Every artist knows that a piece of your identity is transferred into each new creation, it is impossible to create something truly honest without imbibing it with a little piece of your soul. For Tasneem, an artist, musician and activist from Canada, this phenomenon has shaped their world. As a non-binary queer American Muslim songwriter, they lyrically explore “love longing identity and the state of the world in their songs.” By nature Tasneem is multicultural, born in Canada and raised in Oklahoma – they are the daughter of a Ugandan mother and Kenyan father both with roots in India and this eclectic swirl of cultural identities have shaped their musical journey.
“I first discovered my connection with music when first started listening to the radio and hearing the saxophone in all these 80’s songs by artists like Whitney Houston, Sade, David Bowie, and Sting. They were all using saxophone,” says Tasneem. This era inspired them to take up the saxophone by the age of 9 and also make a foray into the singing-songwriting fold. It was in New York that they truly found a musical space and racked up a series of high profile gigs, including Art Basel alongside acclaimed artist Zaha Hadid, Carnegie Hall, and singing back up and playing the guitar for Kelis on Saturday Night Live.
Their ethnic and personal background have always been integral to their sound. Being multilingual (French, broken Swahili and Gujarati) and identifying as non-binary Muslim, Tasneem has a truly unique worldview that has contributed to their artistic development. “No one songwriter or artist sounds like ME because all my experiences in life every single thing I’ve been through has shaped MY sound. I’m on an incredibly unique journey. I have been making music for over a decade it’s really rare that people will approach me and say ‘You know who you sound like?’” But throughout their incredibly diverse catalogue of music, the message remains the same, one of liberation, freedom and love. “When people listen to my songs I want them to be moved by the music. I want them to feel free.”
Tasneem is also taking a stand against the marginalisation of female artists in America with their multi-media influences and uncensored words. “I think the music industry in America has stifled women’s voices by placing them into neat boxes. I still stand by my voice and continue to create my own lane and my own music but I’m not obsessed anymore with fitting in. I believe the right people hear my music and pass it along to those who can appreciate it.” Although their religious background doesn’t often transfer to the music they create, Tasneem is considered an American Muslim voice, a title that they’re proud to own “I think now in this USA Trump era, being Muslim is CENTRAL to my identity and I AM GRATEFUL AND PROUD to be an American Muslim artist.”
Tasneem hopes that through their acting, music, writing and activism they are inciting a social change especially when it comes to how people think about women, Muslim-American voices, pluralism and identity because lyrically these are issues they’re addressing every day. “I truly think that is what art is supposed to do its supposed to challenge peoples notions of what they think is true its supposed to be political and a rallying cry for justice. So it is my hope that people will hear my lyrics and music and be inspired to initiate change in the way the world views one another. Radical Art does that.” With their lyrics, ideas and voice, Tasneem is actively changing the way people see the world and their quiet revolution is weaving its way into the larger picture towards global unity.
Featured image photographed by Jacob Beran.
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