At 22, Imelda Gabs is finding her voice as a singer-songwriter and producer, drawing on her dual Congolese and Belgian heritage. A songwriter since she was a child, and a performer since she was a teenager, she was first noticed in 2017, on the big stage of the Montreux Jazz Festival, when she sang a piano version of a song called “Origins.”
Growing up in Lausanne, Switzerland, she was raised in a musical environment, before enrolling in the Montreux Jazz Academy. Previously, she experimented with funk music, as a member of an experimental band, but during the coronavirus lockdown she decided to focus on her songwriting. The fruit of her compositions is a new, self-produced single called “Fallen Angel”, which comes with a music video directed by Dariy Mambetov, who also shot these photos below.
How do you reconcile your Congolese and Belgian identities?
Growing up with two different cultures has been very inspirational and gave me the opportunity to learn about both perspectives in many ways. I was born in Belgium but grew up mainly in Switzerland where I was lucky to be surrounded by people from many different origins. My parents taught me to always be open-minded and this is something that’s very present in my music today.
I love to mix genres together in my songs and listen to many different styles of music. That is how I get inspired. I go from Ethnic to Jazz, Soul, Electro to Pop music. As a mixed-race girl it has, at times, been challenging to identify with one group, as many in our societies sadly tend to demand that you choose a side. But I believe that I represent a bit of both worlds. I feel lucky to have those mixed roots, they are teaching me how rich and diverse our world is.
What role do you see African diaspora artists playing in coming years as they reconnect with the continent?
2020 marked my first trip to the African continent. I went there to meet my family in Kinshasa, DRC. It was a very heartwarming experience to reconnect with this part of my identity, socially but also culturally and geographically. I think that artists from the African diaspora, like my late father, the Jazz pianist Doctor Gabs, and now myself, can definitely play a role in terms of sharing our culture and reconnecting with it.
In fact, art has always played a major part in society, and even more so today when we see the influence that some artists can have through social media and inevitably through their art and creations. Artists are the windows to society’s pains, hopes, past, present, and future. Those windows, for those who are willing to open them, will show way more than a piece of art. From a more personal perspective, I think it is very important to know where you come from, in order to understand where you are going and why. As an artist, that is something that I feel is crucial.
How did you come up with the idea of “Fallen Angel”?
“Fallen Angel” is a song about someone whose pain has pushed him or her down, but then that person transforms the pain into strength and gets back up. They are ready to move forward and fight for him or herself. When I wrote the song, I was closing a chapter in my life and opening a new one, but as many know it is sometimes hard to let go. It just takes time.
In this song, the fallen angel represents that person who has been rebelling, who couldn’t fit in, who has been pushed away. I believe life to be a succession of chapters, which all follow each other, but in order to get and understand the full story, you need to accept all of the chapters, even the difficult ones. In other words, making peace with your past is also making peace with yourself and who you’ve become.