Nicole C. Mullen spoke to me on the phone from her home in Nashville earlier this year and it was towards the end of our time together that two things emerged, to really define who this wonderfully talented, compassionate and gentle spirited lady is. Interestingly enough the first comment emerged during our discussion of her clothing line Outta Nothin. Her designer clothing line creates new apparel from clothes that others have already discarded or are ready to discard and she also has a patent pending for a line of jeans with interchangeable legs.
“I started making mirrors first and instead of throwing a broken mirror out of my house, I thought maybe I can make it into something else so I decorated it. Now I have all these, not really masterpieces, but they are junk masterpieces that are all over my house. God allows us to take things that are easily discarded and with a little creativity we can make them into something brand new,” Mullen says explaining how her clothing line got started and drawing an analogy to how God takes lives that others are ready to discount as worthless or of little value and restores them to something new and beautiful.
Continuing to talk about her clothing line she says, “What is so ironic is I was the one in the family (she grew up in) who couldn’t put two things together to save my life. I went through a period of time when they thought that I was colorblind. I have always liked taking things that were about to become trash and figuring out how I could make it into something cool.”
The second comment that Mullen made which provided great insight into her character came from her response to the very last question that I asked her concerning her response when a complete stranger asks her what it is that she does in life. “If I say that I am a recording artist, it has a connotation that is bigger than life so I find myself saying, ”I live in Nashville and everybody sings.’ I make sure that I reveal that I am a wife and a mother. If people ask me what kind of music that I do, I say that the style is what we probably make out to be funkabilly, however the content is gospel Christian. I would rather have a heart to heart talk with them, find out about them and discover if there is an avenue to introduce the gospel. Is there an opportunity to plant a seed so that God can get the increase later? In order to speak to their heart you have to hear it first. Often when people ask who I am, I say, I am a wife, a mother, a daughter and a friend. That is who I am, singing is what I do. A singer is not who I am, it is what I do. Who I am off the stage, is the real me. That is the one that should be consistent with everything else that I do. Hopefully that character we are speaking of is becoming more and more like Christ everyday. That is my aim and that is my goal.”
Certainly earlier this year Mullen took another big step in realizing her goal when she traveled to Ghana in west Africa to take part in ministering spiritually and practically to ex Trokosi slaves. For those unfamiliar with the term Trokosi, these are women who have been taken from their families, often as little children, by the village priest, to supposedly atone for the wrongs of the family and to appease the gods. They are then turned into sex slaves and deprived of the basic necessities of life, education, proper healthcare and often left without proper nutrition and clothing. It is not unusual for the women to later be abandoned completely by the priest, and their families will not accept them back.
On her current album, Sharecropper’s Seed Volume 1 Nicole C. Mullen recorded the song “Under The Shadow,” a tune that features just her vocals and drums. “It is one of those songs that came straight from Psalm 91. If you live in faith, you know that you will always be protected by the hand of God. I had the chance to sing the song in Ghana in January. It was very interesting to sing to these women and hear them make this declaration because their whole lives had been shrouded in fear,” says Mullen.
Mullen traveled to Ghana with the I.N. Network USA. “The organization negotiates with the priests in Ghana (for the release of the slaves). At first, they thought they would try and buy the slaves but they discovered the priests would just acquire more slaves to make an even greater profit. Now, negotiations (may consist of) the organization putting a well in a village, bringing electricity to the village or the building of a school to educate the children of the Trokosi or the women themselves who have never been educated,” says Mullen, noting that the priests are then viewed by other villagers as a hero. I.N. Network USA also teaches the people how to provide for themselves. Life skills may be as simple as teaching them how to make clothes, soaps and powders or dying fabric, tools that they can use to provide for themselves.”
Reflecting upon the heritage of the African American in the United States, Mullen observes, “I often say had there not been men and women of different colors of skin from light to dark, different walks of life, different religious backgrounds who spoke up on my behalf when I was in the loins of my ancestors who were slaves, and spoke up on my behalf for freedom, then I would not be here today singing to you. I am grateful and how much more am I called to speak up on behalf of someone else’s freedom. We are a nation that is embarrassed and outraged because of the (history) of slavery in our country, and we might use that same embarrassment and outrage to help some other people. As long as one of us is enslaved then we are all slaves. It is all of our duty to do something to help the plight of other people less fortunate than ourselves.”
“I took my thirteen year old Jasmine and we had a chance firsthand to see what they do. I was so floored that what we spend on Starbucks coffee can revolutionize someone’s life (in Ghana). What we consider to be trash is a treasure to them. I was embarrassed and humbled by that fact. It was life changing and I saw the likeness of them in myself. We were more alike than we were different. They were able to laugh, to cry, to be overjoyed, express emotion and gratitude. It was a great trip and one that I will not soon forget,” says Mullen in a compassionate and tender voice.
To understand this wonderful lady who despite having numerous chart stopping hit songs and having reached a stature in the music industry that few attain at still a relatively young age, you must understand her heritage. She talks about her grandfathers, both of whom were pastors, and the heritage passed on to her parents and then to Nicole and her siblings.
After returning to the phone from sorting through routine childhood concerns with her four year old and thirteen year old Mullen says, “The grandfather on my mom’s side is still living. The one on my dad’s side is already in heaven. I remember my granddad as a man of faith and a fine upstanding man. He was a man of easy smiles, few words and a man of faith. I remember him often praying and thanking the Lord for what he had been given. He also prayed that the Lord would provide. He has an intense love for the Word of God and passed on a living legacy to my mom, to me and to my children. For that simple greatness, I am grateful.
Prior to the release of Sharecropper’s Seed Volume 1, and shortly after she wrote the words, during a concert in her hometown of Cincinnati Mullen had the opportunity to recite the lyric with her grandfather present in the audience. She dedicated the lyric to her grandfather. “I had a hard time getting through it because the other people in the audience and I were busy crying. Hopefully he is proud of it. I am proud of the heritage that was passed down to me,” she says.
“The essence of the whole album is that you take care of the seed. If you do that, it may turn out to be a harvest and one that blesses you later. My parents were good to me. I never remember them doing things to hurt my spirit. They may have hurt my feelings on occasion, but they were the type that if I wanted to be a lawyer, a clown or an actor that they would always encourage me. They didn’t remind me that we didn’t have the money to do what I felt were my dream in life. They were the type that said, if this is what God has in store for you, He will make a way and He will provide. You do the best you can do and leave the results up to God. That is the essence of what happened to me as a child and I want to pass that onto my children now,” says Mullen.
I had intended at the start of my interview with Nicole C. Mullen to focus on the CD Sharecropper’s Seed Volume 1, however as we began to talk I realized there was a more important story that needed to be told and that is about the woman who describes being a singer as something that she just does but being a wife, mother, daughter, friend and believer is who she is. If you want to discover more about the soul of a truly beautiful lady then pick up Sharecropper’s Seed Volume 1 at your digital or retail music store.
Copyright © 2007 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs, www.rivetingriffs.com .