way the beat comes in and the way her voice is so soft, so she always stuck with me.
‘3 Tha Hard Way’ by Bahamadia
of the Bahamas”3 The difficult path“, it was just one of the first times I heard three women on a track just exclude, just raps, no chorus or anything. And the Bahamadia raps there are just amazing for me. It’s just rap. It’s nothing in particular. It’s just bars on top of bars, and that style of creating a song really stood out to me.
Some of the first rhymes I wrote – because before that I was rapping, but it was mostly freestyle, right up there. So when I finally sat down and started writing rhymes, I wrote them to this beat because I loved this beat so much. It was like I was the fourth person on that song in my head.
[Note: explicit lyrics]
“I Gotta Give Up” by Marvin Gaye
I first heard Marvin Gaye, “I have to give up”, probably at my grandmother’s house. In my family, there was always music. My dad played drums, my mom always sang, and there was always music, soul music, and the family would get together and those songs would play — and Marvin Gaye would always play.
“Got to Give it Up”, it kind of represents my childhood, and I just remember hearing that and you can hear people partying in the background. And I was a kid then, but I just wanted to be at that party. It looked so fun. It looks free, it looks happy, it looks so dark and so beautiful and moving. And it just made me want to create black, beautiful and sincere music.
‘Africa’ by D’Angelo
D’Angelo’s “Africa” also transported me. I used to play that on repeat. This is another one that sounds so ethereal. And he says, “Africa is my offspring, here I am far from home”, and that’s what my mind feels – this whole song just speaks to my mind. And then when I found out it was her child and it gave me another level of beauty. And it almost sounds like a lullaby, which I found so creative.
It’s ringing roots. It sounds like that sound coming from the earth. And I love those ethereal sounds, so knowing that it’s okay to have that sweet, beautiful sound.
“Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan
Rufus and Chaka Khan, “Tell Me Something Good” was one of those songs that I heard growing up in my childhood, and I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and funk music was everywhere . When I was a child, this was what was played at home.
Me and my mom cleaned every Saturday, and we got up and listened to soul music and funk. So I love creating soul music because I grew up with soul music. Every time I heard it, it hit me. The way the bassline comes in, it’s so funky. And Chaka Khan, the way she sings on it and that hook, “Tell me something nice.” It’s so funky. And that one definitely had a huge impact on me.
I think there are ties to music that influenced me growing up until this work I’m doing in the Shakespeare – The Old Globe production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. And I also create original music for the production. And it’s just fun. It was definitely something like I’ve never done before, a challenge I’ve never done before. It’s very fast. I do some of the scene transitions – I’m going to rap during those transitions. Here is an example of one of them:
“Things are not going well in the palace. Will love prevail well? Only time will tell. This crew of players is ringing the hood a bit. Let’s see what happens in the magic wood. “
Thinking about the work I do with the Old Globe and the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” production – there are Afrofuture themes in the play. And those African sounds, like the song D’Angelo’s Africa. There are these drums in there, these African drums. And I use the same type of drums in the music that I create for this production. So those beats stayed with me.
But these beats come – they were with me before I heard this song or any music. These come from my mind. These come from the spirits of my ancestors. So these rhythms are going to be with me forever. And they will always come back one way or another in the work that I do.
— Miki Vale, July 2022
[Note: explicit lyrics]
This interview has been edited for length. You can find a slightly longer playlist of Vale influences on Spotify here. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens at the Old Globe with previews beginning July 31, 2022. Opening night is August 6, and production runs through September 4.