I've been going back and forth in my mind about whether or not I want to expose the meaning behind the Temple song and video. Part of me wants to keep the entire thing a secret, but part of me also yearns for people to get to know me better as an artist. This is the main reason for this diary(other than the obvious goal of venting my struggles in a constructive way in hopes to help others get through their own struggles).
The fact of the matter is, Temple, is the first story of many more to come. Each video will continue on from the one preceding it with an ongoing storyline. I'm pulling from a vast array of life experiences and it's really the culmination of so many things.
In my bio. on this site I mention Haiti. I lived there many years ago for a few months. I've always been drawn to culture of all different types. While growing up, I was obsessed with learning about foreign culture and International travel..
My first experience out of the country was visiting Germany at 12 years old, next was when I lived in Jamaica for a summer at 16 years old. I've always been into Caribbean culture and food specifically, because before I fell head first into House music, I was a Reggae girl. I grew up on the beaches of Florida and most of my friends were from the Caribbean, they were the ones I chose to be around.
And, my soccer coach, as well as one of my best friends, were both from Haiti.
Because of this I was exposed to Caribbean culture early on. By the time I was 23, I had already visited Jamaica, Haiti, Antigua, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, not to mention Germany. I love experiencing new cultures!
But to this day, Haiti has had the most profound effect on me. There were things that happened to me there that only my closest friends know about, things you don't really discuss with people regularly. If I ever end up writing a book, that is when I will get into details about my experiences there. For now, let's just say it changed my life, mostly for the better..
I had some spiritual experiences there that left profound marks on my soul. I was also imparted with knowledge I couldn't have received in any other way, had I not lived there.
What was I doing there, you ask? Well, it's a secret..
Temple is the culmination of the convictions that arose from these experiences, mixed with deeply personal visions and beliefs regarding reincarnation, all intertwined with the mental anguish I endured over the past 4 years(more on this in future posts).
In addition to what I just mentioned above, there is also a strong undercurrent of my disgust with the music industry coming out in its own cathartic manner via the Temple video and esthetic.
After all that I had went through, I suddenly began having this overpowering urge to become a ghost. The music industry made me feel like a ghost anyway, and as you can see in the video, my predominant look is one of death; monotone, neutral, almost transparent.
This is where my obsession with veils began. I wanted to disappear.
There's only one thing I like more than wearing a proper hoodie; and that's wearing a shiny veil.
The ghost and the veil - the look of macabre transparency; my answer to a music industry obsessed with image, social media stats, and spiritual vacancy, and also(yet ironically), the corporate exploitation of spirituality as a means to make money(this is one of the hardest ones for me to deal with at the moment, namely in the dance music community).
I didn't want to look like a movie star in Temple. I wanted to look like a dead person, a mirage, a mutable spirit. We have enough pop stars, wannabe super star dj's, and pointless Instagram celebrities.
I'd rather be the ghost singing in the graveyard about all the lives I've lived..
I'd rather wear a veil.
The filming of "Temple," will forever go down in my own personal history book as one of the most challenging experiences of this lifetime.
When the time finally arrived to film the video I questioned whether or not I even had the necessary strength to pull it off. I'd been fighting a horrendous sickness for weeks and my energy level and health were at a record low. "Is it worth it?" I asked myself repeatedly. I can barely function at all, let alone put on the star performance expected of me.
I was in hopelessly bad shape, yet hell bent on expressing a myriad of life-long visions - pleading with me to be brought to life. And amongst these visions - I also called upon the more recent state of my delicate and fragmented psyche.
In addition to my health struggle, my former partner's patience was wearing thinner and thinner by the day. He often held shit together for me as my world frequently fell apart. He stayed by my side and supported me through eviction, near homelessness, and the slew of emotions and drama that come along with being a struggling artist in NYC. The combination of my relationship, career, and health issues were quickly dragging us both into a pit of despair.
And in this struggle, this trip to the edge - existed the foundation of which the music video for Temple was built upon; sickness, exhaustion, and at times excruciating pain.
During the graveyard scenes, my body temperature dropped to a near fatal number. It was around 38 degrees outside, extremely windy, and freezing rain was pelting my aching body like sharpened darts.
I remember taking a moment of silence between scenes to pay respects and bow down to all those who've suffered before me, for once in my life understanding what it must have felt like to die out in the cold, alone and hurting. How completely disturbing it was; me, there in the graveyard.. willingly freezing my veins in the name of art. What kind of ironic nightmare was I living inside exactly? Imagine being locked out of your house in the dead of winter, freezing and soaking wet for 4 hours, that's what it felt like.
I look dead in the graveyard scenes, and truthfully, I believe I may have been close to it.
It would seem that artists tend to push themselves further than most cultural demographics, which is a concept I'll touch on further in coming posts..
I was also wearing grey contacts in the video. They were absolutely horrific for me. It was my first time ever wearing contacts and I had them in for about 16 hours straight. When the first day of shooting was finally complete I ripped them out of my eyes(that's how it felt) then shivered my way to bed, delirious and cold. When I awoke the next day, I looked like I'd been punched in the left eye. It was swollen and bulging out of my head like a baseball and completely glued shut. Clearly I had developed a nasty eye infection over night and it was completely mental. Never in my life had I looked so gruesome and disfigured. it was terrifying.
About a month later I was still trying to recover from the entire experience of filming the video, but still wasn't feeling well at all and knew something was wrong. I had arranged a really in depth photo shoot for promotion and branding of the video. The day of the shoot - around 6 am, I rose out of bed coughing and weak and said to myself, "That's it, enough is enough, I need to go to the doctor today and get a blood test, something is very wrong, and I'm cancelling this photo shoot."
After seeing the doctor it turned out I was struggling with a near case of chronic mono and a definite case of bronchitis, all brought on by over-working myself in the name of this video - further aggravated by the maintenance required to balance a romantic relationship, AND a music career simultaneously.
Unsurprisingly, that relationship ended shortly after..
In addition to all of this, the day I cancelled that photo shoot was the day I also learned what it's like to let people down who're depending on you for income. In one of Gaga's interviews she describes what it feels like to have to say "No" to any number of people for any number of reasons. When others are depending on you for work and income and you let them down, the backlash can be very bitter.
Needless to say, my photographer and makeup artist were bitter as hell. I mean, who cares if I'm on the verge of pneumonia and chronic mono? This is New York City, and the point is.. people want their pay for the work you hire them for, the work which they avidly prepared for, moved their schedule around for, etc... it's a horrible feeling to let people down and experience the repercussions of handling your own shit, but it's something you simply get use to in the biz. It's just part of it; the let downs, the ego bruising, the missed opportunities.. thick skins are the only skins that make it here. You can believe that.
At this point this post becomes extremely ironic, because as I sit here writing this in the present moment,10/9/17, I'm just now recovering from yet another health scare. This time it was tonsillitis which landed me in urgent care just 2 days before the originally planned date of the video premiere party for Temple.
Full circle much? Ironic, indeed.
It's all very strange.. This video is tied to many bizarre and unexplainable occurrences, some I can't even mention right now. But I think we can all agree it's perfect viewing for that stormy Autumn night - hot cider in hand - cozy on the couch whilst questioning all that is, and all that's ever been...
And no one will ever know just who or what I may have invoked on that cold and rainy day in November; the day I almost froze to death amongst the marble tombstones of yesteryear.. right here in Queens, New York.
The way in which I met the music producers of Temple; "Slumber," (Oona Dahl and Amber Cox) is a fascinating one. I first met Oona in Orlando around 2009, whilst deejaying together amongst the leftovers of one of the oldest known underground dance music meccas in the states. Little did we know, the three of us would soon be playing together inside a desolated country saloon somewhere in the swamps of Florida (this is of course seen from a haughty New Yorker's point of view, ha).
The night will always live inside my mind as the night we drove an ungodly amount of hours, the night that ended with a mental and emotional breakdown on the shower floor of my hotel room.
I’d been living the life of a Dj, for too long, and in complete ignorance of any other thing around me, including my own desires. I’d felt the high of playing for large crowds early on in my career and held onto that beautiful high like a lifeline. Everyone needs something to believe in, and for me, it’s always been underground dance music, and the culture surrounding it.
But there’s a caveat, being a professional DJ isn’t rooted in reality; you travel, you party, you have amazing times, while the rest of world gets up everyday and works, and learns about life in difficult, yet sometimes meaningful ways. And while they’re hopelessly plodding through their daily routine, you’re excitedly planning your next show, nursing a hangover, maybe sleeping in if you’re lucky. When this madness continues for too long it’s impossible not to develop a warped sense of reality, and it can be challenging to come back to earth.
I’ll save the details of my past for future posts, but let’s just say when I first arrived to NYC in 2004 after having been touring for a couple years abroad and recovering from the 90’s, things got weird. Fast-forward a few more years to 2009 and I’m at the saloon with Amber and Oona in the jungles of Florida. I’ve had horrible things happen behind the decks while deejaying, I’ve spilled candle wax on a record while it was playing in front of a packed club, I’ve done the cliché “take the needle off the wrong record” move because I took a bad pill and didn’t know wtf was going on, etc… but this particular night shattered my ego in a spectacular way.
The guy whom played before me left somewhere around 40 seconds for me to mix into, and then something happened with the sound and it cut out while I was mixing into his last song. Then, the four miserable people sitting at the bar started booing. It’s hysterical when I look back though, I mean, I was thinking, “I went from playing to thousands of people to this? I’m really losing my mind now. Where am I? Who am I? What is this? Why am I here? And… are there horses tied up outside like in the Wild West? This is insane."
And in this horrific moment Oona(bless her soul) saves the day by turning on the microphone and chanting in a sarcastic yet endearing tone, “We drove a hundred thousand miles for this...??? We drove a hundred thousand miles for this…??? We drove a hundred…etc.” Everyone laughed and the mood changed instantly. Thank God for her in that moment, or else maybe I would have just stabbed all the alcoholics booing at the bar (Just kidding).
But something else riveting was happening inside me in that moment, revealing a matter stuffed deep into the pit of my stifled soul. Oona’s chant on the microphone offered an eerie reflection into a part of me that was long dead and gone… the part we’re all forced to ignore; the path, the truth, the sixth sense. And in that reflection I suddenly remembered who I’m here to be. I’m not just a Dj, I’m a singer, dancer and performer.
I’d say throughout this lifetime I’ve felt this pain about 4 times on various occasions. And let me tell you, it’s 4 times too many… It’s amazing what we go through to avoid the inevitable, to avoid the little voice inside telling us to follow our dreams and take the road less travelled. Later that night was when I completely broke down, and collapsed on the shower floor of the hotel room for hours, crying hysterically, wondering how I’d ever feel good about myself again.
A few days later I made the pact to myself that I would return to NYC and begin singing and performing, even if it killed me. I’d do whatever it took to make it, the shift had occurred, and NOTHING was going to stop me.
A year or two later I had been singing in my best friend’s band Jaded Lover, in Brooklyn, when Oona and Amber approached me and asked if I’d like to write vocals for a song they’d finished. Undeniably, after having formed this type of a relationship with them, it makes sense that Temple would spring forth from those seeds.
Temple, is a song that takes you far beyond the dance floor - they had literally created pure magic and handed it directly to me. It was truly uncanny, and the lyrical process was unique as well in that it gave me the feeling I was tapping into something else - remembering, honoring, disclosing...
This is when the ghost of Amunet Shah appeared, and Abagale left the building, forever.
The mind of an artist is a scary place. One day it's pure unadulterated creativity, the next day it's dark night of the soul and feeling as if you're being buried alive. I've read that this dichotomy is common so perhaps I'm not so different.
As your career progresses you do tend to see more light at the end of the tunnel, many times corresponding with a major release, big show, etc.. but that feeling of victory quickly subsides as you arduously prepare for your next big venture and/or challenge.
My first manager, Sam Mollison once said, "In this business you're only as good as your last release." I've found this to be true. He also said other things like "Nothing beats the element of surprise in this industry." Meaning, it's best to bombard the industry from out of nowhere. I've always lived by this. These days I'm really quite the hermit, for the past 4 years or so I really don't go out much at all, I just sit in my room and make music and strategize my attack. Living this lifestyle takes its toll on you. One day you're up the next day you're down. One day you're feeling proud, accomplished and on top of the world, then 2 days later you're questioning why the fuck you chose this path and wondering who in their right mind would consciously choose to play music for drug addicts at 8am?
Moreover, why did I sacrifice literally every single thing in my life, and I mean everything, to do this? It's not even about deejaying specifically, in this example I'm actually referring more so to the music production and performance aspect..as a singer etc.. although usually if I'm doing a a singing performance, it's not at 8am. However, that luxury could evaporate soon as I merge my skills into one show..
Point being, it's a crazy wave we ride. You do have to learn to take the punches and get right back up again. Because the longer you stay down, endlessly circling in your own abyss of negativity, the harder it is to come out of that space and see the light.
Ya gotta bounce back. Ya gotta bounce back from the ping pong of thoughts in your mind. And in this sinister reality of the biz the truth is, suffering produces great art unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you view it. But I suppose bliss and pure happiness do as well. Although I wouldn't know, because most of my art and music come from emotional pain as well as financial hardship and the overall anxiety of trying to make a living with this. So, I really wouldn't know what it's like to make art from that headspace.. But the juxtaposition here is that for someone who writes lyrics and performs from a relatively dark space, my dj sets come from a completely different point of reference. They spring forth from my life as a raver and dancer in the nineties. It was all about love and I aim to keep it that way. I'm not there to make the dance floor more miserable. I'm there to lift their spirits and save their lives for a night.
Perhaps the deejaying could save my own life too, if you look at it that way. As my singing and deejaying continue to merge into one show, perhaps my lyrics and singing will become more uplifting to match the music I play in my sets. This is something I've been debating..
The merge is currently underway, and it's not a simple one by any means.. But every morning I wake up, put one foot in front of the other, and consciously make the choice to stay out of the abyss. God knows I've spent too many days and nights there already..
Over and out. Goodnight. <3
Discogs is pretty addictive.
However, I've learned that you're better off just splurging for the Mint condition records, "Very Good" and "Very Good Plus" my arse, I don't want to spend an hour cleaning them once they arrive! "Mint" all day baby..
Tonight I'm going through some personal bullshit so I decided to basically sit in front of my studio monitors and just blow my eardrums out. But at least I'm blowing them out with some really quality stuff.. Thanks to youtube, tonight I'm drowning myself in two of the songs that changed my life around the time I was playing out a lot in Orlando, a few years before I started touring in the Dominican Republic.
These were songs that filled me up with unparalleled appreciation and love for the underground electronic music culture. I would listen to them in my car and visualize my future life in NYC and beyond. I'd make life-long promises to myself to never give up. I was so desperately inspired to devote my life to this, and equally devoted to inspire others...sometimes that's what this music can do to you. I remember feeling like I was burning a hole through my window with my eyes while driving. I was visualizing so intensely, that's what these songs did to me. They gave me unwavering hope.
Tonight I bought these two records on Discogs, in MINT condition... :) two of the songs that changed my life and propelled me to stay on course. I cried my eyes out for the past hour while listening to them. Then I spent $50.00 and purchased them both..
They'll sit in my crate waiting patiently for that moment. The moment when I just know innately it's the "right" time to play them. Perhaps someone on the dance-floor is in need, in need of inspiration and a sturdy lifeline to grasp. Maybe I'll just feel it in the air and know it's time..only time will tell..
Truth be told I hope to play them at Output.. Yep, that's where these two golden records belong, on the main floor of Output...
Back to vinyl, A.K.A back to breaking my back..Why am I doing this again??
Flashback to the last dj gig I had before I took my 3 1/2 year break...
I was playing with Connie at a club(we'll leave the name of the venue out of this!) for my friend's birthday party. This kid that was opening for me had clearly only been a dj for a very short time, and was playing off of his laptop, unapologetically pumping the absolute WORST EDM garbage my poor ears had ever been abused with.. I was thus thrust into a reasonably bad mood before even ingesting my obligatory pre-set beer.. On top of this, this was to be my first ever dj gig using a damn USB stick. Like many other dj's I had quit playing vinyl(very reluctantly and depressingly) in 2008, and had moved on to CD's, now it was time for me to face the USB music stick revolution head on.
The story goes a little something like this...
I didn't want to play after this kid. In fact, I wanted nothing more than to run away and hide whilst sticking needles in my eyes. This was the absolute worst situation(musically) I had ever been thrown into. Anyway, when it was my turn to get in the booth, I put my little USB stick in the black hole and reluctantly, began to play......
And........... ladies and gentlemen, in THAT very moment a piece of my soul DIED.
I can't fully explain it. But suffice to say, in that moment I had come to terms with the fact that the entire art of deejaying was officially dead. It was a wrap - Done. Dusted. My poor little dj soul crumbled that night, and did not return for 3 1/2 years. I vowed to take a step away from the dj game, focus on singing and performing, and reevaluate if I could even be a part of this new and oh so thrifty USB revolution.
I mean, a fucking monkey could learn how to play a damn usb stick in a Pioneer CDJ. I could literally eat an entire 4 course meal, watch a movie, make out with someone, and paint my finger nails - all simulataneously while mixing, and STILL not wreck a mix on those things. As if CD's weren't easy enough to play! Seriously though..
But anyway, this is not to say that I didn't on some level love how easy it had become for us dj's. For years I'd yell and scream at the turntables, cut my cuticles on record sleeves, spend every red cent I had on import vinyl, curse at the needles when they'd skip(just as I'm about to bring in the most epic mix EVER!!!). And basically complain, in some manner, just like I am now.. bwahahaha.
But I digress.. point being, playing vinyl is not easy. It's a skill that you learn and hone over many years, a true creative art form and skill set that was at one point taken very seriously.
But alas, the days of the Balance Promo record pool are over. And it's been a very long time since a crate of ridiculously nasty underground promo records showed up to my house. That is, until today(and no they're not mine unfortunately, lol).
Ohhhh sweet baby Jesus...the vinyl promo galore, the funky demos and yummy acetates, the one time vocal releases and insanely well produced white-labels, oh yeah baby, yep, it's still happening, and it's beginning to happen even more now......
And, I'm very excited to start collecting these new gems and begin rebuilding my sonic arsenal, as it were. You know, those records that have the capacity to change someone's life on the dance floor.. not the filler tracks, not the "I look cool because I play this" tracks - we're talking next-gen, next-level, over the top SICK shit here. They're out there, I know it and I intend to find them. I smelled some of them today and it made my blood boil once again(in a good way, lol). I want to be that dj again, and I will be. But, it's going to take a lot of time, perseverance, and know-how to get these golden records inside my crate once again. Luckily, I'll always have my classics, I'll always have Abagale's original arsenal of sonic love-fare and space age bombs...
But it's Amunet's world now.... and I have some pretty big shoes to fill..
Well, I successfully completed my first solo Live set up/Dj show. I'm really not even sure what to call what I'm doing. I'm glad someone posted a pic of me DJ'ing vinyl with the hashtag "OneWomanShow." I was seceretly hoping for that, or "OneWomanRave." I'll take either one of them. Perhaps I'll just completely drop the whole "Live/Dj" explanation and just refer to my show as "OneWomanRave." What do you think?
Anyway, the best part was listening to the audio recording the day after the show, now THAT'S where the learning REALLY begins, lol. So basically when you attempt to turn your house into a club there will be some challenges in the sonic department. The bass reverberating up through the turntables into the needles then back out into my monitors as well as the floor sound system was especially fun. And since I've been putting off buying IEM's (in Ear Monitors) for the past 6 years I guess I really shouldn't put buying them off anymore. If I want to sound my best as a singer/performer in the world of reverberating bass-lines and dance floor chaos, I had better come correct. So yes, I did play a couple of my songs live whilst banging on my keyboard and playing my drum machine, and I did a decent job, but it could have been a magnificent job had I been more technically savvy with the set up. But alas, the learning curve is oh so steep on the way to the top. And, my ego must be prepared to endure these hurdles one by one along the way. So be it. I'm ready. #OneWomanFuckingRave.... here we go..
Wow, I can't believe the time is finally here. I've pondered over how on earth I'd put my own solo show together for years, and I mean years... And, just as I hypothesized it has proven to be the most challenging and gut wrenching thing I've ever had the pleasure to throw myself into. The insanity of merging so many skill sets into one interactive show has been completely and utterly maddening, not to mention emotionally and mentally draining. On a positive note, the shear fact that I see light at the end of this tunnel keeps me going. I'm finally figuring out a way to leverage my DJ career in a way that works for me.. all of those crazy drug addled years being stuck in the DJ booth when I knew I belonged on stage definitely stoked the fire within. And now, rather than being a slave to my DJ career, my DJ career is becoming a slave to me.
I know many people know Amunet Shah, just as the singer/songwriter. Most of these people didn't know me when I was traveling abroad under my former name. They don't know that I toured as a professional DJ before ever even arriving to this burgeoning cancer we call The Big Apple. I do love NYC. But I've been through hell here, beginning with the image crisis that ensued the day I arrived and realized I'd be starting from zero, regardless of signing autographs in a foreign country and headlining the same clubs as Sasha and Digweed. I always wondered why I didn't just hightail it straight to Berlin or Ibiza, that would've been the next logical step for me but I was always hell bent on NYC, and I had two of my closest friends here so I suppose that helped seal the deal.
Anyway, preparing for this show has brought up every emotion I ever had, and tapped into all of the hurt, pain and anger that has accumulated over the years of selling myself short. The biggest challenge has been honing the power of it all so it doesn't completely explode in my hands.
On the technical front, it's literally been one thing after another. My midi controller breaks one week before the show, the sound system my friend lent me wasn't going to cut it, records I want to play have scratches and need to be replaced, my roommate's turntables needed repair so I had to get mine out of storage, then I had to buy brand new needles..etc etc..
But honestly none of this compares to the fact that I wrote 3 new songs in 4 weeks to perform at this event. 8 hours of rehearsal every day for 2 weeks straight and I'm so exhausted... right now I have an unreal headache, I'm 12 hours deep so far today and I still have notes to study - microphone effect settings, how am I getting out of the drum machine and keyboard riff seamlessly into my next track, etc etc.. the list goes on..
All I know is this diamond is being polished.. and soon I plan on blinding anyone who dares to look at it.. Goodnight world. <3
...Our half dead souls commuting to work on the subway every day... Fitting, considering I actually walked right past a dead body in my old neighborhood in Crown Heights one morning on my way to work. A woman had fallen from the overpass to her death. No one had found her there yet.
That was actually the day I decided to leave New York(the first time).
Or the time when the person I was madly in love with, a.k.a my supposed future husband, threatened to slit my throat, wrap me in a blanket and store my body in the ceiling. Hmm.. yep, that was the weekend all the angels in the world came together at once to rescue me. But that's a very long story... We'll save that for another day.
But, what I do know is he's a big part of the reason why I'm where I am today, which is better than yesterday, and I thank him for that...
Or the time I stood up on the seats in the subway and yelled back at the man whose barbaric religious babbling was slowly driving the work-worn subway riders' minds into an angry oblivion. Everybody secretly wanted to say something.. so as usual I had to speak our minds for us. This occurrence led me to flee NYC for the second time....
Of course I quickly ran back here once again once I realized it was far too late to leave. After that second time I knew I'd never try to leave again, even if killed me, just like that woman I found in the road that day...
....And then I had to remember who I was before I became so angry.. before all those wasted years sitting behind some desk pretending to be something other than what I was - the singer, the dancer, the person everyone looked up to. I had to go back deep inside my mind and relive all of the love and happiness I once experienced in the past and tap into that inexplicable tribal force that runs beneath my skin like an electrical current.
....I'm just another speck of dust in the proverbial mountain of dirt, just another starving artist trying to pave their way, just another musician trying to desperately gain the recognition of those who matter, steadily wrapped up in this fuc*** up hopeless oblivion we call the music industry. I'm just like everybody else....
Or am I?