"We embody the unity of our influences in the fact they belong to us"
Shunaji's music transcends genres. Her lyrics are a shot against the objectification of women in contemporary society. A necessary song of freedom, and which represents very well in its latest release: Dirty Girls, which we have the honor to present. We take the opportunity to interview her.
Hi Shunaji, where are you staying right now? How did you start off your day?
Heya, I’ve been good just staying at my place in London and working from home. I’ve been lucky to have my day job during the pandemic. Today was another busy day! I work in the charity sector and right now a lot of organisations are struggling and need support.
What was your first foray into the world of music?
I started venturing into music production three years ago. I’d only ever made a few extremely random (but pretty experimental) beats on Fruity Loops in my senior years in high school. I guess I was always musical and enjoyed stage performance as a child, so that was a hint! But it took me a while to take the leap of faith into music. I know that nothing is granted in this world, and especially in the music industry, and I have been very careful about choosing my paths and developing my career.
When did the idea of starting a project begin to take shape? Has it always been something you’ve wanted to do?
I decided I was going to start my project after I discovered my interest in music production and sound engineering in 2017. Music production is magical. Knowing that I could forge sounds to reflect who I am at my core was something I wanted to experiment with! I also love poetry and hip hop lyricism, with Rapsody, MF Doom, Bahamadia and Andre 3000 being some of my greatest inspirations.
What caught your attention about producing music?
In the beginning, I knew I wanted to rap and write lyrics. I realised a lot of producers were men and I genuinely wanted to avoid being bossed around, so I learned to do it myself. It’s incredibly hard for a woman in music to be recognised as a producer. Men will often try to downplay my efforts or contribution towards my own music, that’s why my discography speaks for itself and I always work hard to improve my production skills.
How do you manage to combine such disparate genres? How do you manage to give them unity and harmony? What do they have in common for you?
Think about memories, joy and trauma, and all the moments in life. We don’t compartmentalise our life experiences as easily as we do music genres. Everything blends into everything else. A beautiful memory of being in love is shattered by the recollection of how that relationship ended. We can experience nostalgia without any concrete desire to go back to a certain place, physical or emotional. The same applies to music. Everything I have listened to, and loved, throughout my life gets processed as a chain. As an enthusiast of those musical genres and artists I am their connector. We embody the unity of our influences in the fact they belong to us.
How would you define your sound?
My sound is eclectic and innovative, my words tend to be thought-provoking. As a producer, I blend different styles and cultures, which ultimately represent who I am as an artist. My productions are a melting pot of influences, particularly inspired by hip hop, rnb, trip hop, synthwave and jazz. My lyricism is honest and sharp, often addressing topics that I am passionate about, such as gender, race and class in modern society. As a rapper, I am dedicated to writing carefully constructed lyrics, using devices such as imagery, alliteration, metaphors and wordplay. As an independent artist, I’m always committed to my musical identity and, while open to new approaches, I respect the integrity of my process. I want to continue developing my craft in a direction that is personal to me.
What is your philosophy? What are you trying to convey?
I am anti-conformist because I don’t like to adhere to trends or succumb to peer pressure. I act on my true beliefs and feelings, I write lyrics that are meaningful to me and I make the music that sounds good to me. I could ignore my foundation to make music that is more “popular” right now but I don’t do that because I have standards and I don’t need to conform to the norm. On a more philosophical level, I believe there is meaning beyond human cognition and consciousness, and I like to push myself into a perspective where human activities, perspectives and aspirations are all superficial in the grand scheme (or chaos) of the universe we live in.
What can you tell us about the Dirty Girls track? What inspired you to create it?
I wrote Dirty Girls as a critique of slut-shaming, gender-based morals and the media’s role in normalising the misrepresentation of women. This is inspired by my experience as a Black woman. The lyrics are available in full on my Bandcamp here. The song is set in outer space, a location that represents neutrality and transcends the stereotypes and stigma of our earthly society. I was also inspired by a team of excellent musicians: John Wright on bass, Laura Impallomeni on trombone, Maria Grapsa on piano, Metta Shiba on backing vocals and Shakira Malkani on drums. I really wanted Dirty Girls to push the boundaries of gender and genre, encouraging reflection in the hip hop and wider music community. I hope it worked!
How do you rate the music industry? What are you missing?
I miss audiences and live music. I think the music industry is for the most part like every other industry in our society: it lacks diversity at decision-making and gate-keeper levels, and Black artists are very often used as tokens or caricatures of ourselves. When I look to some of my greatest inspirations like Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse, I realise that the music industry can make or break an artist at any point in their career. Finding genuine long-term support networks is very difficult, and with the popularity of streaming it is increasingly hard for an artist to be self-sufficient without commercial endorsements. I’m interested in creating strong connections with my fans, and I’m finding it harder during lockdown because music venues are the most effective platform for me to create those human connections.
What do you think of the direction the world is taking, in general?
The world’s direction has been the wrong direction for many centuries. When a human being is allowed to own another human being like property, when animals don’t have rights and welfare is not considered to be essential across society, you know there’s been a problem.
What tracks would you recommend us to liven up the confinement?
I curate a playlist on Spotify called ‘Shunaji’s Moods’ that I think will be perfect for the isolation blues. Check it out here.
Can you tell us something about your current or future projects?
I’m about to release the second single from my upcoming EP. The single is called ‘On My Mind’, out on 26 June. I am also planning my EP release later in July! I’m also working on commissioned work interpreting the impact of lockdown through music. For the rest, I’m remixing a track from my EP and curating a parallel remix EP featuring some amazing producers! Make sure you follow my social media profiles @iamshunaji to keep up with my journey.