Beat Magazine – Shameem

An interesting piece in Melbourne’s Beat Magazine; published in the lead up to my solo tour. The journalist, Thomas Brand, got pretty amped up and put a lot of his own political opinion into the article, hehe. I try to stay away from a partisan approach to politics and so I don’t necessarily share his views, but I really enjoyed the animated interview that we had, and his honest exploration of lyrics in pop music.

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Shameem Taheri-Lee is described as a socially conscious musician. Considering the harsh impositions of the incumbent Liberal government, which has granted people the “right to be bigots” while perpetrating the forced closure of Aboriginal communities across Australia, it’s now more important than ever to speak out against social injustice. Taheri-Lee has been subjected to her fair share of discrimination, and writes from the heart in the hope that others will find something to relate to.

“When I’m writing lyrics I like to try and put in something that will make people think or get an idea out there that I feel passionate about,” she says. “There’s a lot of different things that I enjoy writing about, but there’s a universal theme of one-ness, incorporation and unity that pushes through. Even with more of my personal songs, sometimes I like to write about things that I’ve experienced that I hope other people have to get the sense that everybody is more similar than they are different.

“But more profound than that is looking at the state of the world or watching the news or looking at the state of indigenous people, people I know in my own backyard in Australia. These things get me really fired up and I want to talk about it in music.”

Communally relatable music can be a powerful force for social change. Arguably, pop music’s appeal stems from the centrality of themes and emotions people can easily connect with, such as love, hedonism or self-empowerment. For the most part, Taheri-Lee’s neo-soul compositions are designed to generate positive emotions in her listeners.

“Sometimes it’s pure expression of emotion,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll write an angry song because I’ve had a bad day. I remember writing Imposter, which was about a person close to me who betrayed me. I thought to myself, ‘This song is so negative, I hope this isn’t going to drag people down,’ and so I tried to think about how I could communicate the emotions of what I was feeling and maybe put a positive spin on it. It was hard, and it ended up coming out very negative. When it comes to songs like that, I have to tell the story, it’s part of a journey. Negative things are important to write about as well.”

A few weeks ago, former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe lashed out at Donald Trump for using one of the band’s songs in his campaign to become the Republican Party’s presidential candidate. Similarly, several Australian artists – such as John Farnham and Jimmy Barnes – have been disgusted by the use of their music at anti-immigration rallies. Any socially conscious artist has to be aware that people are liable to grossly misinterpret a song’s original message. Taheri-Lee has taken steps to prevent this from happening.

“At the end of the day, people will take it how they will,” she says. “However, that’s part of the beauty of art, you don’t know how people will take it. People will interpret it individually. If you dictate how people interpret it, it’s beside the whole point. I just put them out there – I have a little blog on my website where I write about the song, the inspiration and the lyrics and if people are curious they can always check it out there. If people want to turn it into some terrible meaning I never meant to intend, they can look on the website and realise their interpretation isn’t what I meant at all.”


SHAMEEM is playing the Thornbury Local on Saturday October 3.

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