“Miwabe” means “happy” in Swahili and is embodied as such in the eponymous new song by Dr. Fidelity’s Tory Corless as VQnC, her new solo project.

“To me, happiness is having a clear idea of who you are, being confident in your instincts, and surrounding yourself with people who support you and hold you accountable,” Corless said. The title of the song happened on accident, with neither her nor Notez realizing it was a real word. But upon discovering its meaning, it felt serendipitous, especially when listening to “Miwabe.”

The song opens with an upbeat, looping synth track with a rhythm you can shake your hips to. Aptly so, as VQnC is Corless’s foray into disco. “The other side I cannot see, the other side I cannot reach,” she half speaks, half sings over the beat. She shifts between the swelling, melodic hooks and the spoken word verses seamlessly as the music builds and fractures underneath it.

Though disco has long been the punchline to generations who lived through the height of its popularity, Corless said it feels about time it makes a comeback. She first discovered the genre completely of her own accord when pilfering CDs from her sister’s collection. Attracted to the colorful disc and playful album art, she chose a compilation that sounded like pure joy. “I loved the dramaticism behind the instrumentation, the repetition of the lyrics made it really accessible, and when I was listening to that music I wasn’t thinking about anything else in the entire world,” she said.

“I want my disco music to make people dance, to be happy, lose yourself in a way,” she added. “But I also want to draw in some subject matter that is really important to me: valuing yourself, taking care of yourself in whatever way you are capable of, finding pride in who you are, even when it’s hard.”

“Miwabe” is her first single as VQnC but it’s not her first release. Joining Boston’s hip-hop collective HipStory after founder Cliff Notez invited her for a jam session that turned into a bonafide studio session and, eventually, their first song recorded together, Corless has served as vocalist for Cambridge-based funk soul act Dr. Fidelity.

“I think HipStory serves Boston’s hip-hop community by fostering an open and welcoming environment for artists to share the art and tell their story behind their art,” she said. “However, I don’t think that the city embraces hip-hop in the same way that it creates spaces for other genres and it needs to do better.”

The song is being released as part of the in-house produced soundtrack to HipStory’s debut short film, directed by Cliff Notez, Vitiligo. Corless said the songs for the soundtrack, all of which she sings, were all brought to her by Notez with just instrumentation done—some, like “Miwabe,” stood out to her more than others. She wrote the lyrics immediately after he showed it to her and recorded the entire song in the same night.

“Writing this song was an important part of my healing process,” she said, noting that the entire Vitiligo project came to her right after enduring a rough breakup. “Making music makes me happy so it felt interesting connecting the difficult experiences that influenced the content of the song and the process of finding happiness through creating the song.”

Corless repeats the line “shock the pain away” while interjecting some dismal words: “oppress,” “compress,” “stress,” “subject,” “neglect,” etc., over funky, upbeat instrumentals. It feels dissonant, especially when considering the definition of the song’s title.

She said she struggled with truly allowing herself to immerse herself and experience her feelings instead of burying them and forcing herself to move on right away. She always wished she could just, as she puts it, “shock the pain away.” And the words she’s almost hissing, at times, throughout “Miwabe” are an illustration of that—they’re cognitive dissonance, toxic thoughts set to free flowing, mellifluous sounds.

“By opening myself up to those feelings and reflecting on my experience I was able to get to the ‘the other side,’” she said, referring to another line she repeats throughout the song. “I was able to find my center, and I was able to find my happiness in the end. The song closes on the word ‘respect’ and that is the word that I wanted people to walk away with —demanding respect for yourself, your magic, and everything that you are.”

And respecting herself is something that Corless has been working on. You can hear it in the swagger her voice has as she belts out those towering melodies in “Miwabe,” not a note wavers as her vocals complement the groove going in the instrumentation. In fact, her entire VQnC debut is focused on emotional healing and self-care.

“The concept of self-care has become a buzzword in recent years but I think the public perception of self care is like yoga and a smoothie,” she said, admitting that she occasionally partakes in both for pleasure. “But I think it’s problematic for those to be the main focus of how folks can take care of themselves because it assumes that everyone has access to those things and the privilege of taking time to do those things. I’ve been trying to think about how do I build self-care into my daily routine, how do I reframe things that I do regularly as meditative moments.”

Music is one of the main ways Corless practices self-care, among other things. “Cooking is self care for me, getting dressed is self care for me, singing and performing is self care for me,” she said. “Many times when I’m writing or recording, I do it mostly on the spot—moments where I’m not overthinking anything, but am just present in a moment and my emotions flow onto a page very naturally—it is very freeing.”

There’s a carefree undercurrent that acts as the heartbeat to “Miwabe.” Its melodies are built concentrically, each part relying on the others to make a coherent, funky, danceable sound as a whole. Repetition, as Corless noted earlier, is the key to disco, and she embraces it in all its forms throughout the track. Whether it’s repetition of a sound or a mantra, it owes something to the adage that practice makes better (because there’s no such thing as perfect, as my speech coach used to say).

Corless is constantly working on getting better: “I think the major thing I’ve learned this year is that I’m not going to live my life running away from difficult experiences and if you have moments of weakness that doesn’t negate your strength.”

“Miwabe” has plenty of moments of strength that punch through the pessimistic words: she spits the spoken word verses with speed and clarity, as the earworm of a synth line persists underneath. Reaching beyond genre, Corless hopes as VQnC people listen and hear her “creating moments where music and meditation collide, one disco clap at a time.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.