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Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | SELF

Brooklyn, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2014
Duo Hip Hop Soul




"Meet OSHUN, the Nubian Mafia With a Message of Peace"

There's been much-needed change in the social atmosphere of the music industry this year. Janelle Monáe, Kendrick Lamar, Azealia Banks, and J. Cole are just a few artists who have put their politics in their art and resisted compromising their visions in order to “make it.” Similarly, newcomers Thandiwe and Niambi Sala have chosen to march to the beat of their own drum. In between school—Thandi is double majoring in journalism and Africana studies with a minor in documentary film while Niambi is on the performer track in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music—the two write and record music.

The D.C. natives, both 19, make up a neo-soul hip-hop duo known as OSHUN preaching love, peace, and spirituality. After meeting at the Martin Luther King scholarship orientation at NYU, the two became friends, and one fateful night in an NYU dorm dance studio, they formed OSHUN. First came a few YouTube covers that evolved into a SoundCloud account with a loyal following. They started performing at various school events and open mic nights, concerts, and these eventually led to them performing with Jesse Boykins III and Lion Babe at the AFROPUNK Redbull SoundSelect in March.

OSHUN started off spitting on some Dilla beats and then moved to developing their own genre of R&B with heavy influences from reggae and roots music. Their first EP, AFAHYE, serves as a four-track introduction of the duo. “#,” a popular track from the EP that samples A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight,” is an unapologetic declaration intended to incite and educate on social issues. Their latest project, ASASE YAA, is a nod to the past, an acknowledgement of the present, and a glance at the future. We talked to these soul sisters recently about incorporating Yoruba culture into their art, getting critiqued by their parents, and respecting Mother Earth. Plus, here's the premiere of their latest project, ASASE YAA, below:

What does OSHUN mean?
Thandi: Oshun is a Yoruba deity—a West African, traditional deity. She’s a goddess, and she governs over sweet waters. She’s basically the mother of love, fertility, wealth, and diplomacy. At the time that we decided to come together, her energy was just very present. It was primarily Niambi’s idea because she had more knowledge on Oshun, but we both felt her energy and felt moved to dedicate the music to her and all of Yoruba culture.

How did OSHUN start?
T: It was the first day of winter break and no one was in the dorm except for us, because we made the conscious decision to stay in New York for the winter. So we went to this kickback at our friend Ben’s house for a little bit and then we decided to go to the dance studio because we lived in a dorm that had a dance studio in the basement. We sang our hearts out for an hour, and, at the end of the night, eventually decided to become OSHUN.

Niambi: That’s why we clicked from the jump because we knew that we had a love for our people and for serving our people and enlightening our people. It was just a matter of what is going to be the machine that we’re going to do these things through. Once the spirit moved us to start creating together, then it just became clear. It was almost like some Lion King shit. This voice was like, “You are Oshun.” I thought I was hearing shit.

T: With that being said, it’s definitely taken form. We’ve always felt that it was something divine, and we also had faith in our talent. But it definitely has skyrocketed so quickly. It’s extremely difficult, especially because we’re full-time students, and we’re best friends, and we’re girls. That can get tough. We get into arguments sometimes. But we always come back to center and realize that it’s beyond us and that we have a bigger objective.

Do your families support the music, or are they more concerned with school?
T: At first, my family was more concerned about me getting my work done, considering that I’m a full-time student with two majors and a minor. So they just wanted to make sure that my work was good. But I’m a really good student, so I kind of shut them up with these grades. Now they’re more like, “Oh, I like that song. Oh, this is a nice song.” They’re music people, but they’re not, like, musicians.

N: I come from a very musical and artistic family. My mother is a singer as well. I’ve actually toured with my mom. So they’re super supportive of my interest in music. I just think that they’re more critical than most parents because they’re artists themselves. They’re never just like, “Oh, that’s nice.” It’s more like, “OK, this is how we’re going to make it better.” That response is cool sometimes, but I’m not always trying to be critiqued. Sometimes I just want to show them what I’m doing. As far as the music, they’ve always been great supporters. I’ve been doing music my whole life, in different ways. I guess there’s some kind of tension with the fact that we’re not kids anymore and we’re growing up. In order for us to be as revolutionary as we want to be, we have to push certain limits. We have to step out of safe zones and push certain social norms in order to break them down.

With that being said, sometimes my parents are worried and feel some type of way about us. For example, the “Gyenyame” video from our first project was us depicting the actual goddesses Oshun and Yemoja. My mom loved it. She’s in the Yoruba community at home and she sent it to members of our temple and stuff like that. But my dad can’t even watch it. He walked out of the room. He was like, “This is X-rated. Your nipples are showing.” And I’m like, “You’re totally missing the point, but that’s OK.” It’s a weird dynamic.

How would you describe your sound?
T: Incense burning in water. Even though the flame should go out in the water, it doesn’t for whatever reason. We definitely have coined our own genre, which we call “Iya-Sol.” “Iya” is a Yoruba term meaning priestess, teacher, or mother, and “Sol” meaning your literal soul, soul music, or the sun—the sun being the source of everything.

N: I think “Iya-Sol” is really specific to the sound. I think that we’re most closely related to R&B and hip-hop, but we also have a lot in common with gospel music, as far as the message and the content. Even though our music isn’t always about God, everything still has that connection. There’s always a problem and a solution.

Who really influenced you guys starting out?
N: I started my first band in high school, and I was obsessed with Paramore. I love their music, and I just love how Hayley is such a powerful woman, especially as a young woman. They started when she was like 15 years old. She was super young. They get a lot of crap about going mainstream or whatever, but everyone gets that criticism.

T:​ Niambi was in a band called Double Think, and it was like a rock band almost but with ska. It was just vibe-y, good music. I was definitely a Double Think fan when I knew her for, like, a month before we went to college together. With that being said, I think that I can speak for us both when I say that we’re very inspired by reggae and roots music. Of course, we’re inspired by traditional West African music. In addition, we listen to, like, nature sounds. Niambi goes to sleep to the sound of the ocean. I go to sleep to the sound of the river. Earth sounds are a big inspiration for us.

What was the first project you worked on?
T: Our first project was AFAHYE. It was just a four-track EP—we call it a pre-album now. On AFAHYE, we just tested the waters, and it got a lot of attention that I didn’t expect to get. We got hundreds of downloads in the first couple of hours, and no one knew who we were other than our friends on Facebook. It was us spitting over tribe beats.

N: It was foreshadowing the direction that we were going in as artists. It’s super nostalgic in the sense that we’re bringing back old Dilla beats and old tribe beats. We were letting people know that that old culture is not forgotten. We’re taking that and learning from that and building upon that. That was kind of our throwback project. It was showing that we’ve mastered our forefathers’ trade, in a sense. All of that was to foreshadow our upcoming project, which takes it to a whole other level and shows not only that we can master what they’ve done, but that we can take it to the next level.

Tell me a little bit about the new album.
N: The album is called ASASE YAA​, and it’s kind of a continuation of AFAHYE. I think that the album shows how we’ve matured and how we’ve grown as artists. ASASE YAA is a West African term for Mother Earth. Conceptually, the reason that we chose the name ASASE YAA is that the album is commemorating Mother Earth in a couple of different ways. I think that the album shows an appreciation of the Earth. It’s about seeing the Earth as our home and loving and caring for it. We particularly wanted to focus on the concept of the woman as Earth, especially the symbol of the black woman as Mother Earth. We wanted to uplift her and discuss what it is to be a black woman in America. You have to know where you’re from to know where you’re going. So the entire project is a journey of us returning, as African-Americans who are here as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, to retrieve things that we’ve lost and things that we’ve been deprived of. It’s about becoming whole again. - Complex

"First Watch: OSHUN, 'Protect Your Self'"

"Check yourself before you wreck yourself." It was the message heard round the world in 1993, when Ice Cube (as of this week, a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer) boomed the warning on wax in a track about the danger that comes with crossing him. (It was actually Das EFX who immortalized the saying, but I digress.) Now OSHUN, a female neo-soul/hip-hop duo, has borrowed that phrase to establish an entirely opposite and timely point. On "Protect Your Self," from last year's ASASE YAA, Niambi Sala and Thandiwe take that well-known phrase of abrasive, external advice and flip it into a message of internal self-preservation. Directed by Jonah Best, the video for the track spares no one.

Though light-hearted and relatable, the visuals attack culturally specific issues, such as the natural hair vs. weave debate, as well as widespread concerns, like the perils of overexposure on social media. Literally portrayed as mindless zombies, the targets are blinded by superficiality and easy access. The protagonist, featured emcee Proda, must decide whether to get with the program and help revolutionize the technology-dependent youth, or be targeted himself.

The scenes that play throughout the video are a hat tip to pop cinematic influences, whether intentional or not: From the quirky speech patterns and movements reminiscent of the main character Leeloo of The Fifth Element to the eradication of the ill and odd that reflects the mission of Agents J and K from the Men In Black series. OSHUN takes it a step further by tying in influences from classic music videos, with a tip of the hat toward Missy Elliott, via dedicated segments of dance in puffy suits, Erykah Badu, through cosmetic aesthetics, and Destiny's Child, during a fleeting but fulfilling moment of choreography (see: 2:45).

While the video is undoubtedly intended to be a wake-up call, the way it's presented is anything but an in-your-face exhortation. Instead, this is about young people looking out for one another, spreading a message of positivity without excluding the uninitiated. In both a fictional world and here on Earth, OSHUN is braving a war against the artificial. It's not an easy battle, but someone has to lead it. - NPR

"Black Spirituality Matters Featuring OSHUN NYC"

In the midst of news coverage regarding the shooting of Walter Scott, many people are terrified by the daily killings of black and brown youth in America. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is being intellectualized as physical life, while the spirit of the black community is also under attack. Black spirituality in America manifests itself in various ways. The black church, the mosque, traditional African practices and other religions aid African Americans in coping with being treated like second-class citizens. The Black conversion to Christianity and Islam in America was due to its influential language of freedom and its stance on social justice. Wherever there is faith, spirituality and religion you will specifically find black people there.

Yet, many of these religions, especially Christianity, have been told through a white perspective. A man who calls himself “Mr. Savannah Black,” created the highly-criticized #BurnWhiteJesus movement. Mr. Black’s mission is not to disrespect Christ’s image but to resist white supremacy. He is attempting to point out an issue which the photo below questions.


In other words, the world knows Jesus was not white, but the image of “White Jesus” has been used to alienate people of color from feeling empowered. God made man in his own image and Jesus represents God on Earth, so when Jesus is depicted as white in movies, books, statues and in art people believed this to be historically true. “From birth, there’s an attempt to prove to us that we are ugly, worthless, inferior and less than... This is a violent assault on the mind,” said Tufts University undergraduate, Chi-Chi Osuagwu.

It is senseless to confine Jesus to an ethnicity or race, since he came for the salvation of the whole world. The Western world, however, continually illustrates Jesus as a white man, which is a gross display of ignorance or another scheme at hegemonic imposition of its racial superiority. Hence, the problem of racial marginalization that black people feel in this aspect of spirituality is a result of countless years of dehumanization, psychological barraging and cultural rape.

Sadly these atrocious acts seem to have become a norm of the White American culture as Black spirituality has not only been tampered with through false images but through cultural smudging of Afro-Indigenous spiritual practices. Kendra Rosalie Lara Paredes, the co-founder and executive director of Beantown Society, commented on the sale of a “Local Branch Smudge Kit“ by Urban Outfitters. “This is disrespectful,” said Paredes, “[my] ancestors angry as all hell.” Paredes commented further,

It was a smudging kit with sage and turkey feathers and a ceramic ash dish. [It is] spiritual cleansing stuff. But for like 40 bucks when sage is like $8. They’re appropriating our spiritual practices and making them expensive and trendy, like yoga.
The page for the smudge kit sale has recently been taken down.

Liturgical dance, for example, is criticized by many in the Catholic Church because the bodily movement is categorized as sexual. However, African Americans do not see it as a means of fleshly pleasure but the use of the body to not only resist oppression, but to communicate with the Creator. Remember, God cursed that which condemned King David for dancing too hard, so whose place is it to say dancing in the church incites eroticism? The bottom line remains that this is an issue of doctrine, and people should respect how any group wishes to serve God. It is deeply rooted in the African culture to express passion and spirituality with dance and as Alice Walker affirmed, “Hard times require furious dancing.” Bodily movement strives against oppression and ultimately heals the soul. From the slave ship to the streets of every urban city, black people have created ways to express themselves in a society that still does not consider them as fully human.

The creative and resistant force of the African American soul, according to Dr. Carlyle Fielding Stewart III, is the ultimate reference point for black existence. When anything resists or serves as an obstacle to the black soul, it threatens the existence of black people. Fortunately, black people in America have exhibited great strength and continue to do so through unity, organization, resistance, cooperative economics and “the knowledge of self.”

OSHUN NYC and Their Mission:

Black activists vigorously advocate for young black men and women in their respective communities and nationwide. Yet, black artists use their craft in creative ways to heal the soul. Thandiwe and Niambi Sala, the hip hop duo of OSHUN NYC, are making it their mission to spread peace, empower all people and instill cultural pride, which is no simple task. OSHUN, which started in a college dorm room in New York, is touching thousands of young lives primarily those of African descent. Their influence by the Yoruba religious tradition, one of the 10 largest religions in the world, guides their musical talent and empowers their ideas.

OSHUN performed at The Red Bull Sound Select presents: New York

Thandi, whose father is an expert of African theology, grew up in a Christian family but adopted the Yoruba tradition. It is common among African Americans to believe in an Abrahamic religion while practicing various African traditions. Niambi grew up in a pan-African community in D.C. She was blessed with self-knowledge and has been performing from a very young age. Niambi is the daughter of an educator and musician in the D.C. area. Thandi and Niambi attend yearly festivals that are hosted by Pan-African organizations like Ankobea which promote healing, rite of passage ceremonies, and ancient African history (prior to chattel slavery in America).

OSHUN NYC Mixtape “ASASE YAA” releases on April 22, Earth Day

OSHUN NYC exemplifies the word “Sankofa,” meaning to go back and retrieve. The duo has gone back to their cultural roots with their Afrocentric regalia and is inspiring others to do the same.The end of beautiful practices such as this is a crime against nature, life, and the beauty of cultural diversity in the world. Thandi and Niambi have proudly exalted their roots while firmly evolving in their milieu as torch bearers for this aspect of blackness; they have held on so that their blackness will not be robbed.

ASASE YAA releases April 22 on oshunnyc.com

Visit @oshunnyc on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, and Tumblr - Huffington Post


Still working on that hot first release.


Feeling a bit camera shy