SHUNAJI RETURNS WITH NEW SINGLE 'ON MY MIND' AS WE DISCUSS MENTAL HEALTH, SPIRITUALITY AND SELF DISCOVERY IN CALIFORNIA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LOTTIE ANNE TURNER
JUNE 28TH 2020
Shunaji, who is set to release her ‘Cosmic Blues’ EP in July of this year, joined us for a sit down chat to talk about her inspiration behind the new record, her mental health and how she found herself when travelling around California last fall.
Shunjai uses her lyrical prowess to break down her worldview, with an eloquent and thought-provoking critique of topics such as ‘slut-shaming’, gender-based morals and the media’s role in normalising the misrepresentation of women. Through her first single, ‘Dirty Girls’ taken from the forthcoming EP she reclaims the definition of “Dirty”, demonstrating that talking about sex and sexuality does not affect the woman she is, her credibility or her intellect. Establishing herself as an artist to be heard, poignant lyricism and dynamic productions have set alight her path so far. In the early stages of her career she has garnered support from tastemaker Gilles Peterson as part of his Future Bubblers project, as well as the MOBO Help Musicians Fund and the PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music. Recognition of her innovative musical style and thought-provoking lyrical flow, her latest single ‘Dirty Girls’ is no different.
The forthcoming EP, is also a wider reflection on her influences and roots. Lying deep within genres such as Jazz, Folk, Trip-Hop, Soul & Synthwave, she fuses experimental methods alongside old school hip-hop techniques.The EP also weaves a story around her solo travels around the west coast of the USA, embracing the culture and experiencing life at its fullest.
Firstly, what has the lockdown experience been like for you both mentally and creatively?
Wow, well it’s been, for many of us I’m sure, weird in many ways. Obviously, the abrupt end to live gigging has had such an impact on me as a musician and now after what? 3 months? I feel a bit like this is my ‘new life’ and I feel scared of going back to ‘normal’. Mentally however, it’s been a lot because even in pre-covid life everything was so focused on social media which, on a normal day, could be incredibly draining, but in lockdown it's absolutely overwhelming and I feel this incredible pressure to be on it all the time with everyone else being so engaged online more than ever. I have tried my hardest to disconnect and be outdoors as much as I can, otherwise I think I’d go mad!
We are currently living through the biggest global protests in history with the incredible Black Lives Matter movement, how are you feeling and how have you found social media, navigating through such uncertain times?
I think, to be honest it's interesting, it’s been incredible, and I am so happy platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have seen these topics trending on a global scale but on another note, for me, racial equality is the basic premise of my existence, so it’s been oddly hard to see there be so much attention being placed on it when it’s been something that I have had to engage in, struggle with and be aligned with my entire life, if that makes any sense? It’s been amazing to witness both as an observer and an engager, I hope this forces these very real and deepky institutional and systemic issues to change.
I think that’s such an important point for non-black people to take into consideration when understanding why the movement is so important, this isn’t new and for many black people, as you said, this has been what they have had to fight with their whole lives. Totally understandable all the triggering negative feelings this must bring up, but like you said, it’s been amazing to see it on such a global scale and feel the change. Looking deeply, your new single, ‘On My Mind’, is a very personal record, tell me how that came into fruition and how did you and My Rugema come together?
So, I wrote it when I was travelling in October through California, I just had the demo with me and I was out for two weeks just cruising solo and writing lyrics, it then suddenly came to me. I think it had a lot to do with travel and feeling at one with the ocean as well as being away from people I care about. I had to get in touch with myself and my memories, it’s a very personal record and I felt that would be very relatable if I allowed myself to open up and be at one with how I was truly feeling. In terms of getting My Rugema on the record, I always knew I wanted to have a strong lyricist on the track and involve him in my production and I felt Rugema was just perfect, I connected to him instantly after watching his live performance with his group 2U4U.
California must have been incredible, how long has music been a passion for you and did you always know it was going to be such a major part of your life?
Honestly, I didn’t know I could have a career in music, it was hard as an artist thinking that and its proven to be hard also living it (laughs). I always try and keep the passion alive, that’s the secret. Whatever you’re doing in life as a creative, make sure it doesn’t become a JOB because it then ruins the creativity and the feeling of staying connected with the inspiration. It’s important to keep the passion alive as an artist.
I read in an interview with Galdem that you produce a lot of your own material, what element of the creative process, producing, mixing, recording, writing etc. is your favourite?
I think composing is my most favourite part honestly, being a musician is incredible, creating something new is so empowering and the magic happens in the composition. Mixing is also amazing because you get to make your composed art into a reality, but it is definitely the most challenging part.
Going through your process as not only an artist, but as a technical musician, where does it start and end for you to reach the final product? talk me through your creative process.
I love chords and I resonate with their different expressions. I actually came up with a chord structure just before this interview and was thinking how much I love how chords create and capture the emotions that I want to impress into my music. After finding chords, I then put energy into the beat making process and then writing over the whole track.
What or whom are your personal muses that inspire your music and creativity? Where do you turn for inspiration?
I think higher consciousness is so important. In California it was very spiritual, and these type of experiences inspire me to communicate with my audience and in my music. For me outer space also is definitely a source of inspiration, a lot of my inspiration has to do with either ancient history or futurism and innovation. I love it, the unknown, and using it as a muse.
Your music often centres around themes of female empowerment, sex and sexuality, which was apparent on your incredible EP least year, ‘Blue Melon’, what is it about these topics that allows you to convey such emotion and write such meaningful music and why do you feel these topics are important to speak about within music?
I think growing up I craved finding artists that spoke about these topics. I was underrepresented in school and in the media and women’s sexuality was never embraced, rather it was treated as a taboo. Women's sexuality was always associated with negative connotations and in general as a human being and a woman, I try to talk about all the things I felt underrepresented in. My platform is mine only and I talk about whatever I want.
How important is live performance to you and are you struggling with missing out on that due to everything going on?
Live performance is SO important. I love connecting with my audience. Having a following online is fine but seeing people in person is incredible and I feel so connected when chatting with the audience. Human connection is something you can’t get through streaming or online presence.
To close, what would you say to your younger self looking back on your career and journey to where you are at today?
I would give young me, and other people reading, the advice to not spend too much time thinking about what you could have done or what you missed out on. Ignore the fear of missing out and just enjoy life. Find something you love, cherish the people around you and try to make genuine connections and have a life of love where you develop skills and your craft, not focusing on how bad things may be. Cultivate yourself and prosper.