Sitting on the porch of a downtown café, Michele Thibeaux is dressed in a maroon short-sleeved Members Only jacket, hoop earrings and a tuft of side-swept hair dripping in gorgeous natural curls. The Houston-based composer and singer is an easy charmer, but it’s not her hip fashion, winning smile or even her fierce intellect that grabs most people — even though she should be praised for all that. When Thibeaux’s voice rings through the air or her uncanny writing ability, Thibeaux has the power to capture the attention of an entire audience at once.
The Oakland, California native grew up listening to rock, R&B, and hip hop by sneaking into her big brother’s room and listening to his records. The influence of cerebral rap masters like Brand Nubian, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Public Enemy, and KMD has remained with her for years like voices guiding her to a deeper appreciation of music.
Those years have been filled with not just precious memories but important collaborations, including the late DJ Zin and his Porch Stories from Folklore films — a collection of Third Ward stories and visual poems told by the elder African-Americans who lived them. Funneling her grief at Zin’s January 2016 passing and her admiration for his work into her art, Thibeaux will perform live during the event at MATCH. And, as per usual, she promises, “I make sure you get everything I’ve got.”
This isn’t Thibeaux’s first attempt at working with legendary Houston artists; in fact, her résumé reads like a “Best Of” compilation of local hip-hop names. The seasoned collaborator has worked with such acts as Scarface, Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Caretta Bell and has helped write the theme song for the documentary Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker. She’s even opened for Erykah Badu.
Thibeaux finds herself immersed in music constantly and leads the music at her place of worship, Awakenings Movement. The members of her congregation are “curators of human potential,” she explains with a wide smile. It's fitting for a woman who admits her main goal is to be used as a vessel to inspire others. Thibeaux even hopes to one day create an open and safe space where people can collaborate on music together. Think of it as rehearsal without expectation, a place where musicians are able to inspire, learn, grow and teach one another as the Muse moves them, or not.
As she continues mapping new ways to write music and pushing herself into uncharted creative areas, The Quiet Picture Show, released this past summer, is Thibeaux’s latest release to take on new routes. Thibeaux takes a cappella Afropunk to new and interesting places not just vocally, but in a beautiful and compelling aural landscape.
Songs like “Caution” move through melody with a kind of special grace, layering cymbals and bells over bass and quiet snare. What at first feels like progressive R&B abruptly shifts into New Wave and jazz. “Ready.Set.Go” is the kind of refreshing pop that has evolved from empty-headed lyrics and predictable beats. Her maturity is also on display in “Tide,” which proves Thibeaux’s vocal range can compete with that of any R&B singer currently topping the Billboard charts. “Skydiving,” with its atmospheric intro and echoing vocals, feels like experimental jazz that works.
Thibeaux’s sound is not just a compilation of airy and soft tracks, but songs that lend themselves to visual imagery. Her female narrative is so engaging, the record brought back memories I hadn’t thought of in years; it's that tug on the listener's subconscious that pulls you in. Thibeaux’s magnetic compositions are some of the best songs I’ve heard from a local artist all year long.
Looking forward, Thibeaux is all about musical vision, even writing down goals and keeping them on note cards. She is hyper-aware of fulfilling her dreams of stardom, a destiny that has long been in the works for her. “I’d love to be able to quit my day job and tour full time [laughs].” When she articulates her goals, she says it with conviction and passion; you believe because she does, too. And after hearing her music, you realize it’s just a matter of time.