Oshun’s Niambi Sala and Thandiwe are on a crusade to save the world through peace, love and harmony
“The big picture of Oshun is Beyoncé meets Malcolm X. If those two had a baby that would be us.” Herewith is Niambi Sala and Thandiwe’s mission statement. The young duo’s musical and spiritual goals are nothing short of a creative and cultural revolution. And today, having spent a few hours with them while shooting for Nataal on the streets of Brooklyn, and witnessing them vibe off each other so passionately, their dreams don’t seem fetched at all. They’re still undergraduates yet there’s something so authentic about the way they spread their gospel through soulful, uplifting song that has already garnered serious critical acclaim.
Niambi Sala and Thandiwe grew up in happy homes in the Washington DC area but didn’t meet until 2013 during their senior year when both attended an orientation event for the Martin Luther King scholarship at NYU. “I saw her on the other side of the room and thought she looked cool so walked over and we started talking. And we didn’t stop talking until the weekend was over,” Thandiwe recalls. “I tried to hang out when we got back home but she lost her phone. And then got hit by a car!” Nevertheless they reunited on moving in day and began to build their sisterhood at a powerful moment for both of them.
“I come from a pan-African family background. Spirituality was always around me so my community was adamant about me taking my foundation as an African American to college. I was in this space of being hyper aware of what I needed to be doing to stay grounded and in a good mental and emotional space,” says Niambi. Likewise Thandiwe: “I was very clear that I was being called spiritually by our ancestors. I didn’t grow up practicing but my father is a theologian with a specialism in traditional African religions so I was partially exposed. We were both following our intuitions and that brought us together.”
"We want to help those African descended people who don’t know where they come from, and feel that loss and pain, to know where they are going to"
In between classes (Niambi studies Recorded Music, Thandiwe Africana Studies) they began harmonising and producing and by the end of the first semester Oshun was born. Naming themselves after the Yoruba river deity of femininity further set the scene. “Oshun has a fitting energy for us as we transition into being young women. It’s a powerful name and we are not trying to represent the whole culture but we are actively involved in Yoruba traditions. Many of us don’t know about them because of the history of slavery. We want to help those African descended people who don’t know where they come from, and feel that loss and pain, to know where they are going to.”
Their sonic sermons aim to educate, celebrate and awaken. “We want people to love themselves because if you don’t love yourself you can’t love your neighbour. That’s why we speak about our personal experiences and find universal messages in them. It is imperative that we all show our best selves and be progressive. If you want to change the world it must be rooted in love and light.”
They dub their activist sound Iya-Sol (Iya meaning healer/teacher, sol meaning sun/source), which draws on elements of neo soul, pop, R&B and hip hop. More Erykah Badu than Mrs Carter, their honest, reflective music first came into the light on their 2014 debut EP Afahye. This was followed by the mixtape Asase Yaa last year, a divination of higher consciousness across 12 accomplished tracks. In the video for their latest release Protect Yourself featuring Proda, they are dressed in white boiler suits and are armed against the zombie temptations of contemporary society, ranging from dating apps and selfies to junk food and gold chains. “We don’t realise what we’re doing to our bodies and minds and the emotional distress we’re putting ourselves under,” says Niambi. “It’s the job of anyone with knowledge to share with others how to empower themselves.”
Next up they feature on Proda’s song Tree Girl, plus there's the possibility of a collaboration with Young Paris. Meanwhile their live experience continues to grow having already landed some big gigs including Afropunk and Afrikan festivals and supporting Floetry. Graduating from college next year, that peaceful uprising looms on the horizon. “We don’t want to be preachers and talk for hours. But what we do want to do is create spaces - a programme of workshops - where people can come together. Being your sister’s keeper is key. So we hope to be able to keep sharing that through our words, music and actions.” Amen.