Meet Beyoncé’s Badass Bandleader
If you think this weekend’s event roster looks…especially “woman-y,” you’re not wrong, and there’s a simple explanation: Today is International Women’s Day , conveniently coinciding with local women’s film festival POWFest and tomorrow’s Girls Inc. fundraiser The Power of the Purse , a charity auction of celebrity-designed purses. As it happens, one of the event’s high-profile contributors is Bibi McGill, lead guitarist and bandleader of Suga Mama, Beyoncé’s ten-member, all-female live backing band.
While we normally leave news about wearables to our sister-blogger Eden Dawn at Shop Talk , Culturephile couldn’t pass up an excuse to pepper a locally-based, globally known musician like Bibi with a few questions. (And it’s just as well, since she refuses to dish about the bag she’s designed, insisting it should be “a surprise.”) No mere musician, Bibi bills herself as a renaissance woman, practicing health and wellness (and yoga) with the same vigor that she brings to her guitar. While Beyoncé enjoys a well-earned maternity leave, Bibi shares plans to feed, teach, and inspire the people of Portland.
How much of your time is spent in Portland, versus on the road? When you’re in town, do you perform/go out, or do you prefer to relax and lay low?
I still lived in LA when I first signed up with Beyonce. My first tour with her, “The Beyonce Experience Tour” lasted about 1 1/2 years and as soon as it was done I moved to Portland, where I had about 10 months off to set up my home and decompress from the hectic tour schedule. It was almost like I didn’t get a break, but I was so happy to be in Portland, the city I had dreams of living in for 15 years prior to ever visiting here. I’ve been here for 5 years now, but I still feel like I’m just getting to know the city. So far, I’ve toured to support three Beyonce albums and normally a tour last about 1–1 1/2 years, and then I have about 8-10 months to recover.
[Between tours] I don’t pick up my guitar really, but I love to do DJ Electronic Music. Down time is my time to take care of myself and do other things that I also love or miss out on while touring. I love being outside in nature, with my animals, in my garden, on the water kayaking and going to lots of meetup groups interested in raw food, spiritual growth and development, and other things I’m interested in. Yes, I relax and lay low.
Where are the other bandmates in Suga Mama based, and where do you all rehearse?
Well, when I began with Beyonce, I was the only band member in LA. But I’ve been in Portland for about five years now. Two band members are still in LA, and others are in New York, Atlanta, New Jersey, Boston and Houston. When it’s time to rehearse, we’re usually in New York for about two or three months straight.
Besides great musicianship, what other qualities do the members of Suga Mama share?
Hmm…I dunno. When we’re working I don’t get to see too many qualities in anyone, outside of a fast-paced work schedule. We obviously have art, music and creativity in common, and we all have the desire to encourage and empower young girls, women, and everyone all over the world. What what we do, you can do. Follow your dreams and believe in yourself and all things are possible! I know that all the band shares that belief, and we know it from experience.
Is the music business finally getting better for women?
The music industry has been getting better for a very long time. I’ve never had a major problem being embraced by this industry, and I’ve been doing this for a long time. As with anything…I had to work very hard for many years. Certainly more doors are opening for more women in this industry and we are walking thru them. What I really see happening is women, young and old, are seeing other girls/women in a positions of power, playing drums, guitar, trumpets etc. Girls in music grow up thinking that they have to play the flute, piano or clarinet. When they see us do what we’re doing they get inspired and realize that they can do whatever they want to do. I’ve also seen a huge spawn of women musicians surge and come out of the woodwork. They are so incredibly talented and evolved in their craft, and they are better than the males because they do what they do with a more feminine energy and less aggressive approach—less testosterone. That energy is recognized as being different, and it’s being received as a breath of fresh air.
What’s your message for this generation of girls?
My message for this generation of Girls? Girls, we are the message. We hold the message. Women are carrying the message now. It is time for every woman and girl to step into our power and lead. Follow your ideas, dreams and passions. Don’t underestimate or second-guess how you feel, and what is in harmony with you. Male and female energy has been out of balance for eons. No more! It’s time for men to embrace the divine strength in women, and humble themselves with an open heart and let us lead. We run the world now!
We know Beyoncé just had a baby; how much R&R does that buy you before you get back out on the road?
Who knows? Beyoncé isn’t obligated to hire any of us back; you got a job for me? [Laugh.]
Tell us your vision for the “eco-empire,” and so far what places/businesses in Portland have you annexed?
I intend to replace the potato chip by the year 2015! I have an organic, vegan, raw, gluten-free snack called Bibi KALE Chips, which have been a hot item over the past year in Portland. I have also frequently shipped them to Croatia, Venezuela, London, Australia and Ireland. I get requests for them all over the world, and it’s wonderful to be able to offer and high-vibrational, nutrient-dense snack as an alternative to all the junk that’s out there making and keeping people sick, in dis-ease and imbalance. I’m diversifying my business and have plans to offer at least 4-6 new flavors of kale chips, in addition to some other healthy and delicious snack and food products.
My long-term plan is to have my own farm, processing and shipping facility on the same land—much like a mini “Edgefield.” I’ll have a wellness center/spa that offers yoga, massage, and healing with essential oils and plant medicines, as well as other natural healing modalities. I will have a vegan/vegetarian restaurant, as well as food cart dining strategically placed on the land. There will be music, art, and animals—a place for children and the community to gather and celebrate life and good health, all while incorporating green and sustainable building practices. But, one thing at a time.
I’m currently selling my Bibi KALE Chips at People’s Co op, Food Fight, Alberta Co op, Lilian’s Natural Marketplace, The Alberta Rose Theater, Spoke Coffee, Root Whole Body and The Warehouse Cafe. My next stop is New Season’s Market and eventually Whole Foods. I’m going to need the support of the amazing people of Portland to make this happen. It’s very hard and expensive to start a business in Portland but I can’t think of any other place I’d rather do it! I’m at a place where I need to grow and expand to the next level in order to supply the demand of all my orders. I have an amazing business plan where I’m offering a 29% return to investors. I’m also doing an Indie Gogo campaign to help raise money for a couple $15,000 dehydrators that will allow me to make 12 times the amount of kale chips I’m making now.
Do you ever teach or practice yoga locally? If so, where can one find you?
I love to teach when I’m not touring. On and off tour, I have a daily yoga practice. I teach at various wonderful yoga studios in Portland, but my favorite place to practice yoga is actually where I also teach: Root Whole Body, in Northeast Portland. They’re a community of healers offering acupuncture, massage, organic skin care, chiropractic and naturopathic care as well as sauna and more. I’ll be teaching on the schedule full-time in April, so please come by and join me for a class.
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