Bingeworthy

Aisha Badru is a Girl on Fire

An interview with New York singer-songwriter on loving words, taking risks and following dreams.

Aisha Badru is one of those people where you want to write down everything they say since there’s so much wisdom there. And that’s literally what I did. Lucky for you, it’s transcribed here. Oh, and don’t forget to listen to her music as well! Her debut album comes out April 27th so mark the calendar. In the meantime, you can watch her music videos for “Mind on Fire” and “Bridges” which I’ve included in this article. Enjoy!

How did you get started playing music? 

I’ve always loved singing, ever since I was young, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until I was in my third year in college. At that time I didn’t really know how to play the guitar—I started to learn it a bit in high school—but anyway, I was in my third year in college and I was just trying to figure out what I was doing there since I felt like I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, I was kind of just there to make my parents happy. So I dropped out my third year and I bought a guitar and I just taught myself how to play by watching YouTube videos.

Was it a really hard decision to leave college?

I thought about it for a long time. Like, I knew I didn’t want to be there, I was very depressed there, so I knew I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. I love writing, I love music, and I wasn’t doing that in school. But there was definitely a lot of fear that I had surrounding dropping out because my father, he has two doctorate degrees and he was a college professor when I was growing up.

So you can only imagine how mortified he was when he found out I dropped out. I knew it would cause a lot of turbulence within my family since I think having a career in music isn’t something most people view as realistic. I knew a lot of people would be disappointed that I was giving up the opportunity to receive a degree.

I can totally relate to that. Looking back, have you had any regrets about that or was it definitely the right choice? 

It was definitely the right choice. I think you have to block out other people’s fears since most of what people feel about what isn’t able to be achieved is just a fear—it’s not real. So don’t project that onto you. So I just really had to block it out and realize this is what I’m meant to be doing.

I don’t regret it since, when I did drop out of school, so many opportunities opened up for me in my music career. Like, the first song I released was used in a Volkswagon advertisement! So I just feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and if I had remained afraid that would have never happened and my music wouldn’t have reached millions of people like it is today.

How did the Volkswagon ad come about?

At the time, I didn’t have a manager or a label. I was just doing everything by myself and there was a sync licensing company and they approached me interested in representing me to shop my music around for television and commercials. At first, I didn’t respond to them, but they were pretty persistent and I signed a contract with them for a year. And within the first three months of being with them, that opportunity came about and they sent me an email like “Volkswagon is interested!” and I was like, “totally, let’s do it!”

How cool! I read that you used to have severe stage-fright and you overcame that. How did you manage to do that?

When I was in school, whenever I saw we had an oral presentation, I would drop the class or just not show up that day. So I definitely had a huge fear of speaking or just being in front of people in general, so I never thought that I would even get on stage to share my music.

The way that I got over it was honestly just doing it. I realized, either I’m going to remain afraid and not achieve what I want to achieve, or I’m going to have to make myself vulnerable in order to get the things that I want. So I overcame it just by doing it.

Has it gotten a lot easier with time or do you still get super nervous for each performance?

Now I love getting on stage, I love talking, I love sharing my story. I realize people aren’t in the crowd judging you, they’re really receptive to whatever you’re offering. And so I definitely love talking now—sometimes you can’t even get me to shut up!

I think you have to block out other people’s fears since most of what people feel about what isn’t able to be achieved is just a fear—it’s not real. So don’t project that onto you.

How do you deal with discouragement?

Sometimes I’ll release a track and it won’t resonate as fast as I hoped that it would with people, and I think that’s discouraging because whenever you release anything that’s personal, you automatically are opening yourself to being rejected. There are definitely times that I’m not sure if I’m being rejected and it can be discouraging, but you also have to remember that everything isn’t for everyone.

Everyone has their own preferences and just because one thing doesn’t work, it doesn’t represent the entirety of what you’re offering. At times when I feel discouraged, I just remember that it’s a small piece of the bigger picture and the bigger picture is worth persevering towards.

That’s good advice for everyone to keep in mind. Could you walk us through your songwriting process?

Songwriting is really spiritual for me and I say that since I can’t sit down and say I’m going to write a song. Whenever I sit down to write a song, a song is never written—it just never works. My songs to come to me in my most random moments and I really just have to stop and be a receiver and transcribe whatever is coming through at that moment.

I think those songs come from a deeper place than my mind. Like, you can write a song with your mind and those songs can be cool and clever, or you can write a song with your heart and it just be something that resonates with people on a deeper level. I prefer to write songs from that place. I can go a few months of not having written a song, but the moment that inspiration hits, it’s like one of my best songs and I write that song in like fifteen minutes.

So at times when I feel discouraged, I just remember that it’s a small piece of the bigger picture and the bigger picture is worth persevering towards.

Do you have a song that’s especially meaningful to you?

There’s this song on my album coming out April 27th called Splintered. Splintered in my favorite song because I think, a lot of my songs have to do with how other people have made me feel. Splintered is about taking accountability for the way that we feel, and taking accountability for our lives and society. Just looking within for the answers to our problems instead of externalizing our problems and looking for someone to blame.

I definitely love Splintered the most because I don’t think most people approach life problems that way. We always want something to blame whether it’s our childhood traumas, our parents, or our society, or our government—we’re always looking for someone to blame. Splintered is definitely urging people to look within.

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We've become a society addicted to blaming people for our problems. I suppose it's easier to place blame because it takes the responsibility off our own shoulders. But let's be honest.. Donald Trump isn't the root of the problem. The corporations aren't even the problem. The problem is that every single day we give away our freedom and decision-making to law makers who don't represent 'the people' and who we acknowledge don't value our best interest nor the best interest of the planet. Everyday we give monetary support to the same corrupt business entities that we complain about. So, I pose the question: who is the real problem, the machine or what feeds the machine? I get it, detaching appears easier said than done. We've been programmed to be dependent on a system that abuses us and like many abusive relationships, the victim sticks around hoping one day the perpetrator might change. But why are we waiting for our abuser to be a little nicer to us? Why are we so afraid to be FREE? Freedom is not something someone gives to you, it's not something you stand in line and vote for, and it's not something that even requires a fight. Freedom is at the core of every man; we just have to be brave enough to OWN IT.

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I really love the album! What was the process of recording it?

I wrote the album alone and I created different demos for each song: just myself playing the guitar. I knew I wanted to work with a producer for this, so I literally went on Google and was like “music producer,” and it took me to this website where different music producers upload their profiles. I went through every single profile looking for someone.

There was this one guy, Chris Hutchinson, and he was in the UK, and he ended up being such a perfect match. We never met each other; I sent him my demos and he sent them back, but the production was so amazing and complementary to the lyrics and it worked out perfect that way. We never met but I think we had this amazing chemistry without meeting. That was really cool, how it played out.

That’s so interesting! I’m curious, if you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

I would tell her not to be afraid. When I was younger I used to speak in a very, very, soft, timid voice. I realize in retrospect just how afraid I was of sharing myself and who I really was. I feel as if I was trying to not be heard and not be seen. I would tell her that you’re going to be seen one day, and you’re going to be heard one day, and stop being afraid to cultivate your voice.

What does feminism mean to you?

To me, feminism is breaking through boundaries. Whether it be social boundaries – and most of them are social boundaries – or it pertains to what we should be doing, how we should look, how we should speak, and in which tone we should speak in. I think it’s about breaking through those boundaries.

I think it’s important because, throughout history, women have been bent and shaped and pushed aside in such a way where it’s almost like our perspective and points of view doesn’t matter. I think women have the power to heal the world, you know. I think that happens when we push through all the boundaries that keep us back from releasing that healing power that we have.

I would tell her that you’re going to be seen one day. You’re going to be heard one day, and stop being afraid to cultivate your voice.

Out of curiosity, were you studying writing in school? The way you speak is so eloquent and beautiful!

I wasn’t, but I honestly think I’m a writer masquerading as a musician. I love writing more than anything and growing up I’ve always loved literature, I loved paying attention. Like, when I was watching a movie I listened to the words, the poetry in screenwriting. I’m a lover of words. I wasn’t studying writing in school but I’ve always been such a big fan of literature and words in general.

Aisha’s debut album “Pendulum” comes out April 27th. 

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Also published on Medium.

Tigerlily is a writer and musician living in London. She has released two...