Black Bridesmaid Dresses

 

By Special Contributor and Guest Blogger Ashley Jackson

Music has the power to heal and transform the mind, heart, and soul. No matter what language you speak, music is a defining art form that unites all people. Music also empowers people to create change. A call to action always starts with a written word.

On Friday, July 7th, I went to Starbucks at Dash Point in Federal Way, WA. Shyan Selah performed that night as part of his Cafe Noir Tour. As a big music lover, I was excited to hear his music. I have seen Shyan perform a few times before. However, this time was different. In light of recent events, the lyrics seem to hold more weight than ever before. Racism and police brutality plagued social media outlets and the news. The shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile has shaken our nation. The retaliation shooting of the police officers in Dallas, TX, and later again in Baton, Rouge, has divided America. Mind you, Selah created his songs long before the slayings in Dallas, TX, Baton Rouge, LA, and Minneapolis, MN. Nevertheless, his music reflects what is going on today and people are listening.

I sat in the back of the room next to James, a resident of Federal Way. James leaned over to me and said, “This is my second time coming here to hear and see Shyan perform. He is incredible. He really talks about the issues that affect our society.” Family, friends, and new listeners came to hear Selah’s music and life story.  Throughout the night, Selah talked about his upbringing, his family, and his life experiences. Everyone in the room was captivated by his wisdom. Overall, I felt a strong sense of love, community, and soul in the room.

I had a chance to catch up with Shyan Selah and asked him a few questions about his life and journey. Here is what he had to say about his community roots and the impact of racism on our society from his perspective.

 

Growing up in Federal Way, what is one childhood memory that you will always cherish? 

SS:  One thing about my childhood that truly stands out for me is playing sports. Those memories were first born from playing with my older brothers and cousins. Football in the street, basketball in the street, baseball in the street, foot races, bike races and break dance competitions that were legendary. Those things are like birth marks in my mind, they have helped to shape my perspective in life in many ways. I can truly say that it is has a lot to do with the core of my own personality.

 

You have talked about your grandmother throughout your performance. How has your grandmother influenced you as a person and as an artist?

SS: My grandmother’s influence was powerful. She was the Matriarch of the family. An Alpha Female that took risks, served her community, loved God and her family. She was not the prototypical woman of her generation. A strong willed revolutionary type, she expressed through production and I think that gave her a voice for fashion, drama, art and literature. She bent a lot of rules and yet had a way of keeping things in order. She had a lot of kids (six of her own along with raising many others in the community) and a lot of nieces, nephews, and grandkids so her time and love had to be spread out amongst a small village but something about her impressed me. A lot of it was just her energy and presence. She was magnetic! I learned from her to be tenacious and fearless in life. Through my art and business and projects like Cafe Noir I get to do just that.

 Shyan Selah at Dashpoint Starbucks

Police brutality and the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile has divided our country. How has your music helped you deal with these issues?

SS: Anytime anyone dies from senseless violence I think it really depletes humanity’s energy. It’s like clear cutting a forest out of anger, or slaughtering animals out of anger. But because it’s a human being with human potential, that has loved ones that must process the pain, it’s amplified beyond belief and it seems to me to be totally counter productive for humanity. I feel for the families of those victims of police brutality and those families of officers that have been killed in retaliation, and pray that they heal mentally and emotionally because there is little to nothing that will ever help them to make sense of the loss. Murder will never make sense. Rape will never make sense. Child Abuse will never make sense; and these things are hard on the heart and mind of the innocent victims and families. Violence is the weakest form of expression. I also feel for police officers and departments that have to shoulder the blame and guilt of another’s actions gone wrong. It’s like being penalized for something you didn’t do. All officers have worked hard to earn the badge and a great deal of trust is placed in them to help us when we can’t help ourselves. That’s tough when you think about it because officers have lives too. They have families, fears, issues and things they’re going through also and we can’t lose sight of that because without law enforcement we’d all be in big danger. It’s important that we reinforce the necessity of healthy, fair policing but they too are humans who also make mistakes on their job just like we all do. But there’s no way to make sense of unnecessary violence, and in my opinion it’s inexcusable, but that’s just my opinion. There must be some kind of satisfactory justice for the taking of an innocent life. That’s why violence in and of itself is polarizing.  I sincerely feel that Our Citizens and our Law Enforcement officers are both important members of society. I can’t imagine how crazy things could get without our police. They are critical across the board as first responders for any type of crisis. We all have to play a role in being a solution to this.

 

You have said that “99 percent of business is problem solving.” It seems that this principle can also be applied to the racial tension and police brutality issue in America. What steps do you suggest we, as a nation, need to take in order to heal?

SS: Yes I think that business is all about problem solving. I think that problem solving by default always includes research, cooperation, practice, organization and ultimately solution. I think when it comes to racism you have to really step back and dissect it. You have to be the doctor or scientist who’s examining the disease itself and not so much the patient carrying it. I know that’s hard to do because it appears to be experience-based but it’s really a thinking disease. Because racism is deeply institutionalized it has the ability to touch and affect us all. In most cases without us even realizing it. That’s its main problem. Its carrier often times doesn’t know the disease is in them. I think the answers truly come in the form of changing the individual perspective. A person, regardless of who they are, must decide to combat this issue by re-programming their own perspective and then begin moving through life in a way that brings the new perspective into the home, the neighborhood, community, city and everywhere else they touch. It also must be prepared to have a therapeutic solution for those suffering and fighting against this illness. I believe that racism should be classified as an illness. I think its perpetrators should be registered offenders. I think it deserves to be treated not just in the world of justice but also the world of recovery right along with Alcoholism, Drug Abuse, Pedophilia and so many others. Racism is also a criminal behavior. Taking nothing away from its debilitating power in the form of whoever has a direct experience with it, there seems to be this inability to want to address it altogether.  I hope to help bring solution by shining the light on a need for an institutionalized remedy or cure to the illness called racism. Racism must be made to apologize so that its victims can begin to learn to heal and forgive. Justice cannot just be wrapped up in jail time. It must see the therapy side in my opinion. When anybody has suffered abuse in any form the healing and forgiveness is critical to getting to restoration. That cannot happen until our world realizes that racism is in fact a thinking disease living in the perspective of its carrier and is completely counter productive to all that is good in life.

 

Your song, “For So Long,” addressed many issues that affects black people and American society as a whole. What was going through your mind when you were singing “For So Long”?

SS: “For So Long” was written for anybody that is pushing through obstacles in life, anyone who is striving for a better existence or is in pursuit of happiness in any form. Whenever I sing “For So Long” I’m thinking of people in my life or who have lived life but are no longer with us. People I’ve looked up to, people that inspire me to keep going. It’s about persevering through the obstacles and having a respect for all those that have passed away giving their life to the struggle of creating a better world.

 

Click the video below to hear a clip of “For So Long” from the Cafe Noir Live album and more of what Shyan has to say through his music with the Cafe Noir Tour.