As he celebrates the release of his third album, Mali Is, singer Mali Music joins ESSENCE.com in conversation about his spirituality, making the transition from gospel to R&B, and how losing friends in gospel—for his musical move—only made his resolve that much stronger.
Share a time when your faith has been tested and what lessons you learned.
The beginning of making this album was the greatest test of my test because my second album, The Second Coming, was extremely gospel. But I had a great opportunity and I had an awakening that God didn't just give me my music and my sound just to stay safe in churches and stuff like that. He had a greater calling for me and when I accepted that, those things started to come and I felt that they were separating me. So it's like whoa, Mali, you're so down, you went from gospel to r&b. I didn't do any of that; its just God just expanded my sound. He entrusted me with the opportunity to do it on that major level. But before there was an understanding, there were a lot of thoughts, a lot of rumors, a lot of stones being thrown.
I would meet with my colleagues from gospel music and they would have sadness in the eye, like Mali you didn't have to sell out, you know that type of thing. I've served the church for years and rumors were enough for people to feel a different way about me. Before I knew it, I was alone. But that was the best thing that ever happened to me, because that's when I had to not only have God and find him for myself, but that's when I needed to know who I was and I can get a clear mission.
Do you consider yourself spiritual, religious or something else? And in what way does that manifest for you?
I see myself as spiritually something else. It's just in the sense of what is, I will not ignore or take out the spiritual aspect of it. The last thing I am is religious. My sound was given to me from heaven; I know that for a fact. Because of that, there's no way I can, or anyone who hears it, and completely understands it, cannot acknowledge God. God is good.
What words, proverbs, scripture always get you through the tough times?
"Eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, neither have it entered into the heart of man what God has ready for those who love him are called according to his purpose."
How do you connect with God or a higher being?
Humility. Honesty about my proclivities as a man, my weaknesses, my limitations. A lot of people try to connect to God off of strength, and I don't think that's a good idea. I think it's just me having to be truthful about the things that I can't do, my limitations as a man that causes me to respect and reverence God and that causes him to intervene and make those weak things strong.
Who has been the greatest teacher in your life, and why?
I believe that the greatest teacher in life is life itself, because everything is contained within. I could say it's my mother, I could say it's my father, but without life they don't exist. So I guess life is the teacher, making it God.
Finish this sentence; I'm at peace when...
I’m at peace when I sing.
What's the last thing that made you remember to be grateful?
I think taking a picture under the Essence sign. It's amazing to be able to be in these places and it is on something that you were doing for good.
When was the last time you had a come to Jesus moment?
I think I have a come to Jesus moment every time I shower. There’s something about water that just takes me there. I constantly am reminding myself of where I came from, what this is about and that and how all the stuff that has happened is just a part and an aspect of it, not it itself.
Mali Music’s third album, Mali Is, is available on iTunes. Watch him perform an acoustic version of “make It to Heaven.”