Multi-faceted musician, artist, and activist Idman talks identity, introspective self-approval, and the strength in community.
When I first listened to Canadian born, Somali artist IDMAN’s single “Down for It,” released November of last year, and the first from their forthcoming EP, Risk, I was initially drawn in by the delicate force of their vocals, and the subtle juxtaposition between the simplicity of the lyrics and the meaningful significance of the message behind the track - all on a premiere release for them.Upon learning more about the artist’s diverse cultural upbringing (having been raised in Toronto, Kenya, as well as North Carolina, before relocating to Portland for college), and their sincere and actionable commitment to collective emancipation, I began to better understand the prominence of their stance as a musician, and overall creative activist. Signed to Arista Records, IDMAN’s sound is a fusion of genres, and their message - one of self-assurance and authenticity - has managed to amass them over 2 million streams, as well as praise from acclaimed publications such as Paper, and DAZED Magazine.
I sat down with them to talk about impact versus resonation, social and communal accountability, bridging the gap between creativity and activism, challenging gender definitions, and the complexities of dating in 2021, ahead of the release of their new single “Polytics”, out today.Check out our conversation below, and listen to their much-anticipated second single, “Polytics,” now available on all major streaming platforms.
I’m super excited to pick your brain a little because it's just been so inspiring reading about you and your work, and getting to understand you a little better. I think you’re so well articulated and intelligent and move with such powerful intention for someone who’s just starting out in their career. I know you don’t have a huge body of work out for now, but I think anyone who's heard your stuff and delved a little deeper into you as an artist, is super excited for whatever you have in the works, because that authentic aura is just so powerful.
Oh my god, thank you so much. That was so wonderful to hear and so affirming! I wish I could’ve recorded that for myself to listen to on bad days *laughs*. No but for real, that’s great to hear because we’re just starting out so it makes me think we’re doing the right thing you know.
Yeah no for sure, even reading other interviews you have out, you can tell the interviewee is always blown away by your insight. You actually said something really beautiful pertaining to your social anxiety in one of the interviews I read, you said “I think that what stabilizes me is honesty and transparency. When I can speak my truth, my truth can be accommodated” My question to you is - as an artist, how much of yourself do you think you’re going, or willing to give away in your art. What balance are you hoping to keep (if any) between being totally vulnerable and open with your fans through your music, and maintaining some sense of privacy?
I think it’s something that changes day to day, it’s something I definitely want to be malleable to. I wanna keep checking in with myself and the folks around me, I’m definitely still trying to figure that out. I know that the type of person I am, I’m very shy, and it’s slower for me to share parts of myself with Folks. I want to though! I admire folks who are extroverted, and trusting enough to be able to show up as their full selves all the time, and I want my art to be like that. I want folks to learn things about me at a pace that feels natural and organic and good. I’m learning how much I want to share, I’m learning about how deep I want to go about what I talk about every time I make a song. The cool part about it I think, is that folks get to learn in real time with me, they get to really enter my journey - and if they’re willing, I’m honored.
That makes a lot of sense, and there’s vulnerability in the process of learning too, that you get to share with your audience. So really you’re doing it unconsciously too, on the way.
And on the subject of your shyness, and your social anxiety: do you think those things affect your ability as a performer? Or is performing actually a cathartic act for you?
I think my anxiety actually stabilizes me, you know? It reminds me that I'm alive. Every time I do something I’m scared of, it makes my brain have to be there, have to be present. I’m not allowed to dissociate, which is what my brain does when I'm uncomfortable or don't want to do something. So I think this job, this art performance, putting music out, sharing with people, even posting a photo online, I think it asks me to make a decision in the moment, and be there. It’s enlivening for sure.
You said another thing also that I want to ask you more about, “Impact to me feels like resonation.” What do you think separates that which captures peoples’ attention versus that which is impactful?
I think resonation feels like being anointed by something. My favorite artists are the ones I feel a true empathetic bond with. I feel like their stuff has impacted me in a way that’s moved or shifted the way that I think, or navigate all the time. And I think that if my music is ever the type of music that like, stays with people or gets them to reevaluate in the same ways I'm reevaluating, that feels like a shared experience that feels super duper meaningful, and the thing that would make all this nervousness, shyness, the anxiety of it all, feel worth it. Because every day I'm trying to figure out, what’s it worth?
I’ve read a lot about the social activism you’ve taken a part of, as well as been ahead of during your university days, and I have to say, it’s super super inspiring to read your story. I was really touched to learn about your inner struggle in deciding to pursue music as a career choice. I can understand first hand as a Palestinian, the internal clash between feeling like the only important work you can do is being on the frontlines, but also feeling like it is your right, and a revolt in of itself, to be happy, and spread happiness onto your people. Do you still do frontline work? And how have you, or are hoping to, better amalgamate the two?
I’m always wanting to be accountable to my folks and my community, and the folks that I know could challenge me and hold me accountable, I dont think I’ll ever stop doing work. Collective liberation is always a thing that I want to strive for, and work alongside folks who are striving for and fighting for. I think for a very long time I was super limited in my understanding of what it meant to feel like you were doing meaningful work, and moving in an ecosystem period. Shout out to elders and older folks in the community for being like “Yo, there are different ways to be of service to your people, and there are different facets of our ecosystem which are all equally necessary. We need our lawyers, we need our direct action workers, we need our musicians.
Music and dance have always been where people find joy, and joy has sustained us through countless abominations, from the beginning of time you know. And I think I always want to make sure, it's never going to be just a this or that. My me-ness, my Self, as a person, as a vessel, I always want to be of service. And I think I just have to be malleable about that too, y’know? About the different ways that’s going to show up. When everything was happening during the uprising in Minneapolis, my whole team shifted our work to doing more digital support work in support. I think that, given what the asks are, if there is ever a call, and ways in which I can show up, I will always respond for sure.
For sure. And when you’re better in line with yourself, you’re better attuned to how you could best be at service at that time. It reminds me of this, kind of matra I tell myself that I’ve read somewhere: “when your existence is a resistance, then your joy is revolutionary”
Totally, that’s exactly it. I know you said you’re from Palestine too, and I wanted to say free Falastin! Always. I’m super honoured to have you interview me, these kinds of impactful conversations are part of what I love about this whole creative journey. Connecting with others on that level and talking about these things
Thank you! Yeah, I always like to really put the artist at the forefront during these conversations, give them the space to tell - and explore, themselves - their own message. But beyond just you as an artist, or a partisan for liberation, I’m super excited for your music and what’s to come there.
I can't wait for you to hear all the music, we have all kinds of stuff, we have a jersey club track on the project, we have pop synth, and fun songs about love. My goal is to make people understand, you know, there are different ways. We’re gonna hide the medicine in the music, but we’re dynamic, we feel things, our love should be celebrated in the same way that we amplify all the things that are affecting us you know, so. I’m pumped, I’m super pumped.
Yeah I’m watching closely for the independent release of your EP Risk at the head of next year, I’d heard it was gonna exhibit a lot of range in genre. Your new single ‘Polytics’ is set for later this month, and I know it centers around themes of the unconventionalism of dating in 2021. Do you find that coming out as someone who identifies as non-binary has affected this area of your life at all?
I think dating in 2021, our generation has this really cool experience, ‘cus we were in analog life, and now we’re in complete digital life, and the ways in which we’re dating now are so different from our older family members, even from older siblings. Dating in the digital world is already so weird and wonky and hard, because we have now, what feels like, the whole world at our fingertips, and just constantly more optimal options. So I think that just dating in the current world we live in is already complicated as is.
The title as you saw, is a play on Polyamory - now I don't identity as polyamouros myself, but around the time I thought of the premise for the song,I was in proximity to a situation like that, and I was like “I really wanna write about this,” because this shit is already so confusing as is. It was just my way of being like, oh, romance and emotionality is already so messy, it's even more messy when you think about all our different, individual stories - all the intricacies. But I made it super fun though, it’s very tongue-in-cheek. It’s so simple too! Like, lyrically - because at the core, I think love and dating and all that stuff should just be simple, you know?
Totally. When it’s right, it’s simple. On that topic, I know you’re Somali, and that the Islamic community coming from there is very strong. If you don’t mind me asking, Are you open about your gender identity with your family and community there? What’s the reception to that been?
I always break it to folks like: me being Somali, and going back home, going to school in Kenya, coming back to the States and Canada to go to school and work, opened my eyes to how gender is performed so differently across all these different cultures. When we’re back home, my dad can grab his friend's face, kiss him on the cheek, and express platonic male intimacy in a way that I just don't see happening in the western world. If my brothers would do that with their friends, they'd be like y'know, “no homo,” or “pause” or whatever *laughs*.
When I'm in Canada if guys are wearing tighter shorts, or whatever it’s like “suss” but when you go to Europe, Italy, and people are just wearing these tiny little speedos, and its machismo, and just, the pinnacle of what masculinity is; my brain, it just goes a + b + c. Gender is performed so differently, culture to culture, society to society, group to group. There's no real way to define femininity, or masculinity, in the ways in which we “perform” gender. So my identifying as non-binary, is that much easier for me to communicate to folks who are not from the Western world particularly, who might be thinking “Yo, their idea of masculinity is so different from what we’ve been taught, so maybe there is no one way to look at this, maybe there shouldn’t be a binary, maybe we should just be able to express what gender means, or doesn’t mean, to us more freely.” That's why I have way more comfort discussing that aspect of my identity publicly,
Yeah, I totally get that, it’s not just you kind of, rejecting these gender norms, but it’s challenging what the act of that rejection can look like too.
Exactly. It’s important to get representation from people who belong to these groups, that can really enlighten us all about the different ways people are living, and choose to live, which promotes a message of self acceptance, and through that, collaborative liberation.
I know you talk a lot about the importance of mentorship and collaboration in everything that you do, and really stress how essential your team is to your work. I actually saw in another interview you said you’re really excited to be sharing a “4 dimensional experience,” which will include a bunch of visuals you’ve planned and created with a predominantly BIPOC, queer, trans, disabled etc. team.
Yeah, we just have a lot in the works, as a team, as a creative collective. Other than the project coming out in January, we do want to create a 4D experience for folks. I’m completely involved in everything we do, we studied stacks and stacks of physicals other artists put out throughout the years, when people were ordering vinyls, CDs, we handpicked everything. There's texture stuff - I'm a taurus, I care a lot about the senses. There's a lot of things, sonically, visually that we want to put together, folks can expect a lot of visual stuff coming out from us for sure. I just want them to know, we’re an art collab: GOLLY GENG, and there's always stuff we want to try. We’re looking at clothing, furniture, acting in the new year, a lot more modeling.
We have a lot in store that we can’t wait to put out. I think, we lit a match last November with ‘Down For it,’ and had no idea what could happen, and we’re really lucky with this second single on the horizon, to be able to come out feeling like the world is our oyster.
We’re dredging the line and figuring it out, and hoping that people care, and resonation can happen, and that folks will stick by us and feel like there’s something here of merit to watch and care about.
It sounds like you're building a whole brand - a movement even - more so than just a music career.
Yeah, we want to show that it's possible. Our team moves in very specific ways. We have feelings about equity and about this industry, and the way it operates, that we feel very willing to be abrasive towards, or help destroy.
All we want to do is to make things better or there's no point to this, we want to make sure this stuff feels more accessible and that folks feel more enlivened to step into the power of destruction, especially when things do need to be destroyed.
Whether that's through the mediums of visual art, music, experiential stuff, I think we're just committed and willing to see things through.
Your personal form of a peaceful resistance.
Stream "Polytics” https://idman.lnk.to/Polytics