With a strident warrior tone cutting across The Bug’s heavyweight production, Miss Red has become a wild card on the international bass music scene, firing up sets and catching ears with 2015’s Murder mixtape. Returning with her debut album, the expansive and nuanced K.O., she’s building on this success by keeping the same high energy flows, while expanding her topical range. I spoke to Miss Red about spirituality, politics, music and more, and found there’s a lot more to this artist than rudegyal lyrics. The interview has been condensed for brevity. —Son Raw
You’re originally from Haifa. Where are you based out of now?
Miss Red:I’m in Berlin. Canada has better weed. All of the weed in Amsterdam and Berlin is from Canada now. [Once it’s legal in Canada] It’s probably gonna be more expensive. They’re gonna make a heap of money off it. I came to Canada a few years ago and it was everywhere in Montreal. I was working there and it was the first time I saw snow. I’d never seen snow for real so when I left the country I learned what winter really meant. It was mental—I arrived at night so I couldn’t see anything. When I woke up in the morning everything was WHITE and I was scared.
Montreal is actually where I’m from. I’ve never visted Haifa, but my cousins have. I’d love to because even if I’m not religious, culturally there’s a huge connection there for me.
Miss Red:For years I had this questioning about Judaism, because no one was direct with me about it and there are so many streams. You could come from North Africa or Europe and have different interpretations: These are huge differences. I’m spiritual, I don’t need this religion. If there’s any part of me that’s close to Judaism, it’s through spirituality.
That kind of diversity isn’t always exposed outside the country. It’s often showcased as a single political block, but people there aren’t a monolith in terms of beliefs.
Miss Red:People misinterpret religion for their own benefit. It’s really simple—you talk about 10 fucking commandments but they twist the shit out of them. There are 10 interpretations for once sentence when it should actually be: “Bro don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie”. Why does a so called religious government not follow those basic commandments?
There are no buts. Don’t kill anyone.
Miss Red:There’s really no “but…” about that! They talk about this God that’s good and merciful and has a place for everyone but because this world is based on power and people having been through what they’ve been through, people just twist it to be powerful. It becomes about the power in it and they justify killing. It’s so common.
A lot of those lessons and connections to early biblical truths are also in roots reggae. Was that something you paid attention to when you began connecting to this art?
Miss Red:Of course. I’ve always been spiritual. In a lot of ways the spirit of reggae attracted me because of that. I also love Judaist music because it’s a prayer. And this is how they do their prayers—the Rastafari. I look towards music that talks to me, I try to look past those boxes. That’s what attracted me to reggae—it’s all about keeping it spiritual and high and keeping your spirit uplifted. To show appreciation for this planet and mama earth. That’s what I want to do on this planet: I want to love.
How did you go from someone with those values and that connection to the music, to someone who could convincingly jump on the mic? Because, admittedly as a non-Jamaican, I couldn’t place where you were from at all. It’s a unique approach.
Miss Red:Hah! I remember when my Grandpa first heard my singing—he said I thought I was from Jamaica! But really, I was just obsessed. Singing in Patois didn’t seem different from singing English to me because neither of them are my first language. Everyone learns English in school but I know English from music first and foremost. From hip hop, the same way I learned Patois from reggae. To this day, if I go to England and I hear proper English, I don’t know what it means. My mother tongue is Hebrew, but my grammar is broken in Hebrew, English, and Patois. I’m always translating.
You also get the melodic part of dancehall.
Miss Red:The vibe of the melodies…it’s like a drum. That’s what attracted me to it. This rhythm is a language that goes beyond having to say something through words. Melodies have always spoken to me far more than lyrics.
People first knew you off the back of your Murder tape. Did that reception affect your mind state going into this album?
Miss Red:I always wanted to make this album but it took some time to get my head straight. Even making the mixtape, I was such a mess. I left Israel around when I started the mixtape and was wandering the world, getting lost, being a nomad. I wasn’t in a position to make the album. When I finished making that mixtape, I realized I had actually crafted my style much tighter. I now had the tools to make the album. I found my voice instead of trying to be like someone else.
Was that chaos a necessary part of finding your voice?
Miss Red:I was just walking around with a backpack and a voice. I had to find some sort of Earth and substance to ground myself, although I’m all Fire, so I could have kept running around for ages. What happened is that I ended up having surgery and having to rebuild myself because I pushed too hard, right after I released the mixtape. You work so hard on something so emotional that you forget your body. And my body is my tool. My voice. I love computers but I love my voice much more, and I was always getting sick and couldn’t sing. I lost my grounding completely. So to work on the album, I had to relax for a second. I was living this insane life, but now, for the past year, I’ve had time to really work on my music. I’d never had that before.
And that’s what led to the album because you wanted everyone to know that Murder was a mixtape.
Miss Red:Because it was! I got a lot of riddims, wrote a lot of tunes, they were all a bit different. It wasn’t an album. It wasn’t something I had to get out in a very concentrated way. Something with a start and an ending where it all connects in a way. In my opinion, the mixtape was much looser, the album you need to go from start to finish.
One of the things that stands out to me, is you have this dubbed out and headier style on tracks like “Memorial Day.”
Miss Red:It came out of me. It’s not like I had an idea and said, “Oh, I’m gonna do that.” It just made sense with the concepts I was dealing with. Seeing people I love pass away. Seeing my country not give a fuck about things. Memorial Day is a day in Israel that’s supposed to be dedicated to dead soldiers and it’s a heavy day because people have all lost someone. But the next day is Liberty Day so everyone’s all out buying meat for the party. And we see our President falling asleep in the ceremonies. And it’s not worth it. It’s not worth losing lives for this. People need to find a new way—peace is something people have stopped fighting for. And for me it’s just darkness, I don’t even see any light inside.
I wrote this song on Memorial Day, and it’s about a lot of things to me. But it’s mostly this feeling, this emotion that you have to move on even though shit is heavy. They say you have to remember it and make a day out of it but this day makes me so depressed because no one tries to stop the war, to stop the death and to stop the killing.
Who is that on the album cover?
Miss Red:It’s my granddad. He was a big man and I lost him while writing this album. My granny died a few years before, and my granddad died while I was on tour. I had this picture of him and…their story coming from Morocco to Israel and all of the stuff they’d been through in their past, it’s a part of my essence in a way. So I wanted to take this picture, dedicate this album to him because he taught me most of the important things in life. The amount of love in his generation, I can’t find anywhere these days.
He fled as a Jew from Morocco where he wasn’t allowed to be with my granny, and built this huge family. I have family all around the world. And we all remember them as someone with endless love and smiles. There was food for everyone, love for everyone—their house was always open. It was a part of the culture, and a part of their essence. When I lost them, there was this big hole and I wanted to fill it up with what they taught me.
The picture of him was as a boxer in the ’40s in Morocco. He was a fighter and was fighting for his place because in those days, it wasn’t easy for him as a Jewish person. Even today, I’d love to go to Morocco. I’ve never been, unfortunately. I wanted to go to this Joujouka festival and I emailed them, but I forgot my iPhone signature was in Hebrew. So they answered back and invited me over but they had to say, “PS: for your security…you may want to erase that.”
They were totally cool and it was entirely for my benefit and I feel really privileged to be in a place where I am safe. My grandparents worked so hard for that and today it’s not a big deal to be a Jew. But it reminds you that no matter who you are, there is some hate for you in the world. There’s hate for every kind of person.
Yeah, it’s this elephant in the room of governments and people in power. Both you and the festival are positive and want to connect genuinely but there are people in between…
Miss Red:And history, and it’s fucked up! For ages. I look at Game of Thrones and it reminds me of this. If only there were dragons…[laughs] But I’m gonna go. I’m gonna feel safe. I’m gonna cover myself and act all humble and shit and just enjoy it. I come from Haifa and it’s the chilliest part of Israel—we can definitely do better and I want us to, but as much as is possible in Israel right now, it’s mixed. You walk around and don’t feel conscious as much. But if you go to Jerusalem, it’s pure tension. Pure fear and fury. The vibe is poison. But because of how I grew up, I blend in. I’m not trying to make a fuss—I observe and enjoy and respect.
In Europe, things are much more open. And that’s the problem. So many people just want the opportunity to do things they can’t do in closed environments. Even me, there’s stuff I want to say and do that won’t be appreciated by the Israeli government…but Berlin gives me funding! To reach somewhere that wants me and offers me an opportunity…that’s something I wish for all the people of the world.
Kevin Martin, your collaborator is also based out of Berlin. You’ve told the story of jumping up on the mic at one of his shows when he toured Israel so I didn’t want to repeat that, but were you aware of his music before that show?
Miss Red:Oh yeah, it was pretty clear his shit was dope. I hadn’t seen him live, though. So when I saw him I got fully hype. I was in the crowd and I was never the first to go grab the mic. I was part of a crew and I was the youngest. So it took half an hour before I decided to grab the mic. I was a little bit shy—no one else wanted to grab the mic and I was wondering why! So I took a leap, no one else was brave enough to do it!
It feels so natural to hear you two do it. His music is so dark and heavy and you float on top. How did you find that chemistry?
Miss Red:Even at that first show we had that chemistry. The man wheeled me up three times! I didn’t know what was going on! I was completely fucked up myself [laughs]. But I knew shit was on fire—people wouldn’t forget this night. Then everyone else grabbed the mic but Kevin pulled me aside and said, “Listen, I have a 5PM flight. But let’s meet in the studio at 12 and do something.” I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t have much studio experience. So I reached the studio, and I remembered what he liked.
At the time, I was a soldier and I was singing about how much I hated this fucking army and having to do this. So that became “Diss Mi Army.” He liked that vibe, so it was quite quick. I wrote another verse, we recorded it and he told me it’d be going on the B-side of a Daddy Freddy record. I couldn’t believe this happened in 24 hours.
Then he told me he had a show in London in two weeks and invited me to grab the mic. I made a decision. Money or no money, plans or no plans, I canceled everything and went to London. Then we hit the studio and tunes started piling up really quick for me with him. He has this reputation and experience. I just had my love of reggae and rub-a-dub and music. It became a bit more complex than just grabbing the mic, but we were making something that was quite fresh.
And he’s got this rotating cast of collaborators as well. Flow Dan, Manga…Did you learn anything from being around them?
Miss Red:Of course. Previously, I was the only female emcee and would jump on at the end of the set and hype everyone up. Now, I had to hold down a show. It’s not the same thing. The first year was hell for me, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just trying to catch a vibe but I went from hyping ten people to crowds of hundreds. And Flow Dan, he’s KILLING it! Daddy Freddy, every show he’d TEAR IT THE FUCK UP! I had to push myself to that level.
I learned so much from Manga, Flow Dan, Daddy Freddy. And I’m still learning because I’m the least experienced. To build up my show as my thing took time. And I’m a dancer so I want to dance as I sing. So that also took time to develop—to be able to dance and sing at the same time.
That’s a really unique element, too.
Miss Red:I just fucking love dancing. If I could, I’d put much more into it. It’s really natural to me. My body’s rhythm is how I use my voice. It’s the same for me. To get it to a level where you’re a performer though, that’s not expected from me, but I expect it from myself.
So when are we going to see you on the road?
Miss Red:There are launch parties coming up. 21st of July in Berlin, one in London in July—look for it! All around Europe.
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