DIASPORA: Meer makes waves for Arab women in rap music

Culture, Interview, Music

Rapper Meer is a young woman living in Australasia. Having just moved to Sydney from Auckland to be with the love of her life she says she appreciates a man who respects a woman going after her potential. “I want to make a mark as an Arab woman – I want people to know what an Arab is. I want Middle Eastern to be a part of the selection when you choose where you’re from,” she says.

Born in Dubai, she came to New Zealand when she was five years old. Having always used writing as an important outlet, especially when it comes to her mental health and positive well being, she says eventually making a rap song became an obvious choice. “The first time I went up on that stage I couldn’t explain it, it was something magical, that feeling I got, I couldn’t get anywhere else and I was addicted.”

Although her lyrical content can get quite heavy theme-wise she says “I want people to scream my name on that stage I want people to know my lyrics, I  want to touch people in ways that they have never..that sounds weird…I want to affect people emotionally through my music, in ways they’ve never been before.”

‘You messing with a bad bitch’ goes the hook of her most recent video release Pomegranate. But, she says “I’m not really an intense person – I’m such a kid – the person you see on stage is someone who feels powerful and wants to prove it but the person I am when I get off stage is powerful and I don’t have to prove it. Even though there’s a lot of intense content, people might think it’s too much.. Do you think?”

THREADS: VILLETTE – Talks the Powersuit & Dasha Lingerie

Music, Threads

“Our bodies are temples right? It’s crazy – our bodies are sacks of flesh holding everything together – but our spirit lives inside of us. I’ve always believed that we’re just vessels, and the way we dress ourselves is literally armour, so I think when you put something on to clothe your vessel it’s kind of like a spiritual statement whatever you wear” – Villette Dasha

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The 23-year-old singer/songwriter/producer and audio engineer has just released ‘Not In Love’ which is available on all platforms and the first single off her upcoming EP. It was produced by VILLETTE as well as mix and mastered by her and SmokeyGotBeatz . The shit is flame emojis. A lot of them. And representative of her fine attention to detail and craftsmanship in her music work. In this interview for Threads by Serum we talk about the power of the women’s suit and how clothing can be like armour; as well as her lingerie line “Dasha Lingerie”. She says “You know when you wear sexy lingerie like matching bra and knickers it’s like – dope you know. You could be wearing it just under track pants and a hoodie but you feel put together – I don’t know what it is”.
She recalls “My mum had a suit like this but it was lavender and it was so sick, she used to have these long braids as well.” Remembering a happier time from her childhood when she and her older sister Renee dressed up for their parents she says “I wore the coat and she wore the pants. We walked into the lounge in our house in Manurewa and did a little show for my parents. Whenever I see this it just reminds me to work hard”.
“Janelle Monae always wears a black and white suit – I read an interview where she was talking about the suit and how it represents how hard her parents worked – One’s a bus driver and the other a janitor. They both worked hard out 9-5 jobs and she always sticks to the black and white theme, suits and business attire to commemorate the hard work they’ve done.”

SERUM: Do you mean in terms of feeling confident and how clothing can fit on your body, like dressing for the job that you’re going to do?
VILLETTE: Yeah that’s a part of it. I think also feeling like you need to lead as well, cause I work in my home, my studio is right next to my bedroom, and that actually takes a lot of work to come from the bedroom to the studio when you could just stay in bed and watch Netflix all day. So if I know I’m working at the studio I’ll force myself to get up, have a shower and try and at least spend like 6 hours of the day in the studio.

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A dress she picked up in 2016 for her performance at Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles. Found in Santee Alley, an outdoor shopping district there.

SERUM: What would you wear to your studio?
VILLETTE: I will still dress up and wear something like a singlet with flowery pants – or I’m usually just in tracks pants and a hoodie cause that’s what’s comfortable. It really depends on how I feel cause sometimes I wanna feel empowered or I’m not having a good day or something so I’ll wear something sexy or do my hair & make up just to go to the next room.

SERUM: How does that help you create your juice – like I call it good juice – but for you, how does what you’re wearing enhance how you feel?
VILLETTE: Our bodies are temples right, I was talking about this literally last night – it’s so crazy how our bodies are sacks of flesh and we’re holding everything together but our spirit lives inside of us and that’s our vessel like I’ve always believed that. The way we dress ourselves it literally is armour so I think when you put something on to clothe your vessel it’s kind of like a spiritual statement whatever you wear and it’s just a representation of how you’re feeling and it should be armour – it can be armour and it can be also be a sword – it depends on what you wear.
This is made of cotton and it was made for me – it’s a traditional Samoan garment. I wore this to my nan’s funeral. It was from a shop in West Auckland and this just represents culture to me – it’s my armour whenever I go and do a cultural thing and if it’s really really important – for example I’m going to get my malu next year which is a traditional Samoan tattoo from here [waist] to here [lower thigh] and I would wear this to the ceremony and I’ll go get that done in Samoa. I love this but it’s not something that I would wear lightly and just wear around – it’s something I would wear at special occasions.

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Left: A Calvin Klein jacket her boyfriend Neihana thrifted in the US. Right: Traditional Samoan Garment.

SERUM: If we refer to it as like a tool box, why would you say it’s important for women to have clothes and image in that tool box like a professional repertoire or like an arsenal?
VILLETTE: I think people find their armour in different ways but for me personally, mine’s a suit – your professional wear can be like a hoodie and track pants or t-shirt or scuffs but it’s important to have something that makes you feel protected. It’s just good for your spirit I feel like as working professionals, we need even just one piece of clothing that feels like our armour, that no matter what it’s all good!

SERUM: Tell me about how you created Dasha Lingerie.
VILLETTE: I wanted to make Dasha Lingerie because I’ve loved lingerie since I was little and because I’m always wearing lingerie in sets with suits. I also wanted to make Dasha because I just wanted other people to feel how good it made me feel knowing that I don’t feel good all the time – it’s just a nice feel good item – the lingerie isn’t meant to hold your boobs up or anything, it’s literally just meant to fit over your natural curves – it’s really just a feel good piece.

SERUM: It’s really Coco Chanel that contrast.
VILLETTE: I love Chanel as well, that’s probably my favourite major brand or whatever. I don’t own anything Chanel, I just like to watch the catwalks and I love the shows and the jackets like the Chanel jacket is iconic – I’d love to own one one day but then again I don’t want to spend that much money on it. The lingerie just came along really naturally and when I go to a lingerie store I don’t wanna be paying for a bra that’s like $40 for something that’s got hardly any material but it costs so much. I don’t agree with that so I just thought $20 is good for everyone because it’s a nice sexy piece and it’s just something that’s so sweet. It can frame your body. When women feel sexy they’re unstoppable, like the whole vibe changes and you just feel it – they look bigger I’m not sure how to explain it but their presence is more intense you can feel them in the room – it’s so good.

Purchase Dasha Lingerie HERE.

Interview: Thirty Minutes With Ta-ku

Music

Perth based producer/beat maker Ta-ku doesn’t drink, smoke, take drugs or even make beats for a living, he does it after dinner, before bed as a side project. He has an out look on life that seems as progressive as his music considering recent heavy weights to hip hop, like Kendrick Lamar or Oddisee renouncing drugs and the party life because, religion, health, keeping a straight head while focusing on work and music.

It seems Ta-ku was onto something the rest of us have ignored all along. But more and more people are retracting from peer pressure to conform in favour of personal progress and simply enjoying the creative work itself.  Despite leading what he calls a ‘regimented’ life he still manages to work on tracks like ‘Cake’ for @Peace, remixes for Flume or feature artists like JMSN; lets not forget his own 50 days for Dilla two-part release or the project he did with Home Brew’s Haz where they went back to back in June 2011 posting a beat a day. I got to sit down with Ta-ku at The Bird in Perth and talk beats, music, life and hip hop. Perth has such a nurtured beat scene with regular events like the Beat Lounge or Boiler Room TV  – Ta-ku is an exciting example of the good music that grows there. In 2013 he began his own label, Sunday Records,  with the intention to support fellow beat makers by providing them access to a bigger audience. He says there’s so much talent out there but people are still hiding in their bedrooms, which he wants to change.

Pharaoh Swami on the Māori prophet Rua Kenana

Music

Last week NZ celebrated Waitangi Day and the Prime Minister attended — a woman who even attended at all  made it a humbling event in terms of indigenous relations in NZ.  It is exciting, breaking new barriers, she also became the first female Prime Minister to speak at the whare rānanga on the porch of the upper marae. Still, one day to recognize indigenous people in their land is a strange concept when you are an indigenous person, it’s isolating and confusing and more so…hurtful. As part of his ‘Swami Sunday’s’ Single release campaign Pharaoh Swami, a New Zealand based artist of Ethiopian descent, added a new twist to the contemporary rap music scene in New Zealand by sampling a song called ‘Rua Kenana’ which was introduced to him by his close friends, a pair who are cousins from a Māori tribe called Tuhoe. It was the similarities he could draw between his own cultural identity and theirs that encouraged him to make this song.

 

Rua Tapunui Kenana (1869–1937) was a Māori prophet, faith healer and land rights activist. He called himself Te Mihaia Hou, the New Messiah, and claimed to be Te Kooti Arikirangi’s sucessor Hepetipa who would reclaim Tūhoe land that had been lost to pakeha / European ownership.

Pharaoh Swami says:  “I’m a soldier fighting in the war of love and hate and I won’t fight it the white man’s way. Never do I mean skin tone. The white man as in the western world. The capitalist consumerism-orientated, suit wearing ‘me’ mentality that tells us what to think rather than how to think.” 

 New Zealand is a country where the Native Schools Act in 1867 striped indigenous Māori of their language and affected a generation still living today. Friends and family of Māori descent invite you into their homes and it’s a sobering reality to learn this is not a generation from Jesus times they’re trying to show you in a book, this is your mate’s mum cooking you dinner, explaining that when she was little, if she spoke her natural language, she’d be beaten by authoritative members of society, like teachers. It’s a strange conversation because she’s not tryna scare you, she’s simply opening her home and heart to this random human her child brought home. She’s just  speaking their truth, gently with a smile making you tea — it’s a reality that is frightening, humbling and empowering all at once.

What Pharoah Swami has done with his song is highlight an affinity foreigners living in New Zealand have with Māori people and their land.  People from places like Africa and Asia (all over the world really) find an undeniably strong connection with the whenua…or land, and  it is one that’s hard to comprehend …but even harder to ignore:

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The prophet Rua Kenana

DS: What were you up to at the time you decided to make your song Rua Kenana?

PS: It’s my first beat I’ve ever made by myself. Recorded myself and mixed it myself with final mixing touches done by Mak Swami and mastering by Munashe from AmmoNation.


DS: What were you up to at the time you made Rua Kenana?

PS: I’ve been going through a lot emotionally and spiritually over the past years in search of my identity as a person and as an artist so I was sitting there sleep deprived and felt so emotional so I spent a whole night and morning till the sunrise making it. My childhood friends David and Patrick Pene who are cousins are Tuhoe. And I was always educated on their history and culture which I diligently digested. They would always sing Rua Kenana and the melodies, harmonies and meaning always moved my soul in a way that I can’t really word. “Rua Kenana was a prophet from the Uruwera. He told his people not to go to war and let the white man fight the white man’s war.” He told them not to sign the treaty as he prophesied it would be the demolition of their culture and heritage.

 

Therefore the Tuhoe lands are uncolonised and hold such an eerie ambiance in the air hence the name “Children of the Mist”. I wasn’t really thinking anything about Waitangi as I’ve never acknowledged, celebrated nor respected the holiday because it’s misguided and misinformed. The Māori were deceived with the language barrier and through gentrification and systematic oppression it turned a people of mana who treated matariki (children) as tapu (sacred) and their wahine (women) as the nurturing goddesses they were. Yes there may have been savagery and war between them but name a race or era that didn’t… I’ll wait.


So in a day and age where our Māori and Pacific Island brothers and sisters are disregarded and labelled as delinquent and troublesome I couldn’t help but relate as my history as an African pharaoh paints an identical picture. So I decided to do what I always do and project my emotions and energy artistically to transcend my vibrations in to a resonant frequency that others could enjoy or heal from.  I created a song that feels like trials and tribulations. Heartbreak and injustice. Yet by also simultaneously encompassing the feeling of pride and self-love and the feeling of solving the predominant issue of identity crisis and depression. That feeling of light at the end of it all when you’ve climbed and fallen and gotten back up a million times and walked and triumphed to the apex of a mental, spiritual and emotional mountain. That moment the sun is rising and the light surfaces in the horizon and you feel the sun on your chest and face and breathe the cold air with eyes closed and thoughts absent…No intellect or analysis of the valley below. Just feels. Immense feels that can’t be quantified or explained.

At the death of my ego and expense of my insignificant sense of accomplishment, I can’t take credit for the song or any song I have ever made or will make cos it wasn’t me. It never is. It’s God working through me. Not the God depicted by humans who want control and power. My God, the God that my father and mother believed in and taught me of presents itself as a gender-less colorless ball of infinite unconditional love and forgiveness and light that starts with ego death and non-individualistic concerns. That’s the only difference in my music now I give it all to him all the glory and all the praise. Cos am I the artist who is responsible for the art or am I the paintbrush which is used as an instrument to heal or teach or stimulate people? I close my mind and open my heart when I create and just feel bruh and love blesses me with what love feels is right at the time. That’s what Rua Kenana represents for me. Broken natives paying the price for the greed of others yet not having the self-belief and empowering effect of identity and purpose which starts with knowing your unbiased history and language.

DS: How do you hope people will receive it?

PS: In all honesty I’m bipolar with this topic cos one side of me isn’t concerned about reception and thought as I don’t care what people think of me or my art I’m more concerned with how I make people feel. People will say “Oh you can’t understand the language or it’s so heavily layered with melodies and harmonies including me singing Bon Ivers “Woods” in the background during the Pōkarekare Ana, section of the song so some might say it’s overstimulating and can’t hear the words etc etc but that’s my point. Forget what you think and try gauge what you feel. Play it on speakers. Drown in it eyes closed and allow yourself to submit to what music really feels like.

I’m a soldier fighting in the war of love and hate and I won’t fight it the white man’s way. Never do I mean skin tone. The white man as in the western world. The capitalist consumerism-orientated, suit wearing ‘me’ mentality that tells us what to think rather than how to think. Well allow us artists to help you learn how to feel and never what to feel. Cos feelings matter bro.