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Over 12 years ago while visiting Perth, Australia, I met an amazing young Baha’i who was singing her heart out at the Baha’i Centre of Learning there. Her name was Shameem, and even though she was only in high school at the time, it was immediately clear that this enthusiastic and talented young singer, songwriter and musician was really going places with her music!
Now on her third album, and with a bunch of awards under her belt, Shameem continues to bless the stage and the airwaves with her wonderful soulful sound.
I recently caught up with Shameem again to find out more about her and her music:
Baha’i Blog: Hi Shameem, can you tell us a little about yourself and your musical background?
Well I’m a home-grown Aussie of Iranian and Chinese-Malaysian descent, born and bred in sunny Perth. My musical journey really got a kick off when I began to play the piano at the age of seven, and over the years I took up other instruments like the ‘cello and guitar. In high school I became serious about singing and song writing, and that led me to study a Bachelor of Music majoring in jazz performance at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and start working as a professional musician. I do a lot of different things work-wise, but my main focus is writing, recording and performing my original music, which is probably best described as neo-soul.
Baha’i Blog: Did you always know you wanted to be a professional singer and musician, and what’s the journey been like so far?
I think I knew that music and singing was my calling from a very early age, since I was in primary school. I remember I fully committed to the idea when I was in Year 10 after some discussions with my singing teacher about her journey as a professional musician. So far it’s been a roller coaster ride, a lot of hard work and a huge learning curve; no two days are the same as each other and I’m constantly trying and learning new things.
Baha’i Blog: What was the idea behind this particular album ‘The Second City’, and what makes this album unique?
My mission when I write music in general is to write in such a way that my songs might stimulate deep thinking, raise social awareness, or inspire uplifting thoughts and ideas in people. It’s hard to do, but I feel like this album is the closest I’ve ever been to realising this vision. This album has a few elements also that you won’t find on my previous recordings… for one, I programmed the beats myself which gives the album a more R&B and less jazz feel than my previous recordings, which all had live drums. There’s also a running theme of thankfulness and gratitude, which is weaved throughout the album in a number of interludes between the main songs. And for the first time I’ve experimented with some fusion of R&B and Persian chanting on a couple of tracks!
Baha’i Blog: You’ve been touring quite a bit in Australia. What’s that been like?
Touring is an adventure, and it’s hard work… you get up one day and fly to another city, play a gig that night, then the next day you get up and fly to another city, play a gig that night, then the next day, etc. etc. etc. There are some average shows and some wonderful shows… the wonderful ones make up for the average ones. And you never know what’s going to happen or who you might meet, which is fun!
Baha’i Blog: How has the album been received so far and what do you want your listeners to walk away with?
I’ve been really chuffed with the awesome response from blogs, radio and press – there have been some awesome reviews and a lot of support for the album, which is fantastic. I’m also really humbled by the lovely feedback I’ve had from random people all around the world, usually in the form of a message on my Facebook music page. People are telling me that they find the music and lyrics refreshing and inspiring, which is exactly what I was hoping for, so it’s great to see that it’s actually working in practice! It’s also great to see how some blogs have not only written about my music, but because of the lyrics they have extended their story to the concept of unity and harmony – yay for social awareness raising!
Baha’i Blog: You’ve done a really good job of sharing Baha’i-inspired concepts and principles in your music, without making it sound cheesy or preachy. Has this been a difficult balance, and also what advice would you give to other Baha’i artists who are trying to express themselves in the same way?
Yes, it is hard, because I don’t really know anyone else who does it, so it’s hard to find an example that I can follow; I just have to make it up as I go. I know of a lot of wonderful Baha’i artists who put prayers and Writings of the Faith to music, or who write songs based on Baha’i stories or with obvious references to the Baha’i teachings. While this is beautiful and uplifting for Baha’is to listen to, unfortunately not a lot of people who are not Baha’is will listen to that. And on the other hand there are some super awesome Baha’i artists who are very successful at making pop music, but their music doesn’t lyrically reflect anything about the Faith, apart from the fact that they usually show much more integrity in terms of the moral standards behind their lyrics – no sex, drugs, foul language, etc.. I want to make music that has a flavour of the wonderful things in the Baha’i teachings that anyone, not just Baha’is, will listen to and take some benefit from. It’s very easy to write sad, angry or melancholic songs, but it’s hard to write joyful songs without it sounding cheesy, so that’s always a challenge. It’s also tricky to try and get a message across without sounding preachy, as you say. I find that I have to think very poetically and try and tell a story with the lyrics, so that the ideas that I’m trying to get across are easily digestible and more palatable, without sacrificing the intent of what I’m doing.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you Shameem for taking the time to do this interview, and we wish you all the best on your musical journey and career!