Oshun— the N.Y.C. Afrofuturist R&B/soul/hip-hop duo of Niambi and Thandiwe — embody an empowered kind of spiritualized self-love and radically communal self-expression. The warm, wise, wonderful duo will bring its positive power to the UCSB campus on Friday, May 10, with fellow forward-thinking hip-hop artists Jaji Preme and Jupiter Black in a free show at 6 p.m. I was fortunate to speak with Niambi and Thandiwe about the higher purpose of their music, working with Jorja Smith, and going with the flow.
What’s been the highlight of your week so far?
Niambi: The week’s just started, but we started the week in Illinois at Northwestern University’s BLK GRL SANCTUARY. We weren’t really sure what it was going to be, just come in doing our part, and it ended up being a really recharging, necessary, realigning space that I think helped refocus us for this week, and remind us of what we’re doing this for.
What was one of those reminders?
Niambi: Just being there with the students there. It was for students, and as big as the campus was, it was this small, intimate group of people who shared their experiences on campus — on how unsettling just being harassed was, essentially, and just needing to talk about it, and seeing how transformed all of us were emotionally and spiritually. Being in close proximity, just sharing and releasing it through prayer. We all held hands. Once we all kind of heard what everyone was going through, we just connected hands, and spoke, and released, and let go. And I was just, like, woah.
How are you feeling about the upcoming KCSB show with Jaji Preme and Jupiter Black?
Thandiwe: Yeah, we’re super super excited. They’re both authentic, make really dope music, and are still unapologetically themselves. They represent black culture and spirituality and being in tune with intention. We’re excited to be able to join these artists in spreading this powerful message, and raising higher frequencies and vibrations of the audience, while also literally just turning up and hearing good music.
What made you know you would be good collaborators when you first met, and/or what made for a great collaboration from the start?
Niambi: We’ve just aligned as far as purpose and mission. We naturally align in other ways in life, whether musically, creatively, or whether it’s just what we wear; sometimes we end up wearing the same things. The frequency, our purpose, our mission — we see the same transformations, we feel ourselves and our people in the same ways. The music kind of was secondary.
What can listeners expect from bittersweet: vol. 2?— how is it similar, how is it different, from vol. 1?
Thandiwe: Yeah, so, vol. 2 is a magical pot of gold or brass or copper or whatever it is that you’re into that we’ve been cooking up. What’s similar is we create sounds you’ve never heard before, and you can definitely anticipate some out-of-this-world, unique music. There are different sounds that are familiar and have a vibe that make you want to move, but we’re definitely coming different. You’ll hear some features they’ve been begging for on Twitter and Instagram, relationships with really dope artists we’ve wanted to collaborate with. We’re just coming hard.
How was it collaborating with Jorja Smith? She’s playing at the Santa Barbara Bowl with Kali Uchis on May 17.
Niambi: Yeah, she’s killing it. It was really nice, very sweet, very just, like, in the flow, you know? It was just hopping. We did a show together and we went bowling and were like, hey, let’s get a studio. We link back up in the studio, and we were aligned as far as intention, but did’t know what we were going to make. Proda started playing on the keys, we started humming, singing, and came up with the melody we all vibed with. We went into our own little own creative black hole, down our own creative path, came back, put it together, and then it was in our world. That happened in a few hours. From the beginning of the sessions to the end, it felt really good, it felt really beautiful. It was definitely a proud moment: one, to collaborate with such an amazing artist, but also such a beautiful artist — and how great we all are together!
Who were your Afrofuturism teachers/role models growing up, some of the people who most inspired you on your musical/creative journey?
Thandiwe: So in terms of our upbringing and growing up, we were extremely blessed to grow up in the late ’90s, early 2000s era, just because there were so many phenomenal Afrofuturistic artists: Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, Hype Williams. Niambi and I talked about the power of Parliament Funk in the ’70s and ’80s. They were kind of the OGs of the Mothership and the Funk coming from outer space. It speaks to the future, but also looking back at ancient traditions and knowledges — well, not knowledges, but it is the future and it is ancient. Outer space is the oldest thing humans can conceive of, but people think of it as the future.
You’ve talked about the importance of flow in your music. What’s another way flow is important to you in life?
Niambi: Flow is life, you know. Just being in the flow, being in the stream, because if you’re not and you resist, like, you get kind of beat up. We move in the flow and in the stream and on the path of least resistance in our spirit and our hearts. We are not doing things that disrupt our peace, not doing things that don’t bring us joy or don’t fuel us.
What’s something you’d love to see happen in the future?
Thandiwe: Something we’d love to see in the future… I think just creating a space or even just existing in a space, big or small — ideally big, but small is good, too — where people of the African diaspora or marginalized communities can love themselves, empower themselves to dance freely, to do anything that their heart desires that doesn’t cause harm to other people, in a safe haven where people can really feel to be themselves to the fullest — not even be, but enjoy and embrace that to the fullest.