Meet Jazz Singer Fatimah Lorén
American jazz and soul singer Fatimah Lorén Muhammad, who performs at The Hub on Thursday, June 24, has more than just a great voice. She has a story to match. Fatimah Lorén, who doesn’t use her last name when performing, will sing music from the score of her debut theatre production, which premiered in Philadelphia in April. Entitled ReUnion, it was inspired by her meeting with her estranged father, who she says is indirectly responsible for her tour of India. Fatimah Lorén, who calls herself both a vocalist and an activist, told us how being a bisexual African-American woman influences her work. Edited excerpts:
What brings you to Mumbai?
The circumstances that brought me here have to do with my father, whom I met recently after nearly 20 years of looking for him. His sister wanted me to come with her to Asia, specifically to China. About a month later, a friend of mine who runs a software firm in Malaysia called me and said, “You have to come here. I will sponsor your trip and tour.” It turned out that my aunt wasn’t able to come [but] I’ll be in three countries, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
You’re from the University of Pennsylvania. Have you heard of the college’s Indian acappella group Penn Masala?
Yes, of course. They’re fabulous. I was asked to join their female counterparts Atma. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been lucky to meet [Carnatic fusion guitarist] Prasanna. I’m going to his studio to do some work with him.
Could you tell us about your own music?
I’m 26 years old [and] I’ve been singing my whole life. My name is a combination of [those of] Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Mohammed, and Sophia Lorén, the Italian actress. This mix between the sensual and the sacred is in many ways the root of my music. I see my music as a spiritual process. When I perform, it’s an offering. It’s deeply personal. Philadelphia is a really great place to be an artist. It accepts all forms of art. I’m a vocalist and one that pulls from jazz, blues and African-American spiritual music.
That production, ReUnion, your biography tells us, is inspired by your search for your father.
I’m from New Jersey. I grew up fairly poor. My mom was the first person in my family to go to college. My dad didn’t go to college. He was in and out of jail. When I was fairly young, my mother kicked him out. I ended up going to an Ivy League school so we are a success story, and that’s on account of my mother’s persistence. But as an adult, I no longer hate my father. It hurts me to think poorly of him. The amount of love it takes to forgive bitterness and anger is tremendous. ReUnion is telling the story of what it is like to love all of humanity.
Your biography also mentions your social work.
I’m also an activist. I was invited by former President Bill Clinton to Austin, Texas in February 2009 to sit on a panel at an international conference on global change. One of the reasons Bill Clinton invited me was that I was hired by an organisation to develop a community centre that focuses on supporting immigrant and African-American businesses, and also handling the tensions that emerge when new immigrants arrive. I’ve started an organisation that looks at the LGBT community, and the women of colour within it because they’re virtually invisible. As a bisexual woman, this is very important to me. The police don’t understand issues like domestic violence between women so they ignore it. In Bangalore, the LGBT community is organising events to celebrate the anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India, which I’ll be performing at.
What will your gig at The Hub be like?
The music I’ll be performing I’ve been working on for the past 18 months, mainly the score of ReUnion. While that production included animation and poetry and was 90 minutes long, the gig at The Hub is an hour. It will include some classic American African soul and spiritual music.