It had just turned 3pm in Rockland County, a mere 15-minute drive from New York City, when BriGuel joined our Zoom meeting. The couple, whose soulful mix of Spanish and English bilingual hip hop and out of this world vocals continue to take the music scene by storm, join me digitally to chat about life, love, and music.
We were joined by a very special guest: five-month-old Aiyanna; the duo’s first child together, who watched the proceedings with bright eyes and a beaming smile.
Miguel, the rapper of the group is dressed all in black and wearing his signature trilby hat tilted to the side, it’s a look so ubiquitous with a smooth operator that it is hard not to be reminded of classic Sinatra. I too am wearing similar headwear and he is visibly impressed. “I love your hat,” he tells me, “very cool!”
I thank him, and while trying not to blush, continue into the conversation. I want to know just what exactly is; BriGuel. Miguel looks to his wife and jokes: “For the logical questions, I’ll let her answer.”
Laughing, Brianne continues: “Well, BriGuel is the combination of Brianne and Miguel. When we met it was instant chemistry, we instantly connected with each other on every level. BriGuel is the unity of both our creativeness.”
Miguel then gives a deeper insight into how they met. “I am also a director; I was working on a project in 2016 and met Brianne. I discovered she had starred in and produced a movie: Bad Vegan and the Teleportation Machine, I was impressed by what I saw and asked her to star in my short film: Fly Away. I told her there was to be a nude scene and she said ‘No, I don’t do nudity!’ It was at that moment (clicks fingers) I fell in love,” she said amid spits of laughter from both. “I really respected that and asked her to co-produce instead. She brought a much-needed balance to the script. From there, we just kept going, she worked on my other projects and then brought vocals to my rap album.”
I wonder what came before BriGuel. Miguel tells me he was a rapper in Spain, releasing albums under the name Huse. Brianne admits that the first time she recorded anything was on Miguel’s album. I am curious about his musical inspirations: “Well, growing up, I listened to Method Man, Foreign Beggars, and Atmosphere, I feel very much inspired by the crazy rhyme structure of Eminem too. Brianne lists her musical influences as Alicia Keys, Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Winehouse and Freddie Mercury, to name but a few.
Miguel continues: “I’d like to say Michael Jackson, too. I remember getting obsessed with the rap (performed by the song’s producer, Bill Bottrell) in Black or White. I used to play the album in my cassette Walkman, over and over”. He adds, “We both love EDM, Pop, Rap and RnB, we try to put a little of everything in our music”.
The chemical connection is undeniable, even over Zoom. It is very much apparent that these two absolutely adore each other. Brianne thanks me and tells me that they both take over where the other one may falter; they continue to build each other up and are inspired by their relationship.
“We are very much privileged in that we both love doing what we do, and we have the same interests. People are always surprised that we live together, work together, and have a child together and are with each other 24/7. But Miguel is my best friend, I love being with him and working with him, he’s my husband and my love.”
Miguel, looking on and smiling, continues: “We are very connected, the thoughts, the philosophy, everything. Since being together, we just keep growing and helping each other become better versions of ourselves.”
With BriGuel putting out music, producing, directing and other projects, does having a baby hinder their output? Brianne answers: “Funny you should say that I feel we have been more productive than ever, we used to work up to 17 hours a day, pedal to the metal, but we have been more efficient with the less time we have, and with the whole COVID-19 situation, we have been producing absolutely everything ourselves and being even more hands on. Our next EP: 2020 Vision, which is out in June and features Andres Gonzalez was finished during this whole…”
“Madness,” Miguel exclaims, playfully interrupting his wife. She laughs, “I like to say unique times, to give it a lighter spin.” As she pauses, Miguel continues: “We had a period where we were adapting to having a baby, we slowed down our output.” This time Brianne interrupts, “That’s not entirely true, while we were at the hospital with me in labour, we were hired for a job, but I was out for like, three months. Aiyanna was two weeks late, after 48 hours of inducing I had to have an emergency C-Section, but I feel like we are getting back to the rhythm we had before.”
Their songs are catchy, and the videos are entertaining. All the while containing the very simple message; ‘Love’ and ‘Be Kind’. For myself, being surrounded by people who don’t listen to my kind of music and are quite frankly, turned off by the image of rap as portrayed by the media. But upon introducing BriGuel to them, with songs such as ‘Life is a Lesson’, ‘The Difference’ featuring The Holistic Life Foundation and guest rapper Andres Gonzalez, (The Difference is also a documentary film that aligns with the message of the song, and was also part of the Tribeca and Cinequest Film Festivals 2020.) Not to forget their latest release; ‘No One Really Knows’, also featuring Gonzalez, who features vocally and visually in the accompanying music video, made for the 2020 NPR Tiny Desk Contest. Those same people stopped what they were doing and paid attention. To have such an effect on a listener is priceless.
Brianne admits that not everyone is happy with the couples clean-cut image. She says, “We’ve had people within the Industry tell us, ‘yeah you guys are great, but you need to look like this, dress like that, you need to be sexier’. Being an actress in Hollywood for many years, I experienced it constantly.” She explains: ” I had to turn down so many opportunities and dream roles because they just didn’t sit well with my integrity, and it has been an uphill struggle because of this.”
I mention that within hip hop there has always been an emphasis on being ‘real’ and true to oneself, and with BriGuel not wanting to change who they are, despite being surrounded by a multitude of ‘Industry Rappers,’ then surely this is as hip hop as you can get?
Miguel continues to tell me he has seen many live artists rapping about money, cars and bling, “yet they didn’t have one cent between them.” He explains: “If you don’t have it, you don’t need to say that you do. Say something that makes sense and is real. In a sense, that is what is pushing us into finding our own community with artists and creative types”.
Brianne speaks. “If anything, I think that this whole global pandemic has shown that a lot of our focus and priorities are backwards. There was a slew of artists with John Lennon, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and others where the music was about what was happening. Their messages were very significant and profound. There’s not so much of that in the Mainstream anymore. I’m not saying it’s not there and I’m not trying to speak in generalizations, but there are so many people that are incredibly talented and have a platform. But they don’t necessarily come from a place of understanding or recognizing that what they say will literally move culture. With us, something that has always been significant, and we wanted to create is a very clear and positive message; Love yourself, love each other. Let’s be nice to each other, kindness is easy. All human beings share the same emotions, we all experience the same things, different circumstances in different packages.”
Miguel tells me: “Music is such a great tool. It influences so many people without them knowing. We listen to music growing up and it shapes who you are. It is all connected. There’s a reason behind there being so much negativity in the world today. Some of the music that our children have access to isn’t helping. Children are exposed to messages within the music, film and television industry that are not controlled properly. They take from it. We are just trying to put a positive message out there”.
I ask about their music videos, particularly curious about Miguel’s reoccurring clown character. Clowns are traditionally joyful caricatures, but I wonder if this one holds a deeper meaning. Miguel takes a moment before answering: “The clown materialized when my father was dying of cancer. We never had a great relationship and before he passed, he told me; ‘I never really loved you because you were a clown’. I was always an easy-going person; I like to laugh. So, when he said that, I kinda embraced it. I first used it in my solo rap videos. The face paint gave me a power. People were looking at me on-set and didn’t know what to do with that. I felt in control. I could be crazy and funny, and people accepted it.”
“It represents a different moods.” He added.
What sort of relationship they had growing up. Miguel looks at Brianne before speaking: “Both our families survived the Holocaust. My father was just four years old when that happened. He was born in ’37. We were 50 years apart. He was a very unhappy man. He was a genius and a great man in certain aspects, but he was full of anger and resentment. I couldn’t connect with him. Our generations were too far apart, I was raised in Spain, he was raised in a ghetto in Austria. We were too different. It is a shame, but I know I loved him, and he loved me in his own way.”
Miguel continued: “Some of BriGuel’s songs such as ‘Without Darkness’ and ‘Who Do You Want to Be’, contain references to Daddy issues, as do my solo albums. Lots of pain followed me from my past, but it also inspired me. I can’t speak about living in a ghetto because I didn’t, but I can talk about what I have experienced. I am inspired by my pain and love.”
He pauses for a moment: “I think it’s important to be transparent because the more you run away from your problems, the more they will chase and bite you. The sooner you confront them, the sooner you will be free of them. This has allowed me to love myself and be more aware of my reality as well as appreciating the present. Thanks to having that mindset now and having been surrounded by darkness, I can see things from the other side. I can enjoy my life”.
Bringing the conversation back to BriGuel’s music videos. I ask about ‘Red Ropes’, the only release from the duo that has a content warning beforehand due to the graphic undertone and visceral imagery of news clips combined with other shocking footage. “That was a difficult video to make,” Miguel admits. “It’s a song that relates to Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What it’s Worth’.” Brianne adds. “It asks what are we doing here, why are we behaving like this, what are our priorities, why are we treating the planet this way, isn’t this wrong?”
Miguel interjects, “I think it’s important to confront what’s real. The world is filled with some terrible things. I felt like we couldn’t shout about it without showing what is really going on. It was hard to make, very emotional. I was searching for images to use on the internet and in the back of my mind, I was thinking; ‘I have this in my Search History now, the FBI is gonna come’. It was a weird process editing it because it was so emotional, crying while you edit. It affects you terribly, but that’s what we felt we had to do. I love the song and I love the video, but I get it, it’s not for everyone.”
It’s hard not to feel inspired and uplifted by BriGuel’s message. As I thank BriGuel for the interview and wave goodbye to the very patient and well behaved, baby Aiyanna, I genuinely feel that I have met people with a message that I believe the world should hear.
Here was a couple that was standing firm against the flow of generic lyrics and sensationalized imagery. A duo that was changing the casual listeners’ opinion of what hip hop and rap music should sound like. Brianne and Miguel’s message resonated within me. Their message was love and affection, kindness and patience and of future and change. We will be seeing a lot more of BriGuel soon.