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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Mijan Owens - Powerhouse Diva Interview

Roselle Chen |
November 19, 2010 | 2:40 a.m. PST

Senior Entertainment Editor

Mijan Owens (IMDb)
Mijan Owens (IMDb)
Mijan Owens performs 9 p.m. Friday at Cirroc Café in Culver City. 

Her unique blend of gospel house music puts her in the underground club scene in Los Angeles and the rest of the U.S., but her following is huge in Europe and Japan where her Billboard charted record “Do You Love Me?” climbed to No. 1 on dance music charts.

Neon Tommy spoke with Mijan to find out more about her influences and what led her into a particularly niche genre of music.

NT: What venues have you performed here in terms of gospel house music?

MO: I haven’t performed any of my house music here. In San Diego, I had my record release party and I sang the slower, secular songs. I’ve also sang at Agape International Spiritual Center here in Culver City but in the clubs, I don’t sing what I normally sing. In Europe however, house music is huge and I’ve performed all over. The people in Italy love it, especially when I sing my song “Alright.”

NT: Why do you think deep house music is not as popular here?

MO: It’s definitely because of the radio stations. And, not to knock the deejays that spin house music, but they now only play the mainstream that includes remixes by Estelle, Alicia Keys, Toni Braxton, Michael Jackson and Fantasia, just to name a few. What happened to the original deep house recording artists? We’ve been put on the back burner, but I hope not for long. 

We have to change those who are in charge of radio. Even country is bigger here. In Europe you’re not going to hear that much R&B and hip-hop. It’s practically all house, deep house and trance music there. It’s pretty underground here. It should be bigger.

NT: What made you choose to go into gospel house over R&B or hip-hop?

MO: I grew up singing gospel in the children’s choir back in Brooklyn, New York. Gospel taught me to have passion; it’s inspirational, it has such a nice beat, good lyrics, great background vocals, chorus line and it’s very uplifting. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love all genres of music, but I will say that with my upbringing I combined gospel and house because I really love house music, it was in my heart. When I went to the clubs it was all about house and disco music during those days. I started recording, and I still love it to this day. Even though I can sing anything, gospel house is in the soul honey, it’s in the soul.

NT: Tell me about your time growing up in Brooklyn.

MO: It was hell. I was in foster care at the age of two until I was 18, then for a period of time afterwards I was homeless. My mother was murdered. It was definitely hard growing up. I would have to fight every other day because foster children had the stigma of, “Oh you’re not being loved anyway.” I had to watch my back all the time and didn’t know who would jump down on my head. I had to be careful of being raped 24 hours a day. It was very hard.

NT: How did you get past that?

MO: Once I moved out the ghettos. It got easier when I went to Germany. My dream as a little girl was to travel the world and I just knew I was going to. Before I knew it I was in Germany at 20 years old and stayed there to do my singing. I traveled a lot in between, then I moved to LA in ’96 and lived here ever since. 

NT: When did you know you could sing?

MO: I believe I was like, 10 years old. I started singing younger than that, but I remember at 10 a lot of the elders in the Baptist church would say “Girl you can sing, you know!” My choir director, Ms. Harris, would go around poking people in the stomach whenever they weren’t performing correctly but she’d always say to me, “I don’t have to poke yours because you’re doing it right.”

NT: When did you know you could be successful at what you were doing?

MO: When I did my first record in 1993 called “Slave to Love” by Allure Records. I realized it at that time, when I opened up for Martha Wash. She was part of Two Tons O’ Fun. I knew then. And then when I heard my record "Alright" play for the first time on the radio, I thought, “this is it.” The record's been big since '96.

NT: What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

MO: Well, I’m going to American University of Rome soon to get my bachelor’s in music education to become a music teacher. I would like to incorporate how to get people to use their vocals and take that gift as a very serious instrument and instruct them in how to take care of it.

I always want to be an example for those who are in foster care as well. Since 25, 26 years old I always wanted to give and always had the heart to give. But it’s more like I have to now; it’s in me to just do that. I always say, “If I hit the lotto I wouldn’t have it the next day.” I would give everyone what I have. 

NT: What do you aim to do with your performance?

MO: I would like to pay tribute to everyone who’s shown me kindness over the years. I’m a complete nut by myself but everyone’s help has balanced me out. I also think that singing this kind of music is ageless. I definitely had doubt over the years but I love what I do. I got my hustle on. I was never bored, and I tried and am still trying everything, experiencing everything.

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