Interview with Members of The Sisterhood Project
What sort of response have you had to the Sisterhood project?
SHAHEEN: People I’ve talked to about my involvement in the Sisterhood project have been nothing but supportive and encouraging. I’m very proud to be a part of something that is helping other artists go for their dreams and explore their creativity in the face of resistance.
NEELOFER MIR: It’s been amazing really. Overall the response has been very positive and it has also been very inspiring to meet the other sisters on the project. There is a real sense of support and solidarity amongst us all.
JUS1JAM: You can see a wide demographic supporting the project in the comments section made on the myspace page and to Deeyah’s myspace blog on the project. Also, local media have been supportive of promoting the project.
AMREEN: Well, we've had a lot of positive responses like everybody's just coming at us like 'finally female rappers' especially like Muslim ones, like its something that had to be done and now it's happening. Everybody's just positive, I've had people come on my page leave me comments like this is a good look and all that, the responses have been pretty amazing like I didn't expect them.
ANGEL MC SHAY: There has been plenty of support and positive responses towards the project. Although there has been the odd negative comments but hey you can't always like everyone nor can everyone always like you.
MC SURIYA: Thankfully we've had a really positive response so far from most people. You do get the occasional ones who feel like making a statement but i suppose that comes with the territory. The projects got very strong support from other females wanting to pursue music as a career, and thats what we wanted to achieve, to inspire other females like us.
What made you decide to join the Sisterhood project?
NEELOFER MIR: I came across the project on MySpace, and I was really interested to learn about Deeyah’s story and the ethos behind the project. I knew that I wanted to part of the Sisterhood project from the very beginning because I believe in the positive things it stands for.
JUS1JAM: The chance to be a part of breaking a boundary and making it easier on the next generation of Muslim girls who are creative musically.
MC SURIYA: I felt i was at a stand still with my music, and i needed something to bring me up a level, and when Deeyah told me about the project i thought it was a perfect opportunity to take. It was cool to see that i wasn't alone and that there was other females trying to pursue music aswell.
AMREEN: I knew about Deeyah and I knew what she stood for and when I found out that she had a project that she was releasing with all muslim female rappers I knew I just had to be on it.
ANGEL MC SHAY: The project appealed to me as it sounded very meaningful, some of the issues included are emotional and the project is very fresh to the music industry.
How has your experience been working with the founder of the Sisterhood project, Deeyah?
MC SURIYA: Amazing. I never thought i'd come across so many young women who i could relate to. With out the project i think there would of still been that barrier which has made females back away from the industry for so long. I'm not saying we've cracked it but its definately a start to something positive, and hopefully others will get used to it.
SHAHEEN: Deeyah is incredibly generous with her heart and her life experience. I’ve found her to be a sister in every sense of the word and I’m ever grateful for her love in my life.
NEELOFER MIR: Deeyah is an inspiration to me. I respect her talent and her amazing humility and integrity. She is a powerful woman who is not afraid to stand up for her beliefs and I identify strongly with that.
LADY DIZZLA: Its been wonderful working with Deeyah. More than anything she is like an older sister to us ladies. Its not like she's just told us that she wants one track and thats it. She keeps in contact with all of us and tries to help in any way possible.
JUS1JAM: Wonderful. She’s highly intelligent and considerate.
AMREEN: Deeyah? She's just amazing, she's like an angel, she makes sure everything is together, everything is on time, everything is perfect and she makes you feel like she has your back no matter what. I just feel so blessed to be working with her.
DIZIE MC: Fantastic!
Do you find the music business to be as corrupt and immoral as it is sometimes portrayed? If it is, how do you deal with it?
NEELOFER MIR: It is important to remember that we are faced with corruption and immorality in many walks of life and in many things we choose to pursue. The music industry is just one example of that. How do I deal with it? Well you make the right choices and stand up for what you believe in, like with anything else in life.
MC SURIYA: I can understand why some people might call it "corrupt" and "immoral," but you can only judge by what you know and what you are shown, the media always pin points the negative things. The music industry like any other industry has its positive and negative influences, and some people within it try to manipulate the system for there own means which attracts the wrong media attention. One of the ways i deal with this is my keep to my high morals and try not to be easily influenced by the corrupt section of the industry.
JUS1JAM: No. It depends how involved you want to be with certain crowds. You don’t have to be a part of it, as this project proves. There are ways to network and get your own gigs without succumbing to any dodgy people.
AMREEN: I don't think it's corrupt or immoral, business is business and the music industry is a business. I don't find it corrupt at all.
ANGEL MC SHAY: I wouldn't say it is the music business itself is corrupt but there are people who try and corrupt it therefore it can easily be portrayed in a negative way.
LADY DIZZLA: Everyone's got their opinion on what the music business is like and I don't think it is corrupted and immoral from what I've experienced. Every artist that I've come across are kind, friendly and they give good advice. You do get the odd 1 or 2 artists who let “fame” corrupt them but the way I deal with them is ignore them.
SHAHEEN: I definitely do not find it to be as corrupt and immoral as it is sometimes portrayed! In fact, I think that is an unfair portrayal of the music business I am in and know. Like any business, it can feel like it is ultimately about the bottom line. Luckily though, I’ve surrounded myself with people who are smart business people and also genuine and honest. In that way, I’ve been able to travel the music business without falling to many of the pitfalls the media likes to exaggerate about.
Who are your female role models?
NEELOFER MIR: My role models are the women in my family; my great grandmother was a vivacious woman who loved life. The real role models and the real heroes are real women who succeed through the adversities in life.
DIZIE MC: Where do I start, well firsty I’d say Deeyah who influenced me greatly to keep at it with the music ting. Other then that the women that I look up to are not involved in music. Zaha Hadid whos one of the best female architects in the world, Fatima bhutto and many more.
SHAHEEN: My mom. My girlfriends. The women who inspire my life everyday in everyway.
LADY DIZZLA: I've got loads of female role models! But my 3 main role models are firstly, Deeyah because of the courage and determination she has shown despite people trying to stop her from doing what she feels is right. Seconhard dly, Rosa Parks because of how she stood up against injustice. And thirdly, Hard Kaur because of how she's struggled just to get where she is today.
JUS1JAM: Two of them are Waris Dirie and Zadie Smith.
AMREEN: Well first of all I've to say Deeyah and second Beyonce. Any and all females in the music business are my role models. And anyone that decides to step up and make a change is my role model.
ANGEL MC SHAY: My mum because she's such a strong person and is a writer herself.
Working within the music industry now, are you still finding yourselves the target of Islamophobia? How do you deal with that?
NEELOFER MIR: It is almost inevitable that at some stage of your music career as a Muslim female artist that you will come across narrow minded and ignorant individuals. This is why projects like Sisterhood are so important, we are coming together as a sisterhood of Muslim female artists who are creatively talented and we are facilitating the breaking of these long time oppressive boundaries that have sought to hinder us thus far.
JUS1JAM: No but I reckon that could happen if our names were to become high profile.
DIZIE MC: I don’t need to deal with it because ive never been the target of islamophobia
SHAHEEN: Ha! That is a good word…Islamophobia. It’s not just within the music industry that I face this. I face it in every part of my life. In that way, I cannot distinguish it as part of my career or part of my life in general. I deal with it by picking the battles where I think I can make a difference and ignoring ignorance.
LADY DIZZLA: Personally I'm glad to say I've never found myself targeted. Occassionally people do make odd jokes about my surname but that's about it. People in the music industry aren't narrow minded and rascist.
AMREEN: Nope, I really don't get addressed as being as being a muslim.I get addressed as being an artist who just happens to be a muslim.
ANGEL MC SHAY: No not really, because the media can often exaggerate these things a lot of the times. You can choose to believe what you want.
Do you all have any plans to meet up and record some tracks together?
NEELOFER MIR: There are already some collaborations in the pipeline. Inshallah we hope to put a tour together sometime in 2009.
JUS1JAM: Some of us have met and its been discussed – because there’s so many of us it may become a case of sending our vocals in. Hopefully it’ll happen.
AMREEN: We would love to meet up but it's very very difficult because the people on the Sisterhood album are all across the world, but if it was a concert/tour you know that would be a different story.
ANGEL MC SHAY: Yes that would be worth doing as we'd all get to combine our different styles together.
LADY DIZZLA: Yep. We talk to each other regularly and we do say lets make a track together, just we all are quite busy people so it becomes quite hard trying to fit it in. But it is something to look forward to in the future.
What do you have to say to the girls out there that feel oppressed and isolated because of their religion?
NEELOFER MIR: I would say the most important starting point is to know your own mind, from there you can move forward and if necessary get the help and support that you may need. Be strong, be confident and feel reassured that you are not alone in this world, there are many of us who feel your pain and together we have the power to change things for the better.
LADY DIZZLA: Religion is a beautiful thing regardless of which religion you follow. I know for a fact no religion intends to make women feel oppressed. It's not the religion..its the men. If you believe in doing something and you know its right then go ahead and do it, no-one has the right to stop you. Even if someone tries to stop you, there always will be women like us (Sisterhood) who'll come along and help pave the way.
MC SURIYA: Young girls who feel they are oppressed are usually targets of cultural constraints and not of the religion itself.Coming from the Islamic faith i just want to stress that Islam has nothing to do with oppression and isolation. We may feel isolated sometimes but thats just due to the negative attitudes from the media. The way in which religion is portrayed is very unfair, and if you have a problem you should find ways of dealing with in and getting help rather than blaming religion.
JUS1JAM: That they’re probably mixing up culture with religion. But that’s not their fault – they’re told “Islam is this…Muslim girls can’t do that…” if you’re told something often enough and its widely accepted – why wouldn’t you believe it?
AMREEN: Be proud of who you are because that's what makes you, you. If somebody wants to hate you or talk bad about you because of your religion that's their problem not yours. It's just them being insecure.
ANGEL MC SHAY: If you mean Islam then I do not understand where the oppression comes from, sure due to the media we can easily feelisolated but that is not due to Islam, the religion is always targetted as being unfair especially to women yet 8/10 people who convert to Islam happen to be women, I think if you are feeling oppressed try and deal with the problem, talk to someoneor write your feelings down and try and overcome it. Ask family & friends for help or if that type of help is unavailablethen ask yourself what has developed those types of emotions.
Where do you draw the line between your passion for music, and your faith? Are there times when these two things clash?
NEELOFER MIR: My passion for music and my faith are not two separate entities but are one. My talent for creative expression was God given and therefore my passion for music and words only reinforces my faith it does not conflict with it.
JUS1JAM: Maybe you can’t express everything publicly, but its good to keep some music private, its cathartic.
DIZIE MC: No theres never times when the two clash. Love for music isn’t against my religion and theres not a need to draw a line between the two.
LADY DIZZLA: I don't draw a line between it. My faith is my faith and music is music. They can never clash. If I was to be rapping about drugs and drinking it doesn't mean I'm clashing with faith. At the end of the day faith is something that I believe in and music is something that I feel. If you sit down to think about it believing and feeling are miles apart.
SHAHEEN: I’ve never drawn a line between music and faith. To me, my faith is a part of everything I do and create. It informs my creativity and my expression. I’ve yet to experience the two clashing.
AMREEN: No.I really don't let anything get in my way of music. If I have to do something and it's about music I go and do it. I really don't try to put my self in a box where I'm limited.
ANGEL MC SHAY: There will be the odd times but not that many when the two clash!
If you could work with any artist, who would it be?
NEELOFER MIR: I would love to do an exclusive track with Deeyah and if he was still alive it would be amazing to work with Bob Marley.
JUS1JAM: Can I name more than one? Erykah Badu, Michael Jackson.
SHAHEEN: I would love to work with Peter Gabriel.
AMREEN: It would probably have to be Lil Wayne. He's just so creative and the creativity he brings to the studio is just crazy! He's amazing.
ANGEL MC SHAY: There are so many but right now if I had to choose it would be Lupe Fiasco or Nas.
Would you work with artists from other backgrounds/faiths?
MC SURIYA: Of course, i already have, i think its very important to be culturally diverse. Theres nothing wrong with working with other people from different backgrounds, infact i think it makes everything more interesting.
NEELOFER MIR: Yes of course, without a shadow of a doubt. In fact I already have. Breaking boundaries is about learning from each other and about tolerance for the differences between us. Creative collaboration of different styles is a beautiful thing.
LADY DIZZLA: Yes of course. Music is about sound and rhythm not about where the artist was born or what colour he/she is.
JUS1JAM: Of course.
ANGEL MC SHAY: Yes of course I already have, our Religion does not teach us to hate on other backgrounds/faiths we must all learn to live as one.
AMREEN: Yeah. Why not, I mean you shouldn't limit yourself to just one person, one idea you have to be open minded. I am very open minded I will work with anybody who loves music because I believe music just throws everything out. When I do music I just focus on music, not backgrounds not faiths and all that.
How about reaction from men, do they support your cause or are they intimidated?
NEELOFER MIR: For those men who support the project – well done I salute you. For those that feel intimidated, I would urge them to listen again with an open mind.
LADY DIZZLA: They support the cause yet feel intimidated at the same time. I'm guessing it's because they see us girls standing together and they know if they say something about one of us we all will get involved. Its good to see that us women can instill fear in men.
JUS1JAM: Men have been very supportive. Hopefully its not an issue anymore.
AMREEN: Definatly support it. I've had so many men support me. Guys are talking about 'wow you do music I've never met a female producer' you know, all that.
ANGEL MC SHAY: I think it is the other way round some men can easily feel intimidated by strong females.There are some men that will have negative comments but that's upto them, the majority have been supporting it.
MC SURIYA: I think most men are surprised with this project. I initially thought they would put the project down at any chance they would get, but they've been really supportive. Its obvious the music industry is very male dominated and i think the boys know its their time to move over a little!
Neelofer, you've been working with Talvin Singh on your album, how did that come about?
NEELOFER MIR: It came about through MySpace. Talvin heard my poetry and wanted to work with me. The rest as they say is history … Talvin Singh is extremely talented but at the same time spiritual and humble and that is important to me. True talent recognizes talent. After all “beauty is in the ears of the beholder”. In previous interviews, you ladies have been asked "what do your parents say about what you're doing?" and things like that. Do you feel like this is undermining the Sisterhood's message of female empowerment and independence? How do you feel about being asked this, does it ever get frustrating?
NEELOFER MIR: We have to deal with reality and so I don’t get frustrated at being asked these questions. In fact I think it is important to know the backgrounds and situations that we have to deal with. We can only change attitudes if we are willing to talk about them in the first place.
JUS1JAM: Well its an obvious question from cultures who think we (Muslim women) are oppressed. The day it stops getting asked will be the day the perception has changed. Hopefully Deeyah Presents Sisterhood will change it!
AMREEN: Nope not really, because your parents always have to have a say in your life. But there comes a point where you just have to be like 'ma i need to do this'. And you have to go out there and do your thing regardless of what anyone says.
ANGEL MC SHAY: There are a lot of questions that can get frustrating like attacks on Religion and a number of questions on our personal belief's rather than the main focus being on the actual project. Questions like that won't take Sisterhood's independence away because we've all worked hard ourselves.
LADY DIZZLA: It makes me feel annoyed. Maybe I'm taking this to another level but its as though they want us to say something outlandish like “oh they hate it and I'm rebelling against them”. Its ridiculous asking about what our parents think, I mean, if I was going for a job interview would you ever hear an employer asking “what do your parents think?” Of course not, the same rule applies with music.
Amreen/MC Angel Shay/ Dizie MC/ Lady Dizzla/MC Suriya, A lot of your songs revolve around MCing and rapping, what draws you more to this then singing?
AMREEN: Well, honestly the feeling you feel when you rap is crazy. I love singing, don't get me wrong but when your real and your spitting those punch lines and your hitting punch after punch after punch and your flow is nice it's just a crazy feeling.
ANGEL MC SHAY: I can't sing, I wish I had the voice to but I don't so I wouldn't want anyone to listen to my terrible attempts at trying to sing!
MC SURIYA: First of all the fact that not many asian girls rap. Maybe i'm wrong, they probably just keep it within the walls of their bedrooms but to actually make tracks and get people listening is in itself a challenge. The easier option would be to sing and people would instantly take you seriously, however with rapping its alot more harder to be taken seriously in addition to being asian aswell. Don't get me wrong i've got alot of respect for singers especially the few singers we have on the project! Shout out to the girls!!!
DIZIE MC: Its what the great lord wanted me to do, I would have preferred singing. Oh well maybe in another life the sun will shine forever.
LADY DIZZLA: Rapping is a difficult art. You need a lot of skill to be able to rap. I love rapping more than singing because it allows me to break the rules and come up with clever punch lines. I find singing somewhat restricting.
Would you sing more on upcoming records?
SHAHEEN: I started out as a pop singer, not so much a rap/spoken word artist. I look forward to doing more singing on my next albums.
AMREEN: Of course! I don't get to record as much as I'd like to but if I had the time i would just record on every instrumental track you throw at me. You know, its the love for music its the passion.
ANGEL MC SHAY: I would rap/mc
LADY DIZZLA: Hmm yeh I'd probably add just a little bit more singing.
MC SURIYA: I feel more comfortable with singing at the moment, and i've never actually sang on a track. But you never know i might suddenly have a brainwave in the future and decide to sing!
What do you have to say to the people who support you and this project?
LADY DIZZLA: Thank you so much for your support, it means so much to us. Sisterhood doesn't just revolve around the ladies in the project it's about everyone.
NEELOFER MIR: You are supporting something meaningful and positive and helping to build the foundations of much needed change. You are celebrating the talents, creativity and lives of the artists who are prepared to speak for sisterhood.
JUS1JAM: Thank you and please keep spreading the word!
AMREEN: Thank you would be an understatement, I just want to show my love. This is for a good cause you know, it's not like were out there killing people, were out there trying to prevent people from killing people. Were out there supporting our love for music. And I just love you all and want to thank you. Our project is just one of those eye opener projects like it's never happened before and for you to support that means a lot to us.
MC SURIYA: I'm very grateful for all the love i've recieved from everyone, and if you're supporting the Sisterhood project then thank you! It's just a small step but your support means the world to me and without it i couldn't of achieved anything. So keep supporting what you are and spread the love!
ANGEL MC SHAY: A massive thank-you to everyone who has supported the project it is really appreciated, keep spreading the word though
SHAHEEN: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You help honor our expressions and voices.
And to those who oppose the Sisterhood project?
NEELOFER MIR: There is a famous quote from Nelson Mandela who said; “Educate a man and you have educated an individual, but educate a woman and you will educate a nation”. The SISTERHOOD project is here to stay and we will inshallah go from strength to strength.
JUS1JAM: Please take a listen and see if there’s anything to get offended at.
SHAHEEN: As I believe in being able to express yourself freely, I would say that you’re entitled to your opinion.
MC SURIYA: Well your entitled to your own opnion, if people agree with you then its all good, if people don't then stop trying to force them to agree!If you want to critisise then make it constructive and if your just hating without reason then just remember your making us stronger. Thank You!
AMREEN: Everyone has their own faiths, everybody has their own beliefs, everyone has their own views. I'm not saying there views are wrong, I'm not saying our views our wrong, nobodys views are wrong, everybody views are right, because its your views. And these are my views and my views support the Sisterhood project. Shoutout to Deeyah, everyone on the Sisterhood project and Punjabi2000.
ANGEL MC SHAY: We're called Sisterhood for a reason to connote unity not how quickly we will fall. It's ok to have opinions and if you genuinelydo not like all the different styles then watch this space for more.
LADY DIZZLA: In time you will learn to think outside the box and leave behind the ignorance that is clouding your mind…eventually you'll get there.
Interview By: Meena Ganesh