Shishani has a strong, quiet presence that doesn’t at first betray the depth of thought she brings into this encounter. When she speaks, she does so with calm and consideration, she does not raise her voice because she knows that her words hold enough power.
When she performs, her music holds the space, and her soulful voice doesn’t need amplification to transfix us. Shishani recognises the power of her music, and of music in general; “I think throughout history we have known and seen how powerful music is. We know that it’s a healing force, and that’s also one of the reasons why when you see a very political artist that they’re censored, because people don’t want to hear what they have to say, because music is so powerful,” she tells us.
“I’m just really waiting for the rise of the conscious music because I think at some point things have been dumbed down a little bit to keep us focussed in a very specific way of looking at life…you always have the good music, but not always the good music floating up.”
However, musical expression, and artistic expression in general, is an integral part of political change: “You see it in many revolutions, what music means, like Jamaica, Bob Marley, the whole Rastafarian movement, letting people know what’s happening politically…the reflects what’s happening, basically.”
Much of Shishani’s music is about identity and acceptance. Part of this acceptance is acceptance of LGBT individuals and communities: “I think it’s a natural state of being that we accept each other regardless of who we fall in love with or what we believe in. [In Namibia] people are just looking at each other based on who they are and what they do…it hasn’t been like that always. Despite hate speeches and crimes against the LGBTI community, Namibia is now entering a progressive state.”
“If we look at the whole spectrum of life and history…[gay people] were seen as people that had maybe two souls, a male and a female soul, and that they were able to communicate strongly with the ancestors because of their exceptional position.
“Gay” people [LGBTI] occupied specific roles within societies as part of the community – as spiritual beings, healers, artists and craftspeople.
So it hasn’t always been a negative thing. But that’s something that we’re living with now and trying to tackle, just like we’re dealing with racism, with discrimination against women, with ageism.”
Shishani seems fascinated by the continuum of history and culture, and by the way that tradition interacts with our present. She was born at the intersection of cultures, and she inhabits a musical space that is both unique to her and universally recognisable. “I have a few countries because I am from different backgrounds. I was born in Namibia, my dad is Belgian, I was raised in the Netherlands, and I’ve travelled through all these countries all the time, all my life, so I have different places that I call home.”
Her 2014 album, Sessions in Poland, was born mainly out of the music she heard in Europe during her childhood:
“It’s basically a reflection of many of the influences that I grew up listening to. Growning up in Europe, there was not a lot of Namibian music around…so most of the stuff is reggae, and it’s rock, and it’s R’nB, and it’s soul music.”
“Now I’m diving deeper into Namibian traditional musics.”
Her current project, Afro Namibian Tales, is a more collaborative work. Working with musicians from around Africa and Europe, and singing in English, Oshiwambo (her mother’s first language), and French. “With this latest project, the Afro Namibian Tales, I’m really going back to the roots. I’m going to different musical traditions from Namibian and the African continent, and just mixing that with my own creativity and my own songwriting.”
Learning Oshiwambo is “super important,” Shishani tells us. “It’s a term of identity. I call language a passport. If you speak the language you’re part of the community, it’s your passport.” It is clear that she sees identity as something you feel and create, not something that is pre-determined for you. As she sings in ‘Windhoek’, “no matter where you’re from you feel where you belong.” Music, for Shishani, is about exploring and expanding this identity: “It’s about going deep into yourself generally. It doesn’t matter what angle you take, it’s just about being yourself, knowing your own identity, you know? Resonating with it.”
Watch Shishani’s full interview, and see her perform ‘Minority’ live on the Midnight Hump Show below:
Shishani will be performing at The Tamasha Pre-Festival Party at Juniper Kitchen this Saturday 24 October 2015.
Featured image courtesy of Shishani and Paolo Schneider