Finding someone who exudes musical talent while still embracing originality is so rare to find these days, that a person like this is close to being a mythical creature. Reigning from the South Side of Chicago, Shahidah Omar is one of these mythical creatures as she brings a whole different sound to the music industry that showcases her classical training in opera while mashing together a rock sound with R&B and Hip Hop tones. Shahidah will be showcasing her eclectic style for the second year at Bonnaroo in June.
MVRemix had the opportunity to discuss her debut album Freedom, her upcoming set at Bonnaroo, and her influences.
What do you miss most about Chicago?
I grew up there and there were a lot of us, nine siblings. So, I just miss the camaraderie there. It’s a little different here on the west coast because; a lot of people are just spread out. Mostly, everyone is just here for entertainment. Chicago feels like home. You can talk to people on the street all day and it’s a lot closer together. You get around and you get more stuff there
In June you’ll be heading over to Tennessee for your second year at Bonnaroo. How are you feeling about that?
What! [laughs] I am so super duper excited about that. Last year we did two stages, and this year I think we’re going to do a stage and they’re going to add two other ones for us. Bonnaroo is like Woodstock. There is a lot of people! Have you been?
Yes, I have been. It’s a lot of fun, it’s pretty intense!
Oh my god, it is the best experience for a musician. The best experience, I can’t even explain how amazing that feeling is to have all those different people coming out to see you. There is all different kinds of people who love music and that is all that they are there for. Its frickin’ awesome. It’s amazing. So excited.
Do you like performing at festivals or in intimate venues better?
I prefer festivals honestly because it’s more people and you get all different kinds of energy. I love the outdoor festivals more so, because it’s out and it’s freeing. But, I do love the intimate shows. They’re sweet and people really get to know you better. You get to act a fool at the music festivals! [laughs] It’s a totally different experience.
How do you usually prepare yourself for a big music festival?
Well, right now I’m in LA and some of my band members are in New York, and some are here in LA So, when I’m here on the West Coast…and I have a place in New York too…but when I’m here in the west coast, I’m in the studio all the time, and I’m rehearsing at this spot around here. There is this place here, the best rehearsal spot ever. I rehearse there all the time without my band just to get myself moving. Then I bring the band together. I’m going to New York this Sunday and I’m going to meet my whole band. Some of us are coming from LA and New York, we’re going to rehearse there. So, the whole process is fun.
I read an in interview that you did previously that you tried R&B and hip hop, but that you weren’t happy doing that and that you prefer rock music. What is it about rock music that makes you happy?
Freedom. The name of the album is Freedom, but freedom seriously. I’m not just saying that because we are having this interview. It is really freeing for me. R&B and Hip Hop, that is what they expect you to do as an African American woman. They expect you to be in that box. So, when you are able to do something different and people are actually accepting it as something different. They’re accepting it as that and you’re actually being that…I prefer that. So, with rock music the live element is different. I play a little bit of guitar and percussion. It feels more freeing. I love R&B and Hip Hop, but it’s one of those boxes that I don’t feel like I have to be in. However, I do like to mix the sounds together at times.
What are some rock influences that you have?
I love The Cranberries, Radiohead…I’m really into Metallica and hard music like that. I do love the softer side of alternative music, and Radiohead is one of my favorite bands like I said. Bjork, Peter Gabriel is one of my favorites. Um…the list can be like…Sting! I love Sting. U2! They’re all amazing for different reasons.
Radiohead is going to be at Bonnaroo, are you going to check them out there?
Yes! [laughs] I cannot wait to go and see Radiohead, I’m like we’re going to stay the whole time this year. I didn’t get to be there last year. We’re going to see all the bands while we’re there. So, yes!
So, your debut album Freedom is the most unique album that I have heard in a while. The whole album could literally be made into a rock opera. When I listened to it, it was really theatrical. Have you ever considered making it into a rock opera?
Yes. Thank you so much! I really appreciate that compliment. Absolutely, I mean I’ve never thought about doing it in a theater aspect, but that’s pretty cool actually. [laughs] We do call it a rock opera sometimes because when I’m performing it live, I actually do a little bit more opera than what is on the album itself. So we go from straight rock to opera. One of the songs is like a rap/rock Opera song on there. But yea, I haven’t thought about that. That’s pretty good, I’m going to have to look into that deeper.
What track on Freedom means the most to you?
Means the most…I think “People of the World.” For “People of the World”, I wish that for “People of the World” that the musicality of it came out on the album like it does live. Like with all those crazy live instruments it turns the songs sideways and you really get to hear the lyrics in it. “People of the World” for me is an album song, so I don’t know how it would be looked at as a single. But, for an amazing album song, it’s my favorite because it’s talking about what is happening in the world in general. From all different aspects. From being judged by your color to wanting to unite to watching people with illnesses and spending money. It’s very political, but at the same time it’s real. It’s so real. Its from different aspects all over the world, that’s why it’s called “People of the World”, that’s my definite favorite song on the album, as far as connection-wise.
If there was a movie made about your life, what actress would you want to play you?
That’s a good question…I don’t know! Oh god, I never would have thought of that. That’s a good question. Who do I think to play me? I really don’t know! I can’t think of anybody. I might have to think about that a little deeper. I can’t think of anyone to play me. That was a good question, I’m going to have to think about that.
Any last words for your fans?
I love my fans, and I’m so appreciative for being accepted for who I am through them. I love their connection with my fans from having fans that like different things. It’s makes it so much more fun knowing that we can connect. I love them! I love the connection and all that cool stuff!