A mere two hours after their arrival from New York to Montreal, I had the privilege of interviewing Niambi and Thandiwe, who are both hard-working, well-spoken nineteen year olds. They make up the band OSHUN, who performed at the Phi Center February 21st for Montreal’s International Black History Month Festival. We discussed their inspirations, roots, and female empowerment.
How long have you two known each other and how did you meet?
Niambi: About two years. Almost. Next month, it’ll be two years.
Thandiwe: Oh, I was going to say, an eternity. But on some level, like soul sisters.
Niambi: Yeah, we’ve known each other since the beginning of time until the end of time, but in the physical realm we’ve known each other for almost two years. We both go to NYU, and we met while we were still in high school, but we were accepted into New York University, and through our scholars program, that gives out scholarships for community service and social justice, and leadership. They had an orientation, and flew us out before our freshman year started. And we stayed on campus for the week-end, and then we saw each other from across the room like, “Oh my God, there’s another little black girl” and then we were like, “Oh my God I’m from Maryland,” and like, “I’m from Maryland too.”
Thandiwe: And then we just became friends at that moment.
How did you decide to form OSHUN?
Thandiwe: In our first semester of college, Niambi was writing some songs here and there with our friends, and making hits. She made like two or three songs that were just jams and I was the supportive best friend like, “Yo man, my friend she could sing, everybody listen to her” and then she went away for a week-end and then I wrote a song and then I showed it to Niambi and she’s like “What? Okay, okay I see you,” and then we’re like, “Hey let’s just put each other together and be OSHUN.”
Niambi: And I mean, in terms of us being OSHUN, like being that name, I feel like it was kind of the same thing. We were just like, what should our name be? We need a name if we’re going come together. “Oh let’s put Niambi and Thandiwe together like Thaniambidi.” But then we’re like, “No, that’s corny.” Then we’re trying to figure out how to say our names in African languages.
Thandiwe: Mind you our names are already in African languages, so it didn’t even make sense.
Niambi: I was just like, “How about OSHUN?” And granted over the semester we had been talking about Oshun and who she is, and the whole history of that. So, it kind of just fit.
What inspires you to make music?
Thandiwe: That’s like the question of my life. What inspires us to make music? Well, there’s on the surface – we got an album date that we got to finish these songs by. But even then, just music is just a part of who we are. It’s part of our lives. We get on the elevator and we’re like [singing] “We’re on the elevator.” Like, we just sing about everything all the time so I don’t know, just the breath. My first breath in the morning is what inspires the music.
Niambi: Oh, that was deep. I was going to just say life. Boys sometimes. You can get a good album out of one boy just doing some dumb stuff. And it’s beautiful though cause those things like boys and love are representative of so many different things. A boy can be symbolic for so much.
Thandiwe: Yeah, boys and breath.
Niambi: Boys and breath. That’s cool.
Thandiwe: That should be a song. I’m writing it down.
Do you get more satisfaction from performing live or from recording yourselves?
Thandiwe: I like live a thousand trillion times better. For one, music is vibratory, music is one hundred percent spiritual, and to be able to be on stage and be able to perform something unique every time, and to be able to vibe off of instruments and vibe off of the sound waves that are surrounding you. Because when you record you just have headphones on and then you’re the only one who’s hearing it and it’s kind of like you’re putting vibrations into a chord, where when you do it live you’re expressing spirit.
Niambi: I mean I feel that, but I think that recording is definitely still a spiritual process but in a different way. Live is definitely in the moment, you’re just expressing, “Oh my God this is how I feel right now,” the vibes of the room, and there’s so many different people to bounce vibrations off of. But when you’re recording, it’s like you’re taking that moment and it’s not something that somebody’s experiencing just in that split second. They can go back and re-experience it over and over and over again. When you’re recording it’s timeless because like I said, it can be revisited all the time so I like recording too, because if you record, there’s been times where we record ourselves and we won’t ever listen to it, cause I don’t like how it sounds, I don’t like how it makes me feel, which music has the capacity to do. But then there’s also other times, like “Brown,” I listen to “Brown” like every day. We have songs that put me in such a beautiful space every time I listen to it, so I like both.
Both musically, and in life, who are your inspirations?
Thandiwe: Aw, Niambi’s my inspiration. But, I definitely think Malcolm X.
Niambi and Thandiwe: Teen Apex, Chelsea Reject, Drake, Erica Badu, Lauren Hill, Willow Smith, and God. And our families, but that’s a given.
What made you want to play at the Montreal Black History Festival?
Niambi: We basically decided that we needed to get out of New York, we wanted to tour and get in touch with more people and let more people know who OSHUN is, and we felt like February is the best time to do it cause it’s Black History Month, and we’re so adamant about empowering our people.
Thandiwe: Emphasizing the why, Black History means so much to us, and just who we are as individuals that it just would only make sense that we would perform at a Black History Month Event.
Niambi: Especially considering the things that we’re talking about. It’s geared to black people because we are black people. We can only speak from our experiences, we can only draw from our own personal experiences so I think that it’s really important for black people to have something real and genuine to reflect off of themselves. I felt like Black History month was a good time for us to put ourselves for view.
Thandiwe: Yeah, and not even just for us but I feel like because it is Black History Month people would be more inclined to see an act like us. Because we are so focused on uplifting black people and celebrating black people, and a lot of times, a lot of people don’t really care about that, so Black History Month is the month when they do.
What do you look forward to most in the upcoming year?
Niambi: Summer. Spring and summer. I’m looking forward, one to the warmth, I’m not for the cold at all. Springtime, we have a whole project coming up, and she’s turning twenty so that’s just a beautiful thing. And, summertime, we’re touring. And, it’s going to be warm.
Thandiwe: And also, I’m not going to get too deep into this but this year is 2015 and there’s going be a lot of metaphysical shifts. That’s all I’m going to say.
I noticed that you both are advocates for the empowerment of women. If you were to give women a piece of advice, what would it be?
Niambi: Love yourself. When I say love yourself, I don’t mean “Oh I can’t love myself until I get my eyebrows done and put my make-up on, and get a push-up bra.” I mean, love yourself as raw as you are, love yourself the moment you wake up and you don’t have anything, your hair is all tangled, or whatever. Because if you don’t love yourself at your most vulnerable moment, then nobody will.
Thandiwe: Also, adding on to that, if you ever struggle with loving yourself at your most vulnerable, just realize that we literally created everything. Women are the mothers of civilization. Yeah, you need a man to conceive, but you don’t really need a man to conceive. We can do this on our own. So, we basically created the whole existence and for that reason alone you should just love yourself. You’re powerful. We’re powerful.
Written and Compiled by Franca G. Mignacca
Photography by Gabii H-Blanco