Sistars in arms: OSHUN discuss artistic freedom, their first UK tour and share a playlist of ‘inspirations’

The Future And Black Girl Magic Are In Safe Hands’those are the words of Vibe magazine as New York-based OSHUN return to the spotlight. The rap and contemporary RnB duo dropped their debut studio album a fortnight ago, revealing a collaboration with chart-storming UK artist Jorja Smith and raising the already high bar set with their previous single, Graduate and Not My President. Their music taps into Afrocentricity and fans of THEEsatisfaction (who sadly finalised their project but thankfully continue with solo ventures), IAMDDB and Lizzo will surely identify with their sound and salute their efforts to further positive change through artistic work. Ahead of their first UK tour and show at Soup Kitchen in May, we spoke to Thandiwe & Niambi about their inspiring musical ‘sistars’, their new LP and forthcoming UK visit.

You’ve selected some tracks for an ‘inspirations’ playlist: can you tell us a little about your choices and what you’ve been enjoying musically in recent weeks?

OSHUN: ‘Well for one, most of the artists are women because we’re just so popping. Female artist are special and we’re always looking to uplift our sistars in the game. There is a clear renaissance of creativity, one not defined by hypersexuality or misogyny and it’s our responsibility to showcase that every chance we get. Also, a lot of these artist are our friends, artist who have reciprocated support for us, and for that it’s our duty to show love. The same goes for our OG’s!!! Also, CARDI B HAS THE BEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME (aside from bittersweet vol. 1 😉).’

You released bittersweet vol. 1 on Friday. How has the response been so far and does the ‘vol. 1’ adjunct suggest there’s more to come or a musical theme to continue?

OSHUN: ‘The response has been AMAZING!! Just wow. We feel so loved, supported, nurtured, appreciated…the list could really go on. We’ve been working on bittersweet vol. 1  for a really long time, so to finally have our baby, our creation, out into the ethers is a blessing! And to receive nothing but positive feedback on the album is even more of a blessing! We feel so inspired to continue on this path, knowing that our people will continue to support us. With that being said, there maaaay be a couple more volumes in the clip…*cough cough*’

Proda produced the LP and Jorja Smith features on the penultimate cut. How did you come to be involved with those artists and what made you eager to work with them?

Thandiwe: ‘Proda is highkey the honorary third member of OSHUN. We’ve been tight with him since freshman year of college, when he and Niambi were studying at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. He is a freaking creative genius and he has been a part of our journey since the inception, so it was only right that we worked with him to develop this album. He produces & records the music, designs the merch, DJ’s on tour, like we’re not sure what he doesn’t do. Jorja Smith is also a genius! She’s so kind-hearted and genuine, it’s impossible not to love her. We all met when she came to NYC on tour. Her team reached out to us asking us to support her on her NYC date, and we were like “yeah let’s get it!”. At the show, we all bonded instantly and made plans to kick it later. So we went bowling and setup a studio session with Proda later that week. The rest was magic.’

A variety of things inform your creativity: spirituality, Yoruba traditions, healing… what’ve been the most meaningful creative discoveries you’ve made as developing artists and what do you hope to convey to people through the music, as a result?

OSHUN: ‘The power and importance of sistarhood. That has been one of our most meaningful discoveries because it drives everything we do. Knowing in your heart that you are your sistars keeper, remembering that we are journeying together. Our love and support for each other inspires the world to nurture their own relationships with the women in their life, and that’s such a necessary part of our growth as people. Women are strongest when we’re nourished and affirmed by other women, that’s how we fill our cups. That’s how we step into our divine feminine power, by having positive relationships with the feminine energies around us. So we are learning to model that in real time by supporting one another and all of the sistars around us.’

You grew up in D.C. but met at NYU and remain based in New York. Did your upbringing in D.C. have a significant influence on your paths in life or was your arrival in New York the real blossoming in that respect? Furthermore, do you see your future in New York, D.C., or perhaps another location that would make an ideal creative base?

OSHUN: ‘Every moment in our life, every space we’ve ever entered, has significantly influenced our paths. Being in DC gave us our culture, our foundation. It gave us family and instilled in us who we were at a very young age. Moving to NYC allowed us to blossom, using our foundation to build something great. We are incredibly thankful for every person, place, and thing that has contributed to our growth, and we’re hype to continue growing!! Who knows, maybe we’ll post up in Brazil next. That would be amazing.’

British rapper Little Simz has been narrating DUST’s Afrofuturism web-series recently. Afrofuturism being a concept that’s integral to your work – what do you think of series, is it a fair reflection of the concept and does it capture the essence of the idea?

OSHUN: ‘That series is dope! The animation is so cool, and we love how history is being shared. Anything that reminds us of our legacy and also integrates original and new creative expressions of Blackness is Afrofuturism, and the creative quality the series embodies does just that. And we love Little Simz!!’

When you take stock of the industry around you – artists finding ways to succeed independently, strides toward gender parity being made and black women making some of the most acclaimed and appreciated music at present – is your outlook broadly positive and what further improvements would you like to see within the music industry?

OSHUN: ‘Women are definitely taking over, as we should. There’s been a lot of exploitation of culture and talent in the industry over the years, especially in Hip-Hop. It’s only appropriate that the women have come in and saved the world, as women naturally do every day. We feel blessed to be a part of such a powerful movement and we know that so many great creatives will continue to sprout and be inspired by the female-dominated climate. And we think so many of us have seen our favorite stars from the past being f****d over by major deals, and it’s super empowering to see more and more artists making waves on their own. It ain’t easy but the freedom is soooo worth it!’

You come to the UK next month – is it your first trip to the UK, what are your hopes and expectations and what can people expect from the show?

OSHUN: ‘Yes!!! It is our first time and we’re soooo hype, y’all don’t understand. Our hopes are to connect and plant seeds in the huge Diasporic community out there. There are so many beautiful melanated beings in the UK from all over the world and we cannot wait to bridge the gap between their experience and ours. Also, we can’t wait to drink real life British tea! Expect to leave the show loving yourself even more than you did when you arrived. It’s gonna be a magical journey!’

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Thursday | 17.05.18

Oshun at Soup Kitchen, Manchester

Band on the Wall, Manchester