A multi-faceted industry veteran, Nicole C. Mullen has been creatively pursuing the listening ears of Christian music fans since the ’90s. Having been awarded the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award for “Female Vocalist,” “Songwriter” and “Song of the Year” Mullen is a constant in an ever-changing musical market.
Building on last year’s Sharecropper’s Seed, Vol. 1, Mullen releases A Dream to Believe In, disc No. 2 in her self-described trilogy. Drawing inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, A Dream to Believe In returns the innovative singer/songwriter to her self-described “funkabilly” roots, concocting a myriad of styles to comment on relationship, race and religion.
In an unusually transparent Q&A session, Mullen opens up about her new record, Africa and her ideas on dreaming.
CMP: Stylistically, A Dream to Believe In is a pretty big departure from Sharecropper’s Seed. What are your musical influences?
Nicole C. Mullen: I grew up on Black Gospel and Contemporary Christian music—the Amy Grant’s and Andrae Crouch’s of the day. I like R&B. I like pop. I like the writing, stylistically, of the country genre. I like a little bit of hip-hop and rock. So, I meshed it all together on one album. I work in the city and live in the country. I think my music displays a bit of both.
CMP: Listening to A Dream to Believe In, a majority of the songs focus on human relationship. Being a part of the Christian music community, do you ever feel pressure to write songs with specific lyrical content?
Nicole: No. I believe because I am a Christian and a believer in Christ, anything I do is an extension of that. As a songwriter, I am called to speak first on a premise of faith. At the same time, I am called to speak on everyday issues we, as believers, encounter. How do we live out justice? How do we live out fairness and equality? How do we take care of the poor and the needy and the widows in distress? How do I love my neighbor?
It relieves the pressure of having to write a praise & worship album. I think we are called to display the hands and feet of Christ. And that’s not always a close your eyes, put your hands in the air kind of thing. It’s an open your eyes, put your feet on the ground, stretch your hand out and touch somebody thing.
CMP: I have heard of your association with the I.N. Network and its work in freeing women enslaved by the Trokosi practices in Ghana. Tell me more.
Nicole: In Ghana, girls are taken from their homes as early as 5-years-old and handed over to a “fetish” priest who can beat them, rape them, starve them, overwork them—whatever he likes without any obligations toward them. The I.N. Network negotiates with these priests, constructing a well or erecting a school or whatever is necessary in return for the release [of these women]. After being freed, these women learn different trades so they can be economically independent.
My daughter, Jasmine, and I had a chance to go and hug these women’s necks, laugh and dance with them and see firsthand they are human beings God created. They, too, have dreams to believe in. It was very sobering. I came back compelled to make other people aware. If anyone is interested, they can visit innetwork.org.
CMP: What are some questions that surface spiritually—questions to God, thoughts about God—when you see things like that firsthand?
Nicole: The first time I went to Africa, I went with the mentality of, “I’m gonna’ want to put all the kids I see in my suitcase.” (Laughs) But when I got back, it was the opposite. I really wanted to pack up all of my kids and send them [to Africa]. They have tapped into something spiritually that is foreign to us. They had to trust God for help because there were no other options. It was definitely the upside down kingdom where the rich are poor and the poor are rich. It put a mirror to our face.
CMP: At some point there is discovery of the common denominator of humanity, which is slavery, I think. What forms of slavery do you think we ignore but are still prevalent here in the States?
Nicole: We are slaves to our pleasures, to different addictions and to ourselves. We have slavery in status, in classes, in the “haves” and “have-nots.” We have systems that are set up to keep the poor, poor—to keep them dependent upon the handouts of the “haves.”
But the more we take note of it and decide “I can’t change the world for all, but I can at least change the world for one,” then we go after one; and we allow that one to become two. And then two becomes three. I think it is our mandate to give and to love and to show Christ’s hand.
CMP: Each of your records explores the subject of race. On the new album, I hear it addressed specifically in the songs “Look Like Me” and “Still a Dream.” How should we respond to the continuing issue of race in today’s society?
Nicole: Many of us want to reach out, but we don’t know how. I feel like part of what I have been called to do is encourage people to have the courage, take that risk and find people unlike you and learn to love them.
I live racial reconciliation. We, as a family, have been intentional about it with our children, with our friends, with the church we attend and with the schools our kids go to. Because it’s not a black world; it’s not a white world; and it’s not a tan world. It’s God’s world.
According to the Scriptures, people from every nation, every tribe and every tongue will be worshipping at the throne. Let’s not be culture shocked when we get to Heaven and say, “Oh, I didn’t know y’all were gonna’ be here!” Let’s learn to love each other now while we’re here on earth. Christ prayed, “Thy kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 5:10). We need each other, and I think this album is a reminder of that.
CMP: So how do you encourage dreaming?
Nicole: It begins with the Scriptures. When [a dream] stems from Christ and His Word, then what we are called to do will be worth doing and not just something that looks good to man, putting a Band-Aid on the problem but never addressing the root. That is the litmus test of any dream that is worth believing in. What does it do in the end? Will it establish us as a great name? Will it make us rich and famous? Or will it actually be a catalyst to bring glory to God, pointing people to Him?
For more info, visit nicolecmullen.com.
©2008 ChristianMusicPlanet.com. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
*This interview first published on August 13, 2008.