There has always been socially conscious music in both hip-hop and R&B; you just have to conduct a thorough search. But if you are having trouble finding empowering music, look no further than the duo of Niambi and Thandiwe, also known as OSHUN. The 20-year-old DC natives use their music as a platform to preach love, peace, and cultural pride.
They met at an NYU scholarship orientation in 2013 and instantly became friends. In fact, they performed together at that orientation, and would later go on to post YouTube covers. Thanks to a strong following on SoundCloud, the duo has toured throughout New York City — including last summer’s AFROPUNK festival.
HYPEFRESH’s Jesse Lyles had the honor of talking to OSHUN about the origin of their name and style, women empowerment, and being socially aware.
Jesse Lyles: Your name, Oshun, derives from the Yoruba River goddess, Osun. When did you all learn about her?
Thandiwe: Well, Niambi grew up around a Pan-African community that gives classes to West African traditional spirituality, the Orisha tradition being one of those systems.
Niambi: So in that context she was always apart of my life. But before it was kind of, knowing her and feeling her in the context of just Orisha period, like of all the Orisha. And then once we graduated, and moved to New York for college, and we started being with each other more, we felt her presence especially. And I can say that the spirits of the Orisha and other forces weren’t present in our lives at that time. But it was a transitional moment for us, and we were coming into — and still are coming into — our young womanhood in transitioning from a young girl to a young woman and knowing what it means to be feminine and be youthful in your femininity. So because of that transition we are having in our own life, her spirit is always very present with us as well.
JL: And why is she so significant?
T: Because she is a representative of us and we are a representative of her. We are young women, we are fertile beings and we bring forth life, and we are the nurturer of our nation. We bear fruit, and the sweetness in times of chaos and destruction, and harmony and validity, and all of these things she represents, these are things that we strive to embody everyday.
JL: Your music is inspired by hip-hop, neo-soul, R&B, and spirituality. What other artists influenced your sound and style?
T: I mean it’s not even the concept of them being great because of their music, but specifically all the black artists that pretty much created the music industry and what it is today through the resilience it took the black people to live in this country. And I think that all the early artists — well not even early but any artists who are bold and their blackness and their talent have always just been a very…it’s not even inspiration, it’s kind of like we see specific artists who we view as our elders and it is our responsibility to continue the legacy. Even dating back to like James Brown, Miles Davis, but then still like obviously Beyonce, Erykah Badu…
N: Lauryn Hill, De La [Soul], Quincy [Jones]
T: Bob Marley
N: Jill Scott, India Arie, alot of soulful black women too.
T: So yeah, definitely Jill Scott, Florety. And we’re 90’s babies so we’re definitely connected to that music of the time in terms of hip-hop and soul, R&B — the whole counter-culture that has since then become the mainstream.
JL: Your music preaches the importance of cultural pride and being socially aware. So do you think with the Black Lives Matter movement and social media, this generation of black millennials are more socially aware and have more cultural pride?
N: I think it’s tricky because in the age that we’re in, we’re so technology based, social media heavy, it’s really easy to mistake cultural fads as cultural awareness, and people doing things because that’s what’s in or because it’s a popular trend, trending topic. As oppose to really being passionate about the roots of those fashions and what they represent, and how and why we integrate them into our lives. Because as African people we don’t ever do anything just to do it, everything serves a purpose. So with that being said, I think it’s difficult sometimes to differentiate between the people who are just doing just to do it and the people who are actually connected to the culture. But at the same time I think it’s great that we have this visibility because of social media and because technology, where people are more aware that these things exist, and I feel like they’re more prone to then go look it up and become connected to its roots just because they were expose to it on a surface level on Instagram or things like that.
Also with that being said, this is a time where the people who are “conscious” or “aware” can be more vocal in their beliefs as well. So, a lot of people can be very bold in their stances and their opinions, and putting them out there for the world to receive. So I don’t know if that means we are in a more “woke” state or if it’s just the people who are awake are able to be more vocal. Which I probably feel like it’s the latter because we’ve always been “woke”, there has always been these huge communities, Pan-African communities, like Thandi said I was raised in a Pan-African community by people who were themselves raised in an African community. There’s a group of people that since slavery have never really lost touch with their roots and have been able to remain grounded in their spiritual and cultural systems as African people, but they just weren’t making blog posts and Tumblr about it. That didn’t mean that they didn’t exist.
T: And, you know, adding on to that, I think even though it is a little bit of a difficult line to see between the people who are really passionate about it and those who are feeding into the fad, at the same time there’s still a space for the exposure. And the reason that I think that this is so celebrated –Afrocentric culture, black culture or whatever is such a huge thing because black people don’t even know the culture, you know what I mean. There’s a lot of black people who have never heard of the Orisha or African spirituality in general. And it kind of makes sense because you live in America and you’re living an American life, but it doesn’t make sense because it’s like wait, your ancestors literally were people from these parts of Africa and their culture was just stripped away from them. So, these conversations are being had now in more spaces, and if it is on the Internet then so be it. I think that it’s just important that, especially for us as people who are exposing the general public to something, they’re more willing to listen than they were before two or three years ago. It’s important that we expose them to things that aren’t necessarily a fad or things that you can’t just hashtag. Things that can really enlighten people. You know, it’s bigger than a head-wrap, bigger than a hashtag, it’s a way of life.
JL: Continuing the topic of enlightening people, what are your thoughts on Amber Rose’s “Slut Walk” movement? You guys also preach about women empowerment, and she’s trying to rid slut shaming. So why do you think people are missing her entire point?
T: Well, she’s a stripper so everybody’s going to be like, “of course you’re a slut because you’re a fucking stripper.” But I don’t think that. I think that you can get it in as much as you want as long as you doing it safely and you’re not spreading no diseases to nobody, and if that’s what you want to do. I think that it’s all about that person’s individual desires, and I think that you can dress how you want, act how you want — but like at the same time, recognizing that you’re in control of yourself. So I personally fool with Amber Rose, kind of speaking, but I think that people just know her as Kanye West’s stripper ex-shawty, and Wiz Khalifa’s baby momma shawty. So they’re like of course she’s a hoe.
N: Yeah, I feel like it kind of, unfortunately in the public eye, devalue her entire stance, kind of trivialize it a little bit. But then, at the same time, it’s just like, that’s her right. And I feel like honestly if somebody cares enough to tell you about yourself so much so that like, you know…people are literally obsessed with her and her movement and what she’s trying to do. Not on the supportive side, obsessed with diminishing her cause. Like why? Why are you hating? That’s a whole other issue in itself, to have so much hate you literally allow it to consume you and control you, and you’re just so invested. When if you don’t care about that shit than you should invest your time and energy into something that you do care about and let her invest her energy in what she cares about. It’s not like she’s passing laws, or like declaring war on men and trying to eradicate the human race.
T: And at the end of the day, she’s talking about consent, and she’s talking about the protection of women. Overall sexual abuse…like are you supporting rape? Like she’s talking about consent!
JL: Yeah that’s pretty much her main goal, to preach about consent and bring up rape culture because it’s not being talked about.
N: Right, and it is real. Men feel entitled to us as women. Men feel like they deserve or it is their right to possess us, especially in those cases where we flaunt our bodies and we show that we’re proud and want to expose a little bit of skin. That doesn’t mean because I’m showing my skin that now you can come invade my space.
JL: Right. And still on women empowerment, a writer from Elle Magazine wrote a rebuttal Essence’s #BlackGirlMagic February issue. Obviously she missed the point as well. So explain why black girls are magical or so powerful.
N: I got to start with black people. It’s no secret that, you know, we love all people but I’m not going to deny or diminish the power that we have as black people and being the initial inhabitants on this earth, and being connected to the earth. You know us actually coming from the earth. So I feel like, in itself, melanated people have that power because of our connection with the source, our connection with the sun. So that in itself is our power, period. And that’s even more augmented as a black woman because not only are we connected to the source a great deal through our melanin, but we are the source in a sense because we bring forth life. The same way that the earth brought forth us, we are earth. We continue that pattern that the earth started. Not even the earth, really, when the Creator started everything. Women are the ones who continue that cycle and bring forth a new generation. So as original women, as original black women and black beings, we recognize that we are the first human forms of creation.
T: And taking it a step further, if you want to get historically correct out this motherf**ker. In the new world, in America, throughout the entire world really, have had a genocide on the black family and our black men are being put in jail. Our black men are being thrown in the street and murdered and killed. And it’s really the women who have been able to keep the black race alive. Because when you think about what black people have gone through in the world these past centuries, we could be totally off the face of the earth right now. And it’s really the resilience of the mothers who kept the community literally alive. And it’s the women who, while their husband was in jail, or while their husband got shot, brought forth that life, that child that didn’t meet their father. Or the mom who, even though her two older sons were killed, she’s still tryna raise her daughter. It’s really important to recognize the power of nurturing love and the power of feminine energy in this state of warfare we’re in.
JL: So what’s next for you all? Is there a new project on the horizon?
N: We’re working on a project. We’re definitely working on the liberation tip. I mean we’re obviously are very service based and socially aware through our music. But we’re working on concrete ways to actually contribute to the liberation of our people. Doing a lot more service things, being in the community more, speaking with people, building up our brothers and sisters and coming up with real solutions. So that’s first and foremost.
But on a serious tip, we do have some things that are coming out soon. We have a video, actually, that we’re releasing for “Protect Your Self”, which is the single off ofASASE YAAthat we dropped last April, and that should be coming out within the next two weeks — at any moment really, we don’t have a concrete day for that yet. But, “Protect Your Self” video, and then we’re working on a project that we’ve been working on and is finally come to a consensus of the tracklist, name, and concept. So we’re at a place now where we’re just letting those ideas develop and really locking ourselves in to get this done and put it out to share with our supporters.