interview: shahidah omar – liberation through blended sound

August 24, 2011

Shahidah Omar‘s sound blends so many genres in one it seems almost effortless, leaving one to question how to categorize it. Is she opera, trance, dance, soul, house, classical with a twist? The only conclusion is that Shahidah has truly carved out a sound all her own. Her current album includes high energy dance inducing cuts such as “Freedom”, “People of the world” and “Live my dream”. These are countered by those tracks of a milder tempo, which are sure to illicit a number of subconscious emotions, such as “I can’t breathe”, “I’ll let you go” and “What about the Living” (video below). In all of this, the meat and purpose of her music is to liberate. Liberty itself is a dynamic space allowing multiple applications. Weather it be from self, another, the past, negativity, addictions of all kinds, love, fear, doubt, and so on. Omar’s thirst for it is amplified in her personally penned and produced ten track EP titled “Freedom”. As a native of Chicago’s south side, bearing a name with a strong Arabic translation (Shahidah means “Witness”) it is evident that this album is a major celebratory confession of all the things that she has witnessed and will soon live in her lifetime.

Interview by Alicia Maria Golden

Shahidah is arabic for “witness” how do you feel you represent your name? Has the power it holds influenced you as a person?
I feel more like my name chose me! I have witnessed a lot through life. So representing it is tough. However, I do appreciate it. Witnessing life’s lessons has made me live life more open, it’s made me care more about the success, happiness and experiences with “Freedom” that others have. Which is how the theme of my current album was born. It has made me a more active participant in being the change we want to see.

Are you a classically trained opera singer and when did you become such?
Yes, I am classically trained in opera. When I went to high school my mother signed me up with the school choir. The audition advisor he automatically signed me up as a vocal major and Opera was that department’s specialty. My vocal coach Mrs. Forsyth pushed me to use my voice to it’s fullest potential. She then enrolled us in many prestigious opera competitions based in of Chicago. I am so grateful for that opportunity as my opera training continued after this.

What types of music were you exposed to growing up to influence the desire to sing opera and give your music such a blended sound?
My mother only listened to smooth music. So there were no screaming singers in our systems. She didn’t get into what was popular now music. She was listening to George Benson, Paul Simon, Gloria Estefan, Sammy Davis Jr. Nat King Cole, Sara Vaghn, opera singer Kathleen Battle and so on. We typically listened to music from all over the world. I also grew up with nine siblings in my household adding a whole slew of different genres to the mix. That list is ridiculous! So here I am a mash up of all of that.

The theme of the album is strength and liberation, at what point did you achieve personal freedom?
Honestly, I was tired of being jerked around as an artist and young woman trying to break out into the music world. There is so much judgment everywhere you go as a especially as a female. If you are lacking some confidence from whatever personal situations you have, it can really be hard. You make decisions for your life off of what other people think you should be doing. But the problem is they have their own insecurities and agendas so you become something they think you should be. When I first started writing songs they were a hot mess. I was writing about topics I would never write about today. But I was trying to be popular then. I got out of that and started focusing on what I really wanted to say and how I wanted to represent myself. But, then my songs became too deep and my voice was too mature for my age. No one I was trying to work with was ready for that. I was always told to dumb my music down. People would say girl you hot! Why not use it to your advantage? You don’t need to be trying to save the world and people won’t believe you.

You are currently in LA, can you share what you are working on?
Well I live in LA. I am currently writing and recording songs for my next album, rehearsing for the upcoming shows with this album “Freedom”, working on my merchandise line, and in between supporting my husband actor/ comedian JB Smoove (Leon Black). I am also working on my tour dates, recently performed at Bannaroo Music Festival 2011 and will be on the carpet of the MTV awards this year!

Describe what happens mentally and physically when you are on stage.
Having the songs that I write from my soul be well received by an audience is the best feeling in the world.Being on stage is where I feel the most Freedom, because this is where I can truly reach people and connect with them. I can dance with them, chant with them, play instruments for them. It is the only place where I don’t have to care about any judgment, I don’t care in that space because I am being true to the message.

More music on Shahidah Omar’s official website:

Find more of contributor Alicia Maria Golden’s work on Tumblr + Twitter @trippyluna.