The first day I met my vocal coach, she asked me to sing a few songs. Every time I would start a song, she would stop me and ask me to pick a different song. This happened about three times. She said, “Sing something your parents played.” So I sang “Buffalo Soldier” by Bob Marley.
She asked me, “Where are you from?”
I told her I was Senegalese and Gambian. She said, “Aw, I see, I know how to teach you now…” She then proceeded to ask me which artists I listen to. I mentioned Beyoncé and Adele. Then she said something that struck me to the core, “I like your voice, but I want you to stop listening to them for a month because you’re losing yourself. I want you to listen to some of your cultural music.”
With the largest lump in my throat, I could only muster up the courage to say, “Okay.” She had no idea how many years I had struggled with my identity, and finding my true self while being the first-born woman of immigrants in America. As a nineties kid, I didn’t really get to listen to, nor appreciate, many brilliant melodies of the era. I was really into Disney musicals, N’sync, Avril Lavigne, Green Day, and Destiny’s Child (not that many people on this list looked or sounded like me).
During a long awkward pause, I started to think of all of the Senegalese artists I knew; any songs I could remember. I searched the recesses of my mind for anything to make me feel connected to the soul of my people.
My vocal coach then gave me a song to sing for my first large-stage performance as a part of the Muslim Writers Collective, set at the “I Heart Halal” festival: “Pearls” by Sade.
The first time I heard it, my mind was blown. The song is a tale of motherhood, gratitude, and resilience through the eyes of a woman in Somalia. I listened to that song almost everyday for weeks. Every time I listened to it, I felt an emotional and spiritual connection. In the song, there is a lyric that include the word “Hallelujah” which I changed to “Alhamdulillah.” It was then that I realized that music is freedom. I didn’t have to conform to how the song was made. I found my own voice.
Sade opened the door for me to intentionally listen to India.Arie, Lauryn Hill, and Bill Withers. Each of their musical repertoires has inspired so many of my songs. Every time I write a song, I make the intention that I am doing this to help others through the gift that Allah (SWT) has blessed me with, and to get closer to Allah.
This intention is also why I have been mindful of the music that I allow in my space. As the Senior Arts and Culture Coordinator at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), I’ve been exposed to a variety of artists through our artist roster, and I’ve been listening to music that is socially conscious, meaning music that “enhances or increases civic awareness (IMAN 2019).”
And so, I share this knowledge with you. Here are my current musical inspirations. I hope they reach those reading this in the right space, at the right time InshAllah:
Song on repeat: “Better.”
Song on repeat: “I Am Light.”
3. Lauryn Hill
Song on repeat: “Pearls.”
Song on repeat: “My Mind.”
Song on repeat: “Say My Name.”
Binta Kane Diallo
Founder of www.internalarchives.com
Blogger, Muslim Girl
Senior Arts & Culture Coordinator, IMAN