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Meet Shareefa Energy, the Desi rapper preaching self-love and embracing your roots

"I have always been my own person and people would see me as the odd person out."

Shareefa Energy is a London-based spoken word poet and rapper. Her lyrics encapsulate brown girl power.

She brings together poetry and hip-hop in such an articulate manner, that you can’t help but get mesmerized by her work. She’s pop culture meets romanticism, desi meets angrezi, art meets power.

Not only does she bring her presence to a stage, but she expresses important issues involved with being brown, and living abroad.

Where do you get your best inspiration?

“I feel like most of my writing comes from an emotive place. A lot of what happens politically impacts what I’m writing about. I use my writing as a way to release trauma, and it’s almost therapeutic. I also write about matters of the heart, and what I see around me, what I feel.

Until the age of 20, I lived with a colonized mindset. It wasn’t until I learned to decolonize the mind, that this connection began.

I recently visited the Amazon jungle and a lot of my writing stemmed from that. The different phases of my life reflect in my writing. Sometimes it’s a re-enactment of a feeling, and trying to connect with people who cannot connect.”

Did you start off with spoken word poetry?

“For me, the rhythm came naturally. I’ve always been a writer. For me, English was not my mother tongue. So the way we [Desi people] speak, is with expression. Sometimes all my father has to say is ‘chup’ [quiet] and that one word expresses so much.

Thus, the Hindi language is dubbed in rhythm, it’s the natural flair of the tongue and that resonates in my work.”

Since you are based in London, how do you keep in touch with your roots? In your poem, Shades of Beauty, your roots come across so strongly. So how do you keep that connection?

“Until the age of 20, I lived with a colonized mindset. It wasn’t until I learned to decolonize the mind, that this connection began. My heritage is Gujarati Indian and I was raised in Leicester, England. So that dual heritage was always a part of my upbringing.

I was brought up in a conservative society, thus Indian cultural values were all around me. In 2014, I visited India for the first time, and I fell in love. I have a lot of homages to give to my cultural roots.”

Did growing up in a conservative community affect your work? Particularly since you do talk about taboo topics in your work.

“I started writing at the age of 13. I wrote more rap, and at 21, I began to share my work. I got tired of getting into arguments about my opinions on social media. They were usually about racism.

And now, since I’ve already laid out my thoughts through my work, no one can say anything because they know where I stand.

I’ve always been outspoken. Even at the age of 17 and 18, I would do fashion shows and other things that weren’t in tune with my community. I have always been my own person and people would see me as the odd person out, but I’ve gotten support for that.

I remember the first time my father came to see me. It was at a Muslim community event. I’ll never forget that.

Don’t be scared to explore. Writing, and reading, and coming together with rhythm is a journey of growth.

I am a member of a poetry collective called ‘The YoniVerse’. It is a group of female south Asian poets from across the UK and we talk about controversial topics and hold open mic nights.”

Did you always know you were going to pursue poetry and storytelling? If so, why did you choose to major in International Relations?

“I’ve always been passionate about reading and writing. Thus, exploring topics that are related to the world in my music and poetry has always been important to me.”

Tell us about the collaboration you’ve done with poetry and hip-hop.

“I want to perform more with South Asian women. We have a rhythm that stands out and we need to use it!

For me, I do think about the business side of it all. I reflect and think of what I can do to take things to the next step.”

Who are some of your favorite spoken word poets?

“For the past week, I haven’t been feeling inspired and I’ve felt slightly detached. Normally, though, Shagufta Iqbal is a woman that is a part of the poetry collective that I am inspired by. There is also Writer Jones, Nneka and Trillary Banks (a fellow artist I have grown up with) – all of whom inspire me.”

Tell me about your first performance experience. Were you nervous? How did you decide to perform your work out loud?

“I can’t exactly pinpoint my first-ever experience, but I started off doing a lot of readings. I performed at a poetry love event.

I have always been my own person and people would see me as the odd person out, but I’ve gotten support for that.

I was headlining the act, and it was a beautiful experience. Witnessing young people sharing their poetry brings me a great deal of joy. It was reaffirming, almost like a release of energy.

At different points in my life, I’ve had different experiences with readings.”

If you have any advice for budding spoken word poets, what would it be?

“Don’t be scared to explore. Writing, and reading, and coming together with rhythm is a journey of growth. If you are passionate about it, put more time into rehearsing and find your own voice.”

 

This interview was edited lightly for clarity and length.