I’m 29 years old. Shocking, I know. How dare a woman share her age on a public platform? I’ve been through some ups and downs in life. I was a pretty shy and awkward kid. I had a few friends, but for the most part, I kept to myself. I watched X-Men, and listened to N’SYNC. I told my parents that I wanted to be a doctor so that I could help people. That was until I realized that the sight of a needle left me petrified.
I had a few hobbies: playing soccer, reading, and watching the Disney Channel. I also secretly loved to sing. I never sang in front of my parents because I was shy. However, I used to sing every day at home and I would ask my younger brother to rate me on a scale from 1 to 10. If he ever gave me a 7 or below, I would freak out, go practice, and come back a few minutes later and ask him to do it again. He would get so annoyed, but he was so caring and helpful MashAllah. He was basically my vocal coach (before I knew I would eventually obtain one in real life).
Eventually, I joined the choir in middle school. I never had a solo. I tried out for one, but didn’t make it. I figured I wasn’t good enough, and I would do just enough to get a good grade.
I experienced that scene in “Mean Girls,” when Cady had a lump in her throat that felt like it was going to fall out of her butt.
The rest of my formative years, I took the road less traveled for an immigrant kid. While I studied hard, got good grades, graduated college, got a job, and went back to school for my Master’s degree (Alhumdullilah). During my time in undergrad, I would attend open mic nights. I am an introvert that is often in spaces cultivated for extroverted people. I always wanted to sign up, but I was intimidated by the space, anxious and afraid of rejection. My last year, I decided that I would sign up; I never did, and I regretted it.
Then, last October, at 28 years old, I was blessed to be at the IMAN Artist Retreat amongst some of the most brilliant creatives in the world. That’s where it happened. I sang as I was walking, and K-Love the Poet heard me and told me “PHENOM.” Next thing I know, I hear “Up next, Binta!” I experienced that scene in “Mean Girls,” when Cady had a lump in her throat that felt like it was going to fall out of her butt.
Due to my inherently hospitable and quiet nature, I never pictured myself in the foreground of anything. Internally, I was freaking out. Then, Alhumdullilah, I was able to get out some of the words of “Best Part” by Daniel Cesar ft. H.E.R. I was immediately surrounded by a wave of love. It was a spiritual and surreal experience. Two days after this moment, I was laying down and a beat, and words to a song came to me out of nowhere, SubhanAllah. I prayed, I wrote, I cried. This was my creative awakening moment.
Due to the many facets of my identity, I am faced with so many societal pressures about singing. As a hijabi woman, I am subjected to endless pressures based on various individuals interpretation of Islam.
I never considered a career as an artist in the music industry. Due to the many facets of my identity, I am faced with so many societal pressures about singing. As a hijabi woman, I am subjected to endless pressures based on various individuals interpretation of Islam. Some Muslims believe that singing to any music at all is haram. In addition to this, I recently learned that some people think that a woman’s voice is apart of her awrah (intimate parts) and it should be concealed. As a dark-skinned woman, I am often viewed as either “exotic” and therefore tokenized, or as ugly and unmarketable. As a first generation child, I am expected to live up to my parents aspirations, while still maintaining the honor attached to my pious and beautiful ancestral lineage. I have to “make it” in order for their struggles to be worth it. As a woman, I am expected to conform to a variety of gender roles, including worrying about getting married and having kids rather than pursuing my dreams (as if I can’t do both).
Alhumdullilah, I have learned that despite all of these pressures, the opinion that matters the most to me is Allah’s. Every time I write or sing, I start with prayer and end in gratitude. I firmly believe that singing and writing is a gift that is a part of my calling on this Earth. Once I started to walk on this path, asking Allah for guidance along the way, people started to appear in my life to assist me. I found myself in more artistic spaces, and felt comfortable. Who am I to deny what has been facilitated with ease for me? Allhumdullilah, I’ve been surrounded by angels, positivity, and opportunities to aid the world since I have started singing publicly. As cliché as this may sound, Allah (SWT) gave me this ability to sing for a reason. It would be selfish of me not to hone my skills, share it with the world, and seek Allah’s bounty. I have also learned that in order for your dreams to prosper, you have to pray, hone your skill, heal from trauma, and be confident in your abilities.
What gives me the strength to work on all of the above and pursue creating music is knowing that Allah (SWT) will not give me more than I can bear. The support of my tribe and the doors of opportunity flew open for me by the will of Allah (SWT). Once you start to utilize your gifts, Allah (SWT) will make it happen; there is no need to worry. Naysayers often don’t want you to utilize your voice because of these reasons: 1) They know that your voice is powerful, and that you can move masses and disrupt their agendas. 2) They tried to achieve a similar dream, but it didn’t work out for them, so they doubt it will work for you. 3) They want you to fit into what their view of a person that looks like you should be.
I try my best not to listen to them. To be honest, I usually get in my own way and I need to stop. My heart is speaking, and it’s speaking by way of music so I need to listen. This dream was a prayer that I didn’t know my soul yearned for.
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Binta is a 1st generation Senegalese and Gambian singer-songwriter hailing from Chicago, IL. In addition to creating music, she is the Arts & Culture Manager for The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). @bintasings | Instagram @_bintak | Twitter