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New Zealand Singer Emily Muli Found Peace In The Stillness of Lockdown

Written by on June 18, 2020

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Her “little independent tune” known as “Self-Care” not only stole – and soothed – our hearts, it also landed on Jill Hopkins top five “In Rotation” songs of June! The singer spoke to us about her music going global, how she keeps her Tongan roots woven into her art and her hope that we all learn to be a little more still a little more often.

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Tell us about yourself… How would you describe your work? 

I would describe my music as a bit of R&B, Soul and my Pacific roots mixed together. One thing I try to do with my music is to speak my truth – however raw or real that can be.

One of my biggest musical influences is Ms. Lauryn Hill (the Miseducation album is my favorite of all time)! But I also love and pay homage to our homegrown NZ artists like Aaradhna, Adeaze, Brooke Fraser, Ché Fu – all artists who paved the way for young musicians like me.

You grew up in New Zealand and your family comes from the Kingdom of Tonga. What was that like?

My parents moved to NZ from Tonga when they were young, so I was born and raised in NZ, but grew up in a large Tongan family. I was always surrounded by laughter, food and a lot of singing! But I’m also aware of the struggles my grandparents and parents had faced to provide my siblings and I with the opportunities we have now, so I’ll always be thankful.

You try to keep your Tongan roots present in your music. What has the reaction to that been like from your fans? 

I think a lot of the people who follow my journey respect my love for my culture and that makes me happy because I really am proud of my heritage. I’m not completely fluent in my native language, but I always try to acknowledge my ancestry, my family and my community because they’re the village that literally raised me to be who I am today.

Could you tell me a story about the moment you knew you wanted to make music? 

I remember in high school I was super shy about singing in front of people, but my music teacher saw something in me and pushed me to believe in my songwriting and singing. He entered me in a songwriting competition for secondary schools and I eventually made it to the finals and placed second. Before that, I just saw music as a hobby that I liked to do. That extra push from my teacher gave me the confidence I needed to pursue music as a career.

What has it been like watching your music go global? 

Honestly it’s been surreal. I’ve been really humbled seeing people engage with my music from outside of NZ. And at the same time it’s exciting because it shows me that people actually resonate with my story. Super grateful.

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Is there anything about Chicago’s music scene you’re inspired by? 

The Chicago music scene is so unique and diverse! I love how real you guys keep it. My family grew up on old-school Blues, R&B and Soul music, so when I think of the Chicago greats that I grew up listening to I think of Chaka Khan and Earth Wind & Fire – even Sam Cooke who I believe moved to Chicago at a really young age… So many legends who helped build the foundations of the genres of music that I now write, listen to and play.

Your own music has shifted from Alternative to more R&B and Jazz. What helped influence the change in taste? 

When I finished high school I went to study music at the University of Auckland. It was there that I really began to find my sound. I was surrounded by so many amazing musicians and studying all types of music, so the more I learnt, the more my sound changed to fit what I really felt complimented my lyrics. Plus, we shared building with the Jazz students and it was always cool to jam with them!

How did your work singing backing for Aaradhna and Tommy Nee help prepare you for your solo releases? 

Doing backing vocals has been such a great experience for me in terms of learning the ropes of the music industry – especially when we’re on the road for tours. Being real, being kind and being respectful, no matter who it is that you meet or interact with, is so important and that’s what I keep in mind when preparing for solo releases. Authentic relationships are key.


“Self-Care” was arranged, recorded and filmed during New Zealand’s lockdown. Besides being an incredibly impressive feat, what did this unique creative process teach you? What elements did the production environment lend to the track’s overall feel and sound?

Doing everything in lockdown reaffirmed to me just how far we’ve come with technology in the music sphere; also how sometimes we don’t need to be in the big expensive studios to produce a song. I loved the vibe from my band too (Shoutout to Isaac Graham, Ivan Fuimaono, Elijah Whyte and Tatupu Fata!), and the overall vibe is what I feel like self-care “sounds” like to me.

Why was it important to you to create such a timely reminder? What do you want fans to take from this song, even as lockdowns ease up? 

It kind of dawned on me early on in lockdown that in terms of my well-being I felt so much better – and that was because everything that had kept me busy beforehand had suddenly stopped, so there was actually time for me to reflect, reset and look after myself.

Releasing “Self-Care” wasn’t planned at all, but it was super timely because all around the world we were experiencing a pandemic together. I found that it was the perfect time to share a message of being good to yourself. My hope is that people take time to be still and show themselves some love. Life isn’t easy and especially in the times that we’re living in today we have to remember that we can only give others as much energy as we give ourselves.

What other creative outlets do you turn to? 

I’ve been getting into some content and graphic design over the past couple of weeks! I love art too. Poetry is another creative outlet that I love and I have some amazing friends who are incredible poets.

What’s next for you? 

I am definitely keen to work on a body of music, so an EP is in my line of sight. I’ve also got a few collaborations cooking, as well as some single releases with an awesome collective I’m part of called the “House of Misfits.”

Emily has put together a playlist of some of the most meaningful and moving songs to her. (Also featuring “Fade Away” by Ché Fu, which sadly isn’t on Spotify.) Take a listen here:


Follow Emily On Instagram, Twitter and Facebook!

Interviewed And Edited For Length & Clarity By Shelby Kluver

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