Michelle Bonilla started out in music when she was only 16 years old. Since, Michelle has performed in the presence of Out of Eden, Papa San, Crystal Lewis, and others. She began working in the industry with hip hop icons Lecrae and Cross Movement. Michelle and I recently spoke about her career, her experience on 9/11, and women in music.
Gabe: How did you get started with music?
Michelle: I actually got started in music professionally at 21. I had moved from New York to Philadelphia believing that God had called me to do music ministry. My heart was and still is to make a difference in the world for Christ through the arts. I grew up around all types of music–having been raised in Brooklyn in a Latino Family (Puerto Rican and Dominican descent). My father is an incredible guitarist and really inspired me to love all kinds of music so I listened to everything from the Beatles to Michael Jackson to CeCe Winans, Steven Curtis Chapman, DC Talk, to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, Latin Music was a household staple. Musically there was never a dull moment. We were always singing either in church or at home with live percussion instruments and dance.
When I was 19, CEO of RockSoul Productions Lee Jerkins “discovered” me at a Christian Holy Hip-Hop concert being held at my home church in Brooklyn. To make a long story short I moved to Philly to begin the journey of recording my 1st album. I started recording hooks for groups like the Cross Movement, Da Truth, Flame and Lecrae. In 2006 I actually married my producer Lee Jerkins–which is also a long story for another time, and released my debut album “Phenomenal”. In 2010 I released my Sophomore album “In Spite of Me” and that record took us on national and international tours. I charted #1 on Uganda’s top radio station–which happens to be a Christian radio station. We also charted on CHR charts in the US and UK charts. It was an interesting season considering that I am an indie artist.
I am now gearing up for my 3rd album BraveHeart and I am super excited to share my new life experiences as a mom and wife, but more importantly as a citizen in this world who aims to leave a legacy of a heart consumed by the love of God and life committed to Christ. I can’t think of a better way to accomplish that dream and calling than through sharing my music and future books.
Gabe: What was it like when you first started playing in the company of other artists such as Crystal Lewis and Nicole Mullen?
Michelle: Honestly, it was absolutely mind blowing! Crystal Lewis, and Nicole Mullen were actually performing for a 9/11 Tribute at Carnegie Hall in NY when I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with them. It was a personal moment for me as I was in downtown Manhattan when the Twin Towers were attacked. The building where I worked was just down the street from the NY Stock Exchange (NYSE) and a few blocks from the Towers. I remember actually seeing human beings literally jumping out of the buildings to avoid being burned to death. I even recall when our building doors were finally opened walking out into the open air under a cloud of soot and debris, wondering what was going to happen next, because life as we knew it had changed. Ultimately, that surreal moment of sharing the stage with them made me so unbelievably grateful to be supporting an incredible cause with other believers who I truly admired.
Gabe: When can we expect new music from you?
Michelle: That’s s a great question! I’ve been looking forward to putting out new music and I can finally say that I will be releasing a new single “Relentless” before Christmas this year! This single will be off of my new album BraveHeart which is slated to release early Spring 2015.
Gabe: Can you describe what the new album will sound like?
Michelle: The sound of the new album weaves in and out between a classic contemporary pop album mixed with sounds from the 80’s & 90’s and lyrically these are songs that are praise and worship driven but also real, honest and transparent. All I can say is that when you hear it…it sounds like it all just fits together and belongs on your stereo! (Laughs) I also feel like it takes you back to when music was innovative, unique, and fun! I’ve been blending sounds and rhythms since I first started in 2006 because I grew up listening to all different styles of music. I really have a love for being able to take lets say a reggae rhythm and blending it with a 90’s beat and then pepper it with some three part-harmonies and organically letting the songs take shape. I also work with an AMAZING producer–aka my hubby! (laughs) who also knows how to clearly filter through my ideas and really nails it when it comes to pulling out the best in me…so just a quick shout out to Lee Jerkins, CEO and producer of RockSoul Productions! You are the brains of this operation and truly I could not do this with out you!
Gabe: How is it being a woman in the music industry? Especially with there being a lack of women in the Christian genre compared to men.
Michelle: This is truly an interesting question. I have often thought that there was a lack of women worship leaders and wondered why many times. But even when I arrive at my own conclusion, it does nothing to help me better understand the reason lol! So I have come to understand that there is a time and a place for everything and that maybe someday there will be more of an equal playing field. In the meantime I don’t worry so much about being front and center, my hope is that Christ will constantly steal the show…like Toby Mac says! (laughs) Truthfully, I have enough on my plate with being a wife, and mother, going to school for my MBA, Recording a new album and writing 2 books to be worried about too much else! (laughs) I attempt to impact those closest to me: my family, my friends and those within earshot of my music and stories. None of us can be the whole ocean but if we all just focus more on those around us, who knows how far our ripple in the water will go to reach someone else. What I truly believe is that God has called me to reach those who he has set before me with the message of hope through Jesus Christ. I attempt to accomplish this through my musical platform, and through sharing my books and testimony. I can’t run from who I am and the music and message that I know God has put on my heart to share. I will be bold in Christ Jesus and pray that those who are hurting and need to be refreshed and encouraged will hear in my music and stories that the answer to their hurt and pain is Jesus.
Be on the lookout for new music from Michelle Bonilla soon! Be sure to follow her on Twitter: @MichelleBonilla