Interview Satchel Lee
Photo Flo Ngala
DRØME: You two have a really interesting relationship. I can tell how close you are.
Niambi Sala: Thandi and I work really well together. That’s not to say every moment is good. We definitely have some “fuck you” moments. We wouldn’t say it out loud but we’d probably think it.
Thandiwe: Smize it.
NS: But that’s because we were friends first.
T: We grew up a couple of miles away but never actually met each other. When we came to the city, we found that we have this shared foundation.Also, this might just be the nature of New York City, but Niambi and I have shared hella “what the fuck” moments. There are so many moments where I’m just like, “Why are my eyes witnessing this right now!” You wanna hear an exclusive OSHUN story?
D: Yes please.
T: So the same winter we started OSHUN we were walking in the trains, this guy who was selling incense and comic books stops us. He said, “Halt. What are you guys gonna do?” We said, “We’re singers.” He goes, “You’re gonna be big. Take your shoes off.”
N: Yoo! This was like in the peak of winter. It was cold as fuck outside. Snowing. We had on layers on layers. Doc Martens. We were barefoot in the train.
D: You did it?
N: I don’t know why.
T: Yeah. We were bugging. He has a flip phone and he’s kneeling with his flip phone on our toes—
N: Didn’t he put the incense on our feet?
T: —And he’s incensing our bare ass feet in this dirty ass train and he’s taking pictures of us and he gives us another incense stick and says, “Burn this tonight. You guys will be huge.” And then we burned it, and I mean, shit! (Laughs)
N: Yeah. He was just posted up there by Union Square...He probably has videos of our toes on Facebook.
You should go back and show him your work. I’m sure he’d be really happy.
N: He would be like, “Alright, I want 20%”
Where did you two meet each other?
N: We met at NYU during orientation. We were still in high school at that point, but we came and were inseparable for a good three days. When my dad came, he just said, “Please be my daughter’s friend.”
So you didn’t know each other before?
T: No. I used to help Niambi’s elementary school boyfriend with his math homework in high school.
N: But we just never knew about each other.
I love it when stuff like that happens because it means the universe is working.
T: Good looking out universe!
How did you start playing music together?
N: We actually did an open mic.
T: And we won. Niambi sang and then I free-styled rapped but it was such a cop-out freestyle. I was like, “Swag. Bars.” and everyone went crazy.
N: And then school started, and me and Thandi just ended up singing together. Hella Drake songs. Hella loud. Hella annoying. Singing our hearts out.
T: On 3rd Ave.
N: Outside of our dorm. We were like “Yo! We sound kinda good. Let’s see if we can make some money.” And then we went into the trains and starting singing on the platform.
T: We started investing. We took $35 we made one night to a little home supply shop and got stools forourselves so we could sit on something the next time we performed.
N: We ordered business cards, made an Instagram.
T: Ah man. We even wrote this big mission statement and tried to print big versions of them out at Duane Reade to put on our station on the platform.
And what was the timing with the EP?
T: We took one semester of freshman year to figure ourselves out. When everyone else went home for Winter Break, we stayed in our dorm and decided to do OSHUN. We really had New York to ourselves. We put out our first project in March.
N: And we recorded the whole thing in a weekend.
Do you ever feel an obligation as artists to address politics?
T: We’re obviously musicians and artists, but we also identify as activists on a personal level. Niambi and I have always had interest in social justice and community service. Because activism is a fundamental part of our personalities, we can’t really make music that doesn’t address it.
N: But that isn’t to say that was always have to have “#lovetrumpshate” in our songs. It doesn’t have to always be so explicit. Just our existence is resistance; us speaking to our experience as young black women and what’s that like and how it feels to have your heart broken, that’s resistance. It might not have anything to do with Hillary Clinton or Donald Tr*mp, but it’s still something that is an important part of our experience.
T: And that is political in and of itself. Like Niambi said, our existence is a form of resistance.
What are some of your major influences. Musically? Culturally?
N: Fela, obviously. Musically, politically, spiritually even.
T: I was thinking about this last night—Missy Elliot.
N: That’s a good one.
T: She’s a black woman, a producer, and she’s spitting bars and creating visual content that is completely unprecedented.
N: Flashy. She’s supa supa fly!
T: She has just craftily figured out how to be cooler than all the dudes in the game.
That’s a really good one. What about non-musical influences?
N: I know I am very influenced by my roots, my foundation. I grew up in a very Pan African Community. Family is very important to us.
T: Our ancestors are such a huge influence. Especially having an African name and inserting these African themes. We are obviously inspired by the ancient traditions.
When I google “OSHUN” the first thing that comes up is the deity, not your band.
T: It can be annoying but our goal is to raise consciousness and liberate people’s minds. If we can inspire someone to search OSHUN on Google—and then they find out about Oshun the goddess—we accomplished our goal.
N: We’re not just trying to be #1 on Billboard. We’re trying to be #1 on Billboard so we can have hella bread circulating in the black community and we can build for ourselves and we can not be so dependent on western ideals and structures. We’re not the only people painting our faces and bodies.
T: We are not the only people who have named ourselves after a deity. It is a bigger movement that we are part of. This is the most critical time for racial issues, I think even more critical than the Civil Rights Movement and Civil War. We are in a position where we are not in bondage and we have the resources and the mind to really liberate ourselves in a way that our ancestors could not.
N: A lot of people come into the tradition by just vibing with us and liking what we put out. So that is just part of the overall mission. We are letting people know this shit is bigger than us.
T: At the end of the day we are OSHUN. For us to be authentic we have to actively be in the Oshun space which is love, beauty, abundance...
N: Diplomacy, healing...
T: Diplomacy, Female Strength, Female Energy, Water, Healing. We can’t just be fucked up in real life then say, “Hey, we’re OSHUN. Love yourselves!”
N: So post-graduation is the time for us to fully commit ourselves to our soul journeys.
T: We can literally build our own freedom. We just have to believe that we can do it and be dedicated to it every single day.
N: Word. We got to want it for ourselves.
T: Fuck racism. We are all humans and deserve the right to live upon this Earth as we please with freedom. Ancestry, origin, ethnicity. Those are important things. Ultimately we know there is a point at which we know that being ourselves is living with longevity, abundance, wealth and love. We just want to represent that and make that clear to the world.
N: That was beautiful.