Naimah Muhammad‘s music, is like the most pleasant daydream. Her songs are packed with emotion and whimsical adventure. The last time we featured Naimah on the blog, you were being introduced to her – well, we thought it was time to play catch up. Enjoy getting to know more about this talented lady, as she shares her inspiration and advice. Rhythm & Ruffle is thrilled to have her as one of our Featured Artists!
When did you first fall in love with music?
The love has always been there, but I never identified it as such. Music has been a part of my life literally since the beginning – a life partner, not a love affair. I remember playing my nylon-string toy guitar, until the strings popped off (and even then, continued to play it until I was forced to throw it away). I remember playing Donna Lewis’s “I Love You Always Forever” on my cassette-player to and from kindergarten. I remember making my mom and any guests she had over, sit in the living room and listen to me sing “My Heart Will Go On”. I remember in 8th grade when I first created a melody around a poem I had written and sang it as I played guitar; and although it was far from structured, believing I had made my way towards the path of historic folk singer – songwriters, with my abstract and poetic musings. I remember feeling a sense of union and understanding, as I sat with a group of women singing in a village I visited in Sudan, during the 11th grade, and realizing in that moment how truly universal and transcendent music is. The memories go on and on, but what I’m trying to get to, is that I have marked my life with moments connected to music. I never really knew this until I thought about the things I remember, and why, those times specifically, but I place and trace time in the context of my relationship with music – and this shows me how inherently connected I am to it.
Singing or Songwriting – which creative process do you enjoy most?
This is a really, really hard question to answer. And as I think about this now, I’m honestly surprising myself in answering: singing. Songwriting is more of a natural, almost uncontrollable process. It happens without prior conscious thought, planning, or direction – a song materializes the moment my mind is clear like it was waiting there all along. With singing, however; that takes a bit more work on my behalf. I have the words written down on paper, the message is there, but then I have to go deep inside to communicate and deliver the song in such a way that reflects all the emotions that inspired it and is received and understood by the listener. This in itself, is a process of discovery as I think about the meaning behind each word and really put myself in the moment to recall those same feelings, I felt at that time – to experience the past in the present. I guess it’s an authenticity kind of thing, trying to be as true to myself as I am to my listener and to show I’m committed to, and invested in the words I’m singing, because they truly mean something to me. And when I’m able to really connect with my song in that kind of way, that’s when it moves me, and moves the listener. It’s sometimes a challenging creative process, opening myself up to be vulnerable and expressing those emotions tied to my lyrics - but it’s worth it. That’s when the song comes alive.
Which female artist has influenced you the most and why?
I grew up listening to Alanis Morissette and still carry traces of her influence today. As a songwriter, she’s able to capture those every-day experiences I think every girl can relate to, but then turns them around and shines a light that presents the ordinary into something new and something witty and creative – that’s exactly what I try to do as a songwriter. She also does a great job of achieving that authenticity I mentioned before; she seems deeply invested in her songs and I truly believe what she’s saying when she sings. Obviously, when I was a young girl singing Alanis Morissette’s songs on the playground, I wasn’t reading into what exactly I was soaking in at the time; but I can definitely see hints of her in my writing… especially thematically.
What is your best advice for fellow, emerging female musicians?
I don’t mean to be cliché, but “stay true to yourself”. I think that statement’s marked cliché for a reason; it needs to be repeated! It sounds so simple and surface-level and the first reaction might be, “Duh, I’m always true to myself!” - but in the world of the arts, in a field that seems so competitive and intimidating; staying true to yourself is really your key weapon towards success. If you have a talent that is unique to you, guard it, develop it, and go with it. There’s no need to compare yourself to someone you’re not or to try to be like someone else, because they seem successful. There will always be room for a gift worth sharing—and wanted—by the world. I don’t think artists, especially female artists, really acknowledge and believe that. It took me a while to truly believe in my unique talents and to see that people respond to me for my differences, not my similarities. When you can really recognize and accept yourself as you are, with full confidence - that’s unstoppable. People are always going to want to hear what you have to say, if you have a new, interesting way of saying it.
This of course, goes hand-in-hand with doing the work of sharing your material with the public and putting it out there however you can, and getting connected to as many other musicians and people in the industry as possible!
What are your immediate music goals?
Presently I’m focusing on building my catalog and getting more content out. I’m so thankful for the positive response I’ve received for the two singles I released, “Wolf and I” and “Bittersweet Refrain”, and all the energy since then, from all over the world. I want to keep that fire alive and continue to establish myself as a singer-songwriter. I’m in the studio working on new material I’m very excited about and I can’t wait to share!
How is Naimah Muhammad going to change the world?
The kind of change I’d like to achieve can’t be forced upon anyone, but I am seeking to inspire the spark towards that process. I am Muslim; I am a female; I am African-American; I am multi-cultured; I am young at heart with an old soul; I’m all these things at once, and every bit of these traits make me the person I am and how I present myself and my music to the world. My playlists include a variety of artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Chopin, Elliott Smith, SBTRKT, Bob Marley, Nirvana, and Gilbere Forte and I think that’s totally fine. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into a genre, and don’t feel like my listener needs to be one way or another either. Kind of a funny story going off of this - a woman told me that she loved my song “Wolf and I”, and after her 6-year-old son had overheard it; being the proud owner of a stuffed wolf; the song became his bedtime song! Who would have thought a song would stretch a generational gap like that? I love it.
I hope to be a figure reflecting humankind itself – the beauty in and appreciation for its differences, and how, at the same time, there is always some kind of mutual thread. Songwriting is my way of bridging the gaps that seem to be growing wider by the day. I want to bring people together who might not be comfortable with each other on the onset, but grow to find their similarities through how they relate to the messages in my songs. Just as earlier musicians have done for me, I want to bring people from a vast array of backgrounds in contact with each other and connect them.
You can follow Naimah Muhammad on Twitter and like her page on Facebook!
Photo Credit: Anthony Tilghman