Exclusive Interview with MOZART DEE
This 16-year-old multi-lingual, globe-trotting musician, actress and environmental campaigner, lived in Frigiliana for five years. Now the American child prodigy is back in Andalucia and is playing two concerts, in Estepona and Torrox Pueblo, in June 2017
AC: What is your earliest memory of living in Frigiliana? Something that amused or surprised you, a cultural difference from the US perhaps.
MD: When we arrived, the very first day, it was All Saints Day (1 November, the day after Hallowe'en) - we do not have that holiday in the US. Someone told us to go to the cemetery, and it was very moving, very beautiful and very exotic, different than anything I had seen before. I fell in love with this gorgeous white village and the people right away, so their holidays and celebrations became mine. Spanish culture is very different than American culture and our village was very welcoming.
Also right away I started Flamenco lessons, even though I was just five or six years old. It was completely normal for small children to learn Flamenco from such a young age, which is very unique to Andalucia and I think that has affected me, my dance, and my music.
The school was different, too, and even though I was already fluent in Spanish from birth, I had never been to a school where it was the main language spoken. I am deeply connected to the Spanish language because of my heritage (I am half-Spanish), and it somehow expresses my heart in a profound way. But when I am not in Spain, my English is usually dominant, so that was an adjustment. However I am grateful I did not miss those early years in Spain and absorbing Andalucian culture.
AC: How old were you while you lived here in Spain (from what age to what age), and what was your school like? Do you still keep in touch with friend from that period in your life?
We started our world trip when I was five years old, and we would travel around Europe by camper van for seven months and then come to back to Frigiliana from November to 1 May, where I would go to school. I went there from the first grade until the fourth grade and we'd rent an apartment for the winter and the village became our home. There were six sets of cousins in my class and that is not something one ever sees in America. I enjoyed the school, teachers, friends and community and since I am half-Spanish, it gave me roots which I think I needed in our traveling life. I liked walking to school, village life; when my aunt and 80-year-old grandfather came to visit, they also walked me to school. I do keep in touch with many of my friends from that time and can't wait to spend some time with them in person.
AC: What is your fondest memory of living here in Andalucia? Friends, beautiful white buildings, flowers, playing, freedom, festivals, community
I can't think of just one memory, but I think some of the most prominent ones would be exploring and playing with my friends, performing in school concerts with them, and dancing flamenco. I remember going to the Tivoli amusement park with my Flamenco group because we were performing there, and afterwards we stayed and had fun on the rides for the rest of the day. I loved the festivals and miss them and I just miss the beauty of Frigiliana.
AC: How do you think the experience influenced you, and the way you see life?
I think living in Spain, speaking Spanish, being part of the community and also apart from it in another way (as we'd come and go, and I was American) had a deep impact on me. In many ways Spain is where my heart is! Spain will always feel like my home. I love the spirit, feistiness and joy in Andalucian culture which I can relate to, and am grateful for that influence in my early years.
AC: What are you most looking forward to about coming back here to Andalucia this month? Any particular plans, apart from the two concerts in Frigiliana and Estepona?
I'm most looking forward to seeing my friends. I haven't seen any of them in about five years and I'm very excited to see what they are all like now, and just to reconnect with them and the village. I really love Frigiliana and miss it, so just being there will be special.
AC: Do you still dance flamenco?
A little, but my focus now is more on hip-hop. I think the flamenco that I did as a child, influences me today still.
AC: Do you speak fluent Spanish and Chinese? How often do you get to practice them?
Funnily, in Los Angeles both languages are quite common and I have even spoken both of them in commercials and TV shows. I live in a small apartment building in Santa Monica now and my next door neighbours are a family from China, so I talk to them a lot in Mandarin Chinese and the family below us is from Latin America, so I talk to them in Spanish. I try to talk to my friends in Spain at least once a week in Spanish and find lots of people around LA who are native speakers, but from many different countries, so the Spanish varies a little. I do get a little rusty because I speak more English here in LA, so I will be grateful to get more Spanish time in Spain. I don't forget my Spanish, but sometimes forget words I want to say, and that happens with Chinese too. When I am where the language is dominant, I quickly get it stronger again just by using it more.
AC: What would you like to do/see/eat while you're here? Do you have a favourite Andalucía food or dish?
Sooo many delicious things! My friend makes the best Paella, I know not Andalucian but we love it (he is from Valencia). I love the Spanish tortilla...like a comfort food. Something that I always loved to eat as a child was palomitas [popcorn]. They came in different flavors, and all my friends and I would love to buy them after school.
AC: Who are your biggest music influences?
My biggest influence I would say is Ed Sheeran. I also love the greats like Simon and Garfunkel (I named my pet turtles after them!), of course, the Beatles and currently Halsey and Rixton. I was also influenced by Flamenco singer Jesus Corbacho who I saw in Seville, Hispanic performers like Enrique Iglesias, and Chinese pop singers like A-Lin.
AC: Have you met any of your musical heroes - if so, did they live up to your expectations?
I recently met singer/songwriter Bebe Rexha and got to write a song with her on MTV! She has been one of my musical inspirations and I would definitely say she lived up to my expectations!
AC: Which country of all the 48 you've visited would you like to return to, and/or live in? Why?
Spain! A part of me will always miss Spain because I love it so much and feel so at home there. Spanish is probably my favorite language to speak out of all three! I love the Spanish culture and the people, so I'd definitely want to live in Spain.
AC: What is your greatest aim in life? No1 single/album, win an Oscar, leading role in a Broadway musical or play, have your own TV show? Or all of the above?
I want to touch people with my art and I hope to change the world in a more positive direction, if I can, and use my platform to help people. I hope to do it all, but in many ways it is challenging to be multi-talented as each area takes time to develop and pursue, but the advantage is they also often work together these days. Both music and acting take a lot of work, so it will likely be a balancing act, sometimes putting more energy into the one pulling the most attention. I hope to act in movies, be a lead in a TV show, write great songs, have some hit albums and sell out huge stadiums. I am working on my first album right now and I have got a lead in an international series, so we'll see how that goes!
AC: Where do you see yourself in 5 and 10 years' time?
In 5 years I will be 21, so I hope to be in a very successful place career-wise at that point as both music and acting are "early peak" kind of careers, like a ballerina. In 10 years, I will aged 26, and hope to be blossoming in even more ways and expanding my career, hopefully in a position where I can create and produce projects that interest me and that bring about positive change.
AC: How important is Social Media to the way you communicate with your fans? What are the dangers for teenagers, and how do you avoid them?
Unfortunately, in many ways, social media is essential today in both music and acting. It actually affects work! The good news is it does allow me to be close to my fans and I do appreciate that. I think teenagers have to be aware of social media and how the companies make it addictive. In fact I talk about that in my keynote speech and quote ethical-tech entrepreneur Tristan Harris. I think we all need to be less attached and addicted to our phones and online life, to use it as an amazing tool that connects us around the world, but not to let the tool use us. Because I am a minor and deal with lots of fans on social media, my parents help and monitor. They've always taught me a lot about how to keep myself safe, which I think is important for parents and schools to do today.
AC: What is your relationship with your fans like, and what is your preferred way of communicating with them?
I have some amazing and devoted fans and I am so grateful for all their help and support. One from Canada sent me an iPhone and one from Europe sent me a camera, to help me take better videos, and I had a GoFundMe page to produce songs. I use all the social media channels to talk to them; Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, live streaming, Facebook, and Snapchat, to name a few and all with the name "MuzicbyMozart" as my handle. When I can we have meet ups like after a concert, so we can talk in person.
AC: How do you think your unusual education, in so many different countries and cultures, influenced you?
I think it has had a huge effect on me and has given me a very open mind. Just knowing another language gives one a different perspective. I've been exposed to so many different cultures and countries from a very young age, so I have a much wider view of what is normal and what is being human. I have also had a lot more freedom than many, since we mostly home-schooled and always had a lot of time for creative pursuits, day-dreaming and reading books in three languages in blissful settings like Bhutan or Bora Bora. Plus I spent more time with my parents than most, and we were an equal team in exploring. I think that expanded my perspective through lots of conversations and working together with things like mastering subways and mapped itineraries around the world. Even grocery shopping or riding a bus are adventures in a foreign land where you don't speak the language.
AC: How involved are your parents with your career? Do you make all decisions together?
My parents are very, very supportive and have always followed my lead and encouraged me. They've made a lot of sacrifices for me like moving to Los Angeles where the music and acting businesses are based. They see it like being the parents of an Olympic star or math scholar...that these things do not happen in a vacuum, but with years of effort, training and support. We're very, very close because travel makes you close, especially the kind we did, handling everything on our own on a small budget, so we've always made decisions together.
AC: Which social and environmental issues are important to you, and why?
I first wrote and did a speech on environmental issues when I was 10 in Asia (View on YouTube) . I have long had a passion for environmental issues, I think partly because we traveled mostly at ground level, walking, on bikes or mass transit - that way you can see the issues clearly. I think my generation needs to change this around, so I hope to be able to help. One of my first original songs was about the environment. (View on YouTube)
Another issue that is very important to me is human trafficking. I was so shocked when I found out about it, I felt I had to sing about it and try to help. So I wrote a song to raise awareness called "You're Not Alone," and Dallas Lovato loved it so much that she took it to the producers of the movie "Caged," to have it put in the soundtrack.
I've done a lot of charity work to raise money. I also care a lot about equal rights and equality. I hope that someday, my songs, my art, my platform can allow me to help in a bigger way.
AC: What will your main message at your keynote speech in Newcastle be?
My keynote speech is primarily about how travel has affected my life, education and languages and, since it is a tech conference and I am a pioneer in the world-schooling and digital nomad trend, it's also about how tech affected my education. I am bringing up some of the important points about how we must use tech as a tool within certain limits, and how to keep kids safer from addiction to tech, and its potential adverse health effects.
AC: Do the tragic recent events in Manchester and London affect your desire to perform in public, especially in the UK?
The attacks in Manchester and London [May and June 2017] were certainly extremely tragic and upsetting, but they haven't affected my desire to perform in public at all. On the contrary, it makes me want to perform even more, and show people like that, that their actions do not control us and that if we all stand together, we're unstoppable. I also think, like Mr Rogers said, we must "look for the helpers" and take away positive lessons. Look at all the people who survived, and those who helped too, as well as the generous outpouring of love and support from around the world. We can never let the terrorists stop us because then they win.