Years ago, someone sent me the video of her wedding, and I was extremely taken by her boldness, which resulted of me seeing her as this amazing human being. I was like, she is who she is and unapologetic as well . I know Voodoo is part of our culture but not all practice it, but I think part of that is because of what we were taught. I must admit prior to reading this, I had a totally different opinion. But that’s why I do those interviews. Not only she is vocal about her journey, but she is one hella of a vocalist. Throughout the interview Riva was very open, answered all of my questions, which was amazing! I hope while reading you will learn a few things .
How would you introduce yourself to those who don’t know you?
I like to describe myself as a creatrix, an artist passionate about my Haitian heritage and conserving our culture through art, music, and dance.
I saw somewhere that you moved here to the US at 15 years old from Haiti, how was the change of culture?
It was definitely a difficult adjustment for me at that age. I truly had no desire to live abroad and become the dreaded “diaspora” but life had other plans for me. And here I am, over 15 years later, a true diaspora now and proud to continue to do the work from across the ocean. I’ve learned over the years that flexibility is key and sometimes we are put in situations for reasons we may not understand at the time but will make more sense later. “Chak bagay fèt pou yon rezon.”
You’ve lived in Haiti, New York, New Orleans for college, where is your favorite place ?
A magical land where those three places are combined… but in all seriousness, that’s a challenging question because they each have their own energy, hue and vibration. Though there are some similarities between Jacmel and New Orleans for example, they’re each tuned in different keys. I can’t compare or choose one over the other, they’re each beautiful in their own ways. And although New York has its cons, I’d be dishonest if I said it didn’t have a hold on me, it has a certain inexplicable charm and I can find ALL my Haitian food and botanica needs, so it’s convenient for sure.
You received your BA in music therapy, why was that the major you picked?
I didn’t want to simply study vocal performance or just psychology so when I discovered Music Therapy as a major, it seemed like the perfect marriage between my interests and passions. I’ve always wanted to help people, and music naturally is such a therapeutic tool, so it was a no-brainer for me.
How did your singing journey start? What made you fall in love with it?
I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. My older sister has a story she always tells of me singing an old tune in the middle of the grocery aisle at the age of 4 or 5 like I was heartbroken. I don’t quite remember it but it sounds about right. I’ve always been able to tap into the deeper meaning of a song and just flow right into that sentiment, allowing myself to be carried away by the song’s message or emotion. While in high school, I became deeply infatuated with Billie Holiday and learned most of her songs, not because her voice was so remarkable and unique but because she sang with her entire being.
Not everyone who can sing becomes a singer you know, why did you choose that career path?
It sort of chose me. I allowed myself to flow into this space after a turning point in my life where I decided not to make fear-based decisions. There’s always that voice in the back of our minds reminding us to be practical, but I had to release that way of thinking and really do what brings me the most joy.
If you had the opportunity to collaborate with one person, who would it be and why?
Toto Bissainthe, because her work was so bold and impactful. I admire her tremendously.
Riva, what is your favorite part about being a dance teacher?
Breaking down the deeper meanings of each rhythm and movement in a voodoo context without sugar coating it.
How have you been coping with the Pandemic? What are some tips for staying sane?
It has been a rollercoaster of emotions but I am happy to be safe and with family during this time. I feel very fortunate for my loving and supporting tribe. Also being diligent about taking the time out for self-care and relaxation.
You practice voodoo, is it something you grew up in, or it was your choice later on?
I grew up observing ceremonies and was a spectator at a very young age, but I’ve always loved the practice. But again, back to not letting fear take the lead, I decided as an adult to walk fully in my truth and fearlessly.
People tend to have a misconception about voodoo, how would you explain it to them?
Voodoo is a way of life, simply put. It is what you make of it, you get back what you put in it. It can be beautiful and it can also be scary, like most things in life, I feel.
Voodoo is part of our culture to come to think about it. But why do you think Haitians refuse to accept it?
We’ve been heavily brainwashed to believe that our heritage is evil, wrong, and vile. Which simply isn’t true. It’s a tactic used to dismantle us of our own identities. I have a lot I can say on this topic, but I’ll leave it at that.
You are a new mom, how has this changed you? What is your best part about being a mom?
I have become more aware of my actions and how they will impact my daughter. I want to serve as an example to her and have become more mindful of how to do that with intention.
You called your daughter Loa, why did you choose this name?
We wanted to give her a strong name that would make her proud of her heritage, her ancestors, her spirits, and Loa covered all those bases.
If later on, your daughter chooses to go another route when it comes to faith, how would you feel about it?
I will have an open mind and heart and like my own mother did for me, allow her to become her own person.
Everyone sees voodoo differently, what does it mean to you?
It is all encompassing, it means embracing the light and the dark, the ups and the downs, acknowledging that we are all one. Voodoo is multifaceted, multilayered and multidimensional, like the universe, like us.
Outside of being a mom, or singer, what else does Riva do?
I paint, I make jewelry. I recently started sewing, and have been hosting virtual healing circles since the pandemic for those who are seeking to connect on a deeper level with themselves and their guides.
With such a broken world we live in, what do you hope to teach your daughter?
To love without restraint and follow her heart above all else.
Through your work, what do you hope people will remember about you?
“M pote kilti Ayiti a sou do m.” That I carried Haitian culture on my back (Creole to English translations are never as poetic as one may hope).
To anyone who is scared of being different, what advice can you give them?
We are each here on our own individual path and living for someone else will only stifle our own magic. We may never live up to our fullest potential if we don’t step into ourselves wholeheartedly. Embrace the discomfort and face your fears head on, you only have yourself to gain and those who weren’t truly there for you in the first place to lose. Continue sans relâche!
Is there a part of you that regret that you don’t know your Russian side?
No, I feel I have time to explore and connect deeper with that side; it’s within me already afterall.
What are your thoughts on feminism? Would you consider yourself to be one?
I do believe in balance and as a woman yes, I’d say I’m a bit of a feminist but not an extremist. Sometimes these topics can be taken a bit far and having been raised in Haiti I do have some traditional ways of thinking embedded in me which I embrace and try to incorporate new ways of thinking to them so my daughter has a strong value system to look up to.
One fun fact about Riva…..
I often see repeating numbers (11:11, 3:33, 4:44) and like to think of them as positive signs that I’m on the right path.
It’s a tradition for me to ask anyone that I’m interviewing if they have anything they would like to say. I don’t know, a message or anything that I might have left out for the readers.
Well, you certainly covered a lot of grounds and left no stone unturned! Stay tuned for my Creole lullaby album, it will be relaxing to say the least. 😴
A massive thanks to Riva for this interview! I wish you the best. Can’t wait to see what’s next to come ! I am very happy you allowed me to feature you on my blog.
PS: Don’t forget to follow her on Instagram (@riva.nyri) & subscribe to her YouTube (Riva Nyri Précil)