A dazzling flurry of sparks emerged as guitarist Bibi McGill stood toe-to-toe with Beyonce, shredding a blazing Jackson Randy Rhoads guitar in all her awesome glory. This year’s Superbowl half-time show had many memorable moments, but none quite like that. In a recent phone interview with EBONY.com, McGill confirmed that the performance was “extremely exciting,” but focused more on her mission to share good energy, love and light through her efforts. “I’m not thinking about how I look and how it feels to have sparks come out of my guitar,” said McGill. “I’m just kind of up there going, ‘I’ve been given the opportunity to be here. I want to let my light shine, so light shine through me.’”
Pool sticks and brooms would preoccupy a young McGill’s time, as she played air guitar throughout her family’s house in Denver, Colorado. At the age of 12, she begun taking private guitar lessons and playing music throughout junior high and high school. Majoring in Music Scoring and Arrangements at the University of Colorado later expanded the budding musician’s prowess, exposing her to orchestration, music history and theory, and instilling the importance of consistency, diligence, and responsibility.
Founded in love and expertise, the trajectory of McGill’s music career ultimately led her to performing with Pink in 2001—her first, big break— followed by Mexican superstar Paulina Rubio, and the Chilean rock band La Ley. Teaching yoga, another passion of McGill’s since 1998, served as an escape once she grew tired of the music industry.
Now the guitarist and musical director for Beyonce’s tour band, “The Suga Mamas,” acclaimed yoga instructor, and health food entrepreneur, this Renaissance woman shatters notions of race and gender attached to each of these occupations. Here, she speaks about struggling before her big break, almost passing on the “I AM” auditions, and juggling multiple passions at once.
EBONY: In an interview with Edge Magazine, you said, “One day I was struggling in Hollywood and the next day I was on a plane to New York.” Could you please talk a little more about that struggle in particular, and what inspired you to continue your musical ambitions?
Bibi McGill: After graduating from college with a degree in Music Arrangement, I moved to L.A…At the time it was very expensive to live in L.A.; but for a woman who lives alone and doesn’t have a house full of roommates, it was a lot harder. To make a living as a musician was very difficult. I worked in the mortgage industry for three years, and then I worked in a record label for another number of years. Then I had it, and quit. That’s what forced me to start pursuing music full time. I quit my job without having anything lined up and I started getting calls that said “Hey can you come play at this bar for $40” but by playing that bar I had ten people that saw me and, this trickled into me playing any kind of music gig I could do. It was hard to make ends meet…
I was knocking on doors, pounding the pavement. I was playing at all the clubs in L.A. and its at this time that I got the Pink job. I had just finished three auditions for Courtney Love, to be her guitarist, and I was waiting for Mick Jagger to get back to the U.S., because he wanted a female guitarist. So all these things were happening, but nothing was happening. I wanted to give up, but I couldn’t because there was nothing else I could do. I was very frustrated. I was very hungry. I was very broke. I had very little hope, but I had enough hope to keep me alive long enough to get that call that said, ‘Hey, Pink picked you. You’re going to get on a plane and go to New York and play Saturday Night Live with her. I don’t know the details of how it happened. I never auditioned or interviewed with Pink, so I don’t know how she picked me. But she did somehow…From that gig, everything exploded because everybody saw me on TV. Everybody was like, “Whose that girl?” So, that’s 2001, and now its 2013.
EBONY: You mentioned that you were reluctant to head back on the road with the “I AM…” World Tour. What made you decide to go?
BM: Before people told me Beyonce was looking for a guitar player, I was like, “I don’t want to be on the road.” It had nothing to do with Beyonce. It was about the music industry and life on the road, which conflicted with how I like to live. I like peace and quite. I like people that are very supportive of each other, as opposed to people who are more influenced by ego and power and being intimidating and fear. So, those are the things I didn’t want to go back on the road for. Beyonce is a great artist. I had always been a fan of Destiny’s Child, but I just didn’t want to be on the road.
What made me change my mind, after a whole day of people calling me, texting me, emailing me, was my dad. Somebody from Beyonce’s camp had been getting his haircut since he was three years old by my dad in Denver and he had been hearing about me through my dad…So, when Beyonce was looking for a guitar player, and he was working somehow in Beyonce’s camp, he thought of me and he called my dad. And my dad called me and said somebody from Beyonce or Beyonce called looking for you. He didn’t even know how to say her name. He didn’t know who she was and I was just like, “Yeah Dad, I know. But I am not interested.” And I hung up the phone.
Then I thought about it, and I felt bad. I thought, “Well, I am going to just go to the audition, so I can just tell my dad that I went.” I’m glad that I went, because once I got there I realized that it was where I was supposed to be. It was what I was supposed to be doing, and I got the gig.
EBONY: From being a musical director to a yoga instructor to a health food entrepreneur, you seem to be doing a great job of juggling your passions. Do you have any advice for the readers also hoping to pursue multiple passions at once?
BM: I think that we are all trying to figure it out, but the most important thing is to listen to your heart. We are so conditioned to listening to what outside sources are telling us we should do. You know we listen to the media. We listen to our families and friends. We listen to people that really don’t have any right to orchestrate what makes us happy. I think it’s time to sit down and be quiet and listen to what it is you really want to do. Listen to your heart. Listen to your intuition and then follow your passion. That’s what we are really here to do. The more people that follow their heart, that follow their passion, the more people will be happy. And when more people on this planet are happy, it raises the vibrations of this planet, and it helps everybody.
EBONY: What’s next for you?
BM: Well, Beyonce just announced her world tour, so I am going to start rehearsals for that soon. So besides that… I am making this product called Bibi Kale Chips…Right now, Bibi Kale Chips are in about ten stores in Portland, Oregon, three stores in Hawaii, and a couple of stores in the rest of the U.S. I am really looking to build the business by obtaining the proper funds and investors to make this a household snack.
I am here to replace potato chips. My product is extremely healthy. When people eat healthy food, they feel better. They are able to heal themselves of imbalances in the body. I think it’s really important to get that out to people. I am hoping people will come together with me and support this, because right now there is a kale revolution happening. Kale is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, and kale chips are about to explode, so what better person to do that than Bibi McGill?
Patrice Peck explores the complex intersection of culture, entertainment, race and gender as a multimedia journalist. Follow her musings at Twitter and Facebook, and visit her at www.speakpatrice.tumblr.com for more.