Although Naima Shalhoub currently resides in Oakland, California, she is the daughter of refugees from Rahbé, Lebanon, where she spent time in Beirut, a place where soulful creativity has grown from immense trauma. She kept coming back to zero, that revolutionary concept from Arabic mathematics which symbolizes newness, completion, and infinity. These eternal notions also correlate with Naima’s spiritual faith and birth name, Grace. Naima elaborates, “I love that we can’t touch the concept of zero. It can’t be tamed, tethered, or trapped. It’s the everything place that is often categorized as nothing. But to me, it is not empty. It is grace in the midst of pain. Bigger than anything that I can comprehend.”
Zero, is siphr in Arabic, the title of her forthcoming debut album (to be released August 6, 2020) on which she blends acoustic, Southwest Asian & North African folk, soul, and blues elements with lyrics in Arabic and English. Siphr explores her Arab American heritage, the continuities and internal/external borderlands of life: freedom and captivity, joy and sorrow, shame and power, political and spiritual, and others.
Our Song of the Day is her recently released first single “Two (Rivers in the Desert)”, on which Naima creates an aural river within our world’s current cultural wilderness. The accompanying video was filmed by Excentrik (Tarik Kazaleh) in Joshua Tree, and features Naima and a mysterious figure exploring the expansiveness of the desert, the redemptive nature of water and Spirit, and encouraging the audience to consider the rivers we can dream into the desert. Like the song, it speaks on many different levels, an aural and visual delight from start to finish.
Siphr was recorded and engineered at the Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco, where Naima’s residency gave her the opportunity to write the album and record it with Excentrik, cellist Ed Baskerville, and bassist Marcus Shelby. A grant from Restoration Village Arts, designed for artist activists, contributed to the feeling that her community was behind this project.