Monday, April 19, 2021
Arts + Culture Music Naima Shalhoub wields strength of community on debut studio...

Naima Shalhoub wields strength of community on debut studio album ‘SIPHR’

The multi-faceted Oakland musician summons Lebanese heritage on follow-up to 'Live in San Francisco County Jail.'

-

To fully absorb the complexity of Naima Shalhoub‘s music, its plurality must resonate. Shalhoub, an Oakland-based Lebanese American vocalist, musician, composer, and performing artist, is a seasoned restorative justice practitioner who works in schools, juvenile halls, and in the community, holding weekly healing circles with women and girls of color. 

It goes to follow that she makes music that uplifts the soul, providing an oasis away from hurt and suffering. Like a salve, her message carries Grace (her birth name.) Encompassing elements of jazz, blues, and searing hip-hop, the sound shines through a prism of Middle Eastern influence. 

The second key is Shalhoub’s empathy for the suffering of others—the unjustly incarcerated, the children separated from their parents by the hands of war, even those suffering here in the United States at the behest of the deeply-rooted fascist white supremacy movement that just keeps marching.

Her determination and will drove her to build lyrics around words written by men who are incarcerated at the infamous Roumieh Prison in Lebanon. After visiting the prison with drama therapist and performing artist Zeina Daccache, Naima built melody around the men’s lyrics on “Four (Roumieh Prison Blues),” which channels the depths of human anguish. 

Never had I heard the blues sung in a different language. But I felt it. The stirring arrangement encourages remembrance of those unjustly confined around the world during this challenging time.

Her first studio album SIPHR—“zero” in Arabic—was recorded and engineered at the Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco. For Naima, zero is a circle that holds us all. Beginnings and endings, nothing and everything. 

Photo by Sarah Dergaon

The project follows her 2015 debut release Live in San Francisco County Jail, which explores her Arab American heritage and features Palestine American multi-instrumentalist and composer Excentrik a.k.a. Tarik Kazaleh, cellist Ed Baskerville, and San Francisco Jazz ambassador and bassist Marcus Shelby. 

Shalhoub’s work is partially funded by a Restoration Village Arts grant designed for artist-activists, contributing to the feeling that community is behind her music. With live gatherings on hold, she continues to share her gifts through alternative means, from leading weekly restorative justice circles on Zoom or singing her track “Two (Rivers in the Desert)” to open a video conference gathering of indigenous water protectors organized by Policy Link. 

Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, Naima contextualizes SIPHR. “I want to share my truth, so you might hear yours,” she says. “I wanted to capture the timeless sounds and ancient vibrations of my ancestry while we try to find our way, dreaming new dreams.”

John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

More by this author

‘Queer, fluid, and Asian’: Bézier’s invigorating electronic frequencies

On eve of 'Undulate' release, the producer speaks about making music, anti-Asian violence, and queer representation

With live shows poised to return, musicians open up about opening up

An indie star, a label owner, a DJ, and an electronic musician share their candid responses to this moment

Christina Chatfield’s ‘Sutro’: ambient, but not for the micro-dosing set

Local electronic ace takes a turn for deep pastel textures and droney sound-worlds, absent trendy dread.

Get up and do your thing for local art at The Lab’s interactive Dance A Thon

The experimental arts space hosts a fundraising, 12-hour virtual dance-fest full of local star-power

New Music: Support these great local artists this week

Our picks for Bandcamp Friday: Seven Davis Jr, Sour Widows, Double Identity, more recent releases

Most read

COVID outbreaks continue in workplaces in California

The pandemic is far from over -- particularly for workers in vulnerable occupations.

New COVID-conscious Kapwa Gardens celebrates Filipino culture

Outdoor activity site in SOMA Pilipinas district was designed with safety in mind as people begin to gather again.

Money for ‘safe sleeping’ shelters — or permanent supportive housing?

Legislation by Sup. Rafael Mandelman aims to get people off the streets -- but homeless advocates are not supporting it. That's The Agenda for April 18-25

How To Reopen Nightlife: Enough with the boys’ club, make room for women

DJ femmelectric and promoter Alex McGeagh speak about equity, access, and safety for women and nonbinary folks.

You might also likeRELATED