Momma Nikki as a child with their father Jean Bonny Etienne in an undated photo.

Haitian American artist Momma Nikki sings about a complicated father-child relationship — and reconciliation

On their most recent album titled “Momma Exposed,” Seattle-based, Haitian American artist Momma Nikki pays tribute to their late father.

The World

On their most recent album titled “Momma Exposed,” Seattle-based Haitian American artist Momma Nikki pays tribute to their late father, Jean Bonny Etienne, and the complicated relationship they shared. 

Momma Nikki, who uses the pronouns they/them, also explores how their family dynamics shaped their identity as a child growing up in a mixed household. Etienne was a Black Haitian and their mother is a white American. Both of their parents had very distinct extended families and cultures, and Momma Nikki said they chafed at the way strangers assumed that they and their father were not related just because their skin was of a lighter tone. 

Etienne was a connection point to a Haitian family and community and very distinct cultural expectations.

“I think folks that are mixed, in general, are constantly having that battle. And even when I was in Haiti, I knew I'd never be seen as Haitian ever, not just because I'm American, but also because of how light I was,” Momma Nikki said.

Etienne made no effort to pass on his own language and culture to his children, and Momma Nikki believed he even struggled to find his own identity as an immigrant to the United States.

And it was these social dynamics that ultimately made Momma Nikki feel close, yet also distant from their father — an ambivalent push and pull that was further complicated when their parents ultimately separated.

“Momma Exposed,” was produced shortly before Etienne died in 2018, offering a small chance for reconciliation.

“I had gone to the studio right before [my father] decided to stop doing dialysis,” Momma Nikki said. “And I asked my producer to send me whatever version [of the album] he had, so my dad could listen to it. He passed two days after his birthday, but he was proud.” 

"Movement," our series on the crossroads of music and migration, is produced by Meklit Hadero and Ian Coss. This story was developed as part of the University of Washington's Arts and Creativity Initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and supported by the Meany Center for the Performing Arts.

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