Hailed as a dynamic new voice in folk-pop by anyone with two working ears and any semblance of taste, Aisha Badru has been winning over writers and music critics since the release of her EP, Vacancy, in 2015. The New York-based singer/songwriter received a big break after one of the first songs she released, Waiting Around, was picked up for an international Volkswagen campaign. Her next big hit came in 2017 with the release of "Mind on Fire." A strong message of feminism conveyed through soft vocals and production proved to be a winning formula for her.
We talked to Aisha ahead of her debut full-length project, Pendulum, out tomorrow, April 27th via Nettwerk. In our discussion, we touched on the topics of fighting through insecurities, being a woman of color making folk music, the risk of redefining your sound, and the paradox of pendulums. Read our full interview with Aisha below.
All of your music sounds so intentional. Every sound seems like it serves a specific purpose. How do you continue to keep such lean but powerful production?
Honestly, I feel as though I am a writer before I am a musician so the most important part of the song is always the lyrical content and my delivery. So I normally spend a lot of time just crafting the sound I want to convey my lyrics through and the production is almost like an afterthought because the lyrics are so special and important. It's the most powerful part of my song, I think. I always like to find production that compliments my lyrics and doesn't compete with or overpower them. I think lyrics always become more powerful than the production but it ends up out sounding pretty balanced.
Do you feel there is a stigma around being a woman of color who makes folk music?
Whenever I'm carrying my guitar, I'll have people come up to me and say things like "Oh, what do you sound like? Lauryn Hill? India Arie?" They'll automatically think that I make R&B music. So there's definitely a stigma around being a woman of color and being a person of color in general. There are so many stereotypes that we get thrown into. I definitely have that stigma following me around but I love proving people wrong. I love surprising people and watching their jaws drop down to the floor when they hear my music.
How has play-list culture affected how you create or release music, if at all?
I think play-listing culture has impacted the way that I release music by making me release different versions of the songs to fit into different categories. With my sound, it can really transcend so many different genres as far as production. Everyone is always looking for something different. I think that's a cool part of the play-listing culture right now. You can release the same track in a different way to appeal to a slightly different audience.
You're featured on a "Feminist Friday" playlist on Spotify. How important is feminism to the message that you want your music to give?
I think it's especially important that I highlight feminism in my music because I think women have always taken the background in entertainment and in society as a whole. I think it's important for me to be someone who is an advocate for women to have a larger voice. I feel like women have a lot of things to offer to the world that don't always get exposure because we're marketed to only highlight our image and not our message. So It's important for me to be a voice for women.
How have you grown musically and personally since you've released the Vacancy EP?
When I released Vacancy, I was a terrified, fearful girl who was just writing songs in her bedroom and didn't think my music would reach an audience. I was writing and releasing just to see what would happen. I had very low confidence until I released the EP online. It received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. One of my singles from that EP was in a Volkswagen advertisement and it really gave me a huge boost of confidence. It made me feel that what I had to say was important and that music was something that I was supposed to be doing. Now that I've been in the game for three years, I've developed an overwhelming sense of who I am. I think the most life-changing thing that has happened since releasing Vacancy has been my growth as a person with confidence. When I release a song now, you can tell that I'm surer of myself. The songs on Vacancy were more about being sad but this upcoming album has an overall message of hope and overcoming negative situations.
What are you anxious about leading up to the release your full-length debut, Pendulum?
I'm most anxious about how the production will be perceived because as I was saying about Vacancy, it was just me and my guitar. It was very strict, intimate, and personal. With Pendulum, I worked with a producer and my sound, production-wise, has evolved even though the content of the lyrics and my voice are still the same. The production is definitely bigger. I just hope that it's received well. Some people only hear your sound one way and attach that to you forever. I hope that people can respect that I've grown and I hope they'll receive it well.
What does the Pendulum represent in your life and your music?
A pendulum is a swing between light and dark. It's between the flow of extremes that we all experience whether it's between being depressed and being happy or being in the company of others or being lonely. A pendulum just represents the whole spectrum of life. I think a lot of my music urges people to not condemn the dark side but look at how it gives way to the light.
What song off the new project are you the most excited for people to hear?
I look forward to people hearing "Splinters" the most because it really urges everyone to hold themselves accountable for the way that they feel and for the things that are happening in society. We're constantly blaming people for our problems and "Splinters" is about looking within for the answers to the problems that we have instead of externalizing our issues and blaming others.
What is Aisha like in real life? People listen to your music and could think you spend your days at coffee shops in Brooklyn with an almond milk latte writing beautiful poems. What do you do in your free time?
To be completely honest, I spend 95% of my time alone. I love to read and learn new things. I've also been traveling a lot for the past two years internationally. I just came back from India where I stayed at a yoga ashram for two weeks. Before that, I went to Nigeria to visit my Dad's side of the family. Before Nigeria, I went to Peru to stay at an ayahuasca retreat. I'm definitely at a point in my life where I'm spending a lot of time figuring out who I am and while getting a chance to see the world for the first time.
Do you take away different things from these spiritual and tribal experiences? Are you searching for specific things or are you just putting yourself into a situation to see what comes of it?
Well, I grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Yonkers, New York and I never had the opportunity to explore past my neighborhood so honestly, I'm not really looking for anything specific when I travel. I just want to experience the world. I'm not trying to define what that should be. I'm just putting myself into situations where I'm in a new place and I can learn about a new culture. I'm just seeing what's out there and seeing the world for what it really is because most people don't get that opportunity especially when your life revolves around trying to survive and pay the bills.
Finally, who are some up and coming artists that you're listening to right now?
Moses Sumney, I listen to him probably more than anybody else right now. He just released an album called Aromanticism and he's everywhere. He's definitely someone that I really admire right now and it's funny because I opened for him on my very first show in California and I didn't know who he was. Now he's just doing so many amazing things and his music just speaks to me on such powerful and deep levels. I think everyone should check him out if they haven't yet.
Aisha's Pendulum is out tomorrow. Check back for more updates on this rising artist.