INTERVIEW: From Sold-Out Arenas To Tea Ceremonies, Beyonce’s Former Lead Guitarist Bibi McGill Talks All Things Wellness
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Sitting on the lush, green grass underneath an enormous oak tree, the warmth and zeal emanating from Bibi McGill is inspiring and infectious. One of those multi-faceted female talents, Bibi is many things to many people. Perhaps best known as Beyonce’s lead guitarist and music director from 2006 to 2014 (who can forget her incredible solo from Beyonce’s spectacular Super Bowl Halftime performance), it is the calm serenity of her presence, luminescent spiritual influence, and deep-rooted connection to the earth that this avid yogi is lauded for. A music producer, DJ, and serial entrepreneur with a former line of kale chips who leads traditional tea ceremonies wherever she roams, Bibi came through Hong Kong to take part in The Garden Gathering, a retreat celebrating the feminine spirit in nature. Green Queen had the opportunity to sit down with Bibi to talk about the importance of staying balanced and her path to discovering the art of tea.
You are a famous rock guitarist and a renowned yoga instructor. How did you balance the two energies?
People always see them as different energies but for me it’s the same; it’s just me, all the way through. So whether I’m touring with Beyonce or I’m teaching yoga or playing as a DJ, it’s all me and I have to find a balance in that. I’m just doing what I love. I’m going to give the audience and give my spirit my best, get out of the way and let this energy move through me, and touch whoever needs to be touched.
How do you stay centered?
Having boundaries are so important. It’s important to me to feel good. I don’t want to feel drained, I don’t want to feel sick so whatever I need to do to feel good, those are the boundaries that I place. That meant most of the time while touring after a show, everybody would want to go out and drink and get all dressed up, but I would go back to the hotel, maybe have a glass of wine, unwind, go to sleep and wake up in the morning and go to yoga. That’s what I chose to do because that made me feel good. Keeping the balance is important and knowing when to say ‘no.’ You need your own energy to take care of yourself.
What are things that make you feel good?
Do things that are nourishing for your mind, your physical body, and your emotions and energetic body. That means, ‘What do you eat?’ ‘What are you eating?’ It needs to be things that are going to raise your vibrations as opposed to things that are going to be toxic and give you headaches or stomachaches, and make you sluggish. Same with activities, I choose to have a very consistent yoga practice and I make that a priority. I choose what friends and people to be around – like this! I’ve been all over the world multiple times playing music. But I get to be in nature right now, surrounding myself with people making flowers, there are kids running around, we’re getting ready to prepare for something that’s positive as opposed to being somewhere in the world with a bunch of people, who are really nice, but you’re not going to be having conversations about holistic and healthy things because that’s not where they are. This feels good to me so I made a decision to be at a place where when I wake up in the morning, when I’m going to do my work, I’m feeling good about it. More of this, less of that.
Did you have any influences that led you on this holistic path?
I didn’t. I had musical influences but not any holistic ones that I looked up to. I was just drawn to it. My family ate a lot of home cooked meals. I was drawn to gardening and planting things and eating healthy. When I was 10 or 11, the very first vegetarian restaurant opened up in my city, in Denver, Colorado. I heard about it and told my mom, ‘Let’s go!’ I took her to it and was so happy!
And then you had an influence on other people [her bandmates on the On The Run Tour with Beyoncé and Jay Z]?
Absolutely! When they called me to go back on tour, I said yes and the next question was, ‘Will you help us, we’ve noticed that when everyone is stressed out, you’re peaceful.’ That blew me away! For the next year and a half, I was happy because they were actually listening to me and were interested in things I had to say and what I was doing, and we were for the first time, unified. That was when I knew it was time for me to leave because I did what I was supposed to do. I was on the path and ready to do something different.
Do you still play guitar?
I do play. I haven’t quit guitar, I haven’t quit music. If it comes down to what’s more important [right now, be it] to meditate, or for me to juice, or for me to search for really great songs to spin, or play guitar, guitar is going to be the last thing on the list. I’m learning new instruments. I like to sit on the floor and play hand drum, or sit on the floor and play the Native American flute. I don’t feel like plugging into my Apple Fire yet. I did for many years and that was really cool. But I still play guitar and I’m always learning. I don’t have enough time in the day to do everything I want to do.
How long have you been doing tea ceremonies?
I have been into tea for a long time but have been serving tea almost three years. I’ve been studying for many years and have been on a tea path for more than 21 years and I didn’t even know it. It’s something that’s been in my life and I didn’t notice, I just followed it and then I’m like it, ‘Oh my god! All these links just led me down this path to here.’ It’s magical to look back and see that.
How did you find your tea teacher?
I quit my job in 1996. I was working for a record label and I realized I didn’t have anything to do. I’ve always wanted to do yoga so I went and did a yoga class. I loved it, it changed my life. I still had lots of time and wanted to learn and meditate so I called a monastery. I didn’t know where to call. I spoke to a monk and he said, ‘Okay, come here Saturday at 10AM. We’ll learn to meditate.’ So I went there and we sit down and the first thing he did was pour me a little cup of tea. After that we meditated and did that week after week until I wanted to do that at home. So I got my little tea table and my little tea set. I got a little Buddha and some utensils and I just started waking up in the morning and pouring myself a tea, sitting, and meditating. Fast forward maybe 15 years, I moved to Portland, Oregon and a woman I just met asked if I heard of a man named Old Po who does these tea ceremonies and takes people on a journey with tea. I’m like [sic] no. She’s like you’d really like him. I’m like why do you think I’d like him. I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me. So to be nice I got his number. I kept his number in my phone. Three years later, I go to my friend’s opening of her yoga studio and he’s there. So I sit down and have tea with him, and it was a wonderful experience. So I called him and asked if I could come back and get a private lesson. I went to his tea temple and it was amazing. Fast forward two years after that, he started teaching an eight-week course on tea and I had time so I took the course. It was fascinating. He’s very in touch with the energetics of the tea and its medicinal properties. I wanted to share tea but I just took an eight-week class, I can’t go out there and try to serve tea. And he came up to me and said, ‘Bibi, you should do this. You are the one to take this to the masses. It’s not about how much you know, it’s about pouring the love.’ So less than a month after that, I started pouring tea for people, and people started calling me like that (snaps fingers). I had a tea table custom made and I was sitting in my house one day, and I looked over and saw this Buddha – and I was like, ‘that was the Buddha I bought 18, 19 years ago.’ I looked at my utensils and the utensils I was using were the ones I bought 20 years ago. Oh my god, the tea set that’s been sitting in my cabinet that I haven’t used! So, I was on this path and I didn’t even know it! And I’m still using some of those utensils, they have my energy. From what I’ve learned from tea teachers, they tell you that the tea will speak to you and the tea will guide you. It’s a living being. Everything’s about pouring the love. It’s not about the money, I mean we all need to eat, but I’m not just going to be out there ripping people off. I’m here to give an offering, I feel what these young women are doing. I think it’s important and I wanted to be here. I can let some other company that has a ton of money pay me a ton of money so I can choose to be here for things like this.
Is there anything else you want to do?
There are things I am doing like I’m working much more with sound healing, with guitar and various instruments, voice, looping… That’s something that’s going to take a long time to really integrate into my life because it’s very involved. But that’s something I’m working on that I want to do. Other than that, one day I want to retire and live on a farm with a bunch of animals. I would love to do a tea tour of the tea farms in the Yunan Province.
Images courtesy of Green Queen.