The Nine Lives of Shama Rahman

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Musician, actress, performer, scientist and intensely bright spark, Shama Rahman is a true Renaissance woman. WOW Talks had the pleasure of including her music and words of wisdom in the WOW Talks at the Wilderness Festival this August. Here, she shares a bit of that magic with us.

WOW Talks: What inspires you?

Shama: New frontiers, new possibilities, things that have not been done before, the chance to materialise visions and create. All these things excite me, allow me to dream and get me up in the morning in the waking world.

WOW Talks: Why did you choose music or science, or did it choose you?

Shama: Born in United Arab Emirates to a Bengali medical doctor and classical singer and having lived on three different continents, I have always strived to marry the different strands of my passions and interests together, and this weaving, intricate, interlinking and independent style is apparent in my work. I am a musician, storyteller, poet, actress and as a scientist have a firm basis in science and its wonderment.

The same meshing of science and performative arts are as apparent in the subject of my poetry, which informs my music, as it does the actual science that I do:
Having studied Molecular Biology at UCL, I’m doing a PhD at Imperial College, Goldsmiths and the Royal College of Music in the cross-disciplinary field of Complexity Science using mathematics to study the Neuroscientific Systems of Musical Creativity.

So to answer the question I think I felt a compulsion to do both and for the longest time it had gotten to the point where I needed to do both, which was proving extremely difficult and yet I just couldn’t bear to give either of them up.

In the way that I have molded my life and balance to fit around both of these subjects I think that I have chosen them, but in such a way that I would get no mental peace, sleep or soul satisfaction if I didn’t do both, I think they chose me!

WOW Talks: Is there a spiritual dimension to what you do, a desire to give back to the world?

Shama: Yes I do think there is a spiritual element. Trying to make sense of the ways of the world, the universe, their inter-relation and searching for my own (relative) absolute truth does have deep spiritual roots. I think that is why I ended up in Complexity Sciences which looks at patterns and emergent phenomena in whole systems. Really I think it is a quantification of age-old philosophical questions and implications that do ultimately want to relate our existence to the wider universe and to each other. The concept of complex systems, music making and performing all relate to storytelling and storytelling is the thread through everything that I do. It is an art form that is nothing if not a conduit to the realms of emotion and soul and the truth that resonates there. In my eyes that is a window into spirituality. Certainly the very essence of what I do comes from wanting to leave the world having imparted a gift to it that enlightens it and progresses thoughts and actions from the state in which I came into it.

WOW Talks: How important is sharing your work, in having an audience, and that interaction and feedback?

Shama: I think interaction and feedback are very important in shaping the work. Ultimately if you’re creating something, it is put out there for others to see, feel and experience so sharing and performing to an audience are innate to it. Its also important to document.

WOW Talks: What is your creative process, is it solo or collaborative, and why do you think that is? Where does creativity come from for you?

Shama: I have both solo and collaborative creative processes as there is a place and time for both not only between creative projects but within each creative project. Ultimately to really carry out the end product to fruition you need to own it and do some real personal work on it but to achieve this embodiment and empowerment often requires collaboration. This collaboration goes back to your question about feedback. Collaboration gives you objective feedback into something that can and should become highly subjective and personalised to you but it allows you to tap into a general truth that others can still relate to-this ultimately makes a more powerful and impactful body of work. Collaboration is also a very fun and time-saving way of working as often solo work can feel like stumbling around in the dark for a long time! Where does creativity come from me? Somewhere inside and outside, or from behind me! I guess in all seriousness it’s about getting into a flow or mindset and difficult to pinpoint in reductionist terms.

WOW Talks: How does language inform and shape your music, as I know that you speak and write and sing in different languages?

Shama: Language has started off being very important literally in the beginning as all my songs come from poetry and essay-form musings that I write. So to begin with I would write at first with no thought for the music and then try and put music to it. The results were laborious although intricate and quite complex and perhaps even a bit bemusing at first for musicians to play! However more recently precisely because I’ve just been the lead in a 24-part drama series that was bilingual, acting opened up a whole cadence of meaning that superseded the literal language and got down to a universal essence more directly. I think this has informed my music making such that I work much more from rhythm of words, phrases and even abstract concepts as a starting point now – the results although more obvious and less esoteric perhaps are more accessible, use the medium of music more and therefore are interesting in a different way.