The Healing Power of Music

By Silvana Di Ravenna, Photo by Orlando Sanchez

Riders Against the Storm’s Qi Dada on music, healing and female empowerment.

Ghislaine Mahone (known by her stage name, Qi Dada), the charismatic female member of spiritual and positive hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm (RAS), is the kind of person who cannot be defined by just one label. The artist, who has been gracing the Austin music scene for the past five years with her husband and musical partner, Chaka Mpeanaji, wears so many different hats it’s hard to keep track of them all. She’s not only a renowned singer with a colorful musical past (RAS recently won Band of the Year and Hip-Hop Band of the Year at the Austin Music Awards), she’s also a multifaceted woman whose goal is to create a better life experience for those who listen to her positive message.

Qi Dada’s artistic career started during her early childhood years. However, she didn’t pursue music until she was in her late teens. During this period, a sudden need for expression inspired her to release her first rap album. Some time later, a fortuitous encounter with her soon-to-be husband propelled her down a musical path that hasn’t stopped since.

“There was a contest that opened up for a group called Dead Prez, and Chaka asked me if I would like to make songs together, and I said yes,” the artist recounts. “So we did, and we won. So we kept doing it, and music became the catalyst right there.”

Influenced by sacred folklore music from her Haitian heritage, she continued to develop a talent that directed her to other expressive endeavors. Then she discovered the powerful art of healing.

“I started exploring healing because I wanted to understand how it is that we carry our lives. That helped me to understand my mother as a person, as opposed to just this figure and this character,” she says. “For the first time, I saw her as a complete person and that allowed me to reflect on my own life, and began to get involved with health and art.”

That reflection quickly permeated her lyrics, and in an instant her band became known as the refreshing hip-hop sensation that it is today.

“We are in a day and age when everything is so commercial. We are constantly fed images and thoughts and ideas of what we’re supposed to look like, what success is, what beauty is. And when you’re free just to be yourself, it gives a lot of people permission to do the same,” she says.

The band’s success not only allowed her to continue exploring the freedom of healing, but also allowed her to share her new learning with her female audience, a following that oftentimes struggles with the conciliation between motherhood and womanhood.

“I decided to start doing life coaching as well as spiritual counseling for women because there’s a component of yourself that you cannot let die,” Qi Dada explains, helping women to abandon thoughts that stand against their inner strength. “Motherhood is a beautiful thing, but it’s important to remember that you’re your own entity and power, and sometimes women lose track of that.”

If her roles as a singer, healer and spiritual counselor weren’t enough, the artist is also part of many other projects that are helping to change the communal spirit of Austin.

“I have a group called Team Big Legs that does all this work with women, and Chaka and I created our own holiday, RAS Day [which took place Aug. 29]. We had acupuncture and massage and the best musical acts in Austin, and overall, it was a celebration of the community as a thanks and as a time for us to come together and heal and look at each other in the face,” Qi Dada explains.

Besides these projects, Qi Dada is also a vital component of RAS’ underground party, Body Rock, which occurs the first Friday of every month at Sahara Lounge. They recently released their new single, Booty Sweat, there, which perfectly describes the happy—and at times, silly— disposition of her band. Although RAS has opened for international acts Wu-Tang Clan, Talib Kweli, Damian Marley, Mos Def and Michael Franti, among others, perhaps their biggest venture to date is Riders Against the Storm’s first-ever performance at this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival. It’s a deserved milestone that the band is greeting with open arms.

“We’re so excited to be in the lineup of such awesome musicians and just to be part of the day and the whole festival,” Qi Dada says. “We’re going to have fantastic music and it’s going to be jam packed with energy and spirit and fun and colors and all the things that we love. It is going to be awesome.”

Body Rock: facebook.com/bodyrockatx

Team Big Legs: facebook.com/events/607391192676263

RAS will play at ACL Oct. 11 at 11:30 a.m. For more information about Riders Against the Storm, visit rashiphop.com.


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