[Cover photo credit to Jeffery Trapani]

Aisha Badru’s EP The Way Back Home arrives this Friday, December 3rd from Nettwerk Records, and represents a significant development in her work as she explores themes of groundedness in life and introduces some new sonic directions. There’s also an undercurrent of concern for the natural environment and the planet that’s even more apparent in this new EP than in her previous work. Pre-saves of the album and singles have even benefited planting trees via the nonprofit One Tree Planted.

Aisha Badru explores ideas drawn from her experiences of finding transformative new perspectives in songs like “Rebirth” and “Rooted” and brings a very personal touch to big ideas like our relationship with the planet in songs like “The Way Back Home” on the new EP. I spoke with her about the correlations between her music and these significant concepts, including our need to connect with the environment in a personal way, our need to value community members who preserve knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, our need to find ways of becoming the people we most want to be.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I heard that for this EP, your writing process flipped or changed a little. It sounds like you now take a more idea-first approach. Is that true?

Aisha Badru: I would say that I am, though it can vary. Very recently, I’ve just been picking up my guitar and I’ll just start with the chords and the melody. Then, the words will just come. So that is a bit different from how I was writing before.

HMS: How far back does the writing process for this EP go?

AB: I would say it probably started about a year ago. I’ve been releasing EP after EP, about one per year, so it’s hard to remember when these songs were written, but I would say all of them have been written within the past year and some of them even during the pandemic. But for some of them, it’s been sitting with my guitar, having an idea, but not being sure where it’s going to go. Then strumming, coming up with a melody and the chord structure, then filling in the words.

HMS: There’s a sense of new life or setting off into a new zone on the EP. Does that connect with your experiences in life in recent years?

AB: Oh, yes. I think one of the major things in my life, which I speak a little bit about in “Rebirth” and “Worthwhile”, has been a perception change. “Rebirth” is, obviously, not about living a second life, but when you change your perspective on a fundamental level, it’s almost like you’re living in a new world. Because then you approach things differently and see things differently. You are able to come up with solutions that maybe you didn’t see before. I feel like that’s what’s going on in my life now, and you’ll see that in my music.

I used to be very overwhelmed by everything going on in the world and think very negatively about what I would see, but I’ve had my own spiritual and introspective experiences. Just judging from my own life, the lowest lows that I’ve had were always a catapult into a positive, higher perspective that allowed me to build my life up again. I do feel like we’re going through this weird experience in this world, and it is bad. I’m not here to spiritually bypass the situation that we’re in, but if we look at it from a different perspective, positive changes can be brought about.

For example, the environment. So many businesses are coming up with ideas to make better products for the environment, but we had to have that experience, that catalyst, that made us realize that we couldn’t keep going in the same direction. You can’t keep throwing the same old solutions at these problems. You have to try something new.

HMS: I definitely see that. If we just try to employ the same old solutions at a higher level, we won’t make much progress.

AB: Exactly.I love watching the show Shark Tank and hearing from young entrepreneurs. They have a whole different perspective because they are from a different generation. They are able to see things outside of the prior generation’s social conditioning. A change in perspective can help us grow in so many ways.

HMS: It seems like something that might help us come up with more solutions for the environment would be people establishing more of a personal relationship with the natural world if they have never had that. A lot of people, just due to circumstances, never really establish that connection or have lost that connection. A song like “Rooted” on your EP reminds me about that need.

AB: One hundred percent. I grew up in Yonkers, right outside of New York City. I was surrounded by concrete and completely disconnected from this awareness that nature is part of everything. I was surrounded by liquor stores, pawn shops, fast food. That was my environment. And then you’re going to tell me to care about the environment? There’s that disconnect. How can you care about something that you can’t feel?

For me, when I was about 22 years old, I signed up to be a camp counsellor, and we were in the woods for two months. It was a life-changing experience for me. It was the first time I’d ever been in a forest. It was the first time I ever did things in a natural environment. Then I realized that if you’re never exposed to something, it’s very hard to be told that you have to protect something. But I feel like the worse things get on the environmental front, the more we are going to feel it. We’re going to have more hurricanes. That makes it personal and close to home. It will be on my doorstep, impacting my family and my health. It will lead back to the need to create an alignment with nature and her laws.

HMS: Hopefully people spending more time outdoors during the pandemic will lead to some greater awareness and connection.

AB: I think so. I don’t think it’ll be only one event that will change things. I think it’s a gradual process, but I think we are currently in that process. What I’m most passionate about is health, trying to figure out how I can empower myself and my family, and how I can help others to feel empowered when it comes to accessibility to healthy foods. I have my own garden and I’m learning how to garden, so hopefully I can help someone else learn to reconnect and learn to garden.

HMS: Regarding sound and experimentation on this EP, do you feel that you were trying out new things or heading in new directions?

AB: Definitely on the song “Rebirth”, where I do some spoken word Rap. That was for sure out of my comfort zone and different from anything I have put out. But it just came really naturally, so I decided to record it because it’s what I felt inspired in that moment to do. It was the delivery that I felt inspired to have. That song was very different.

HMS: I was thinking of “Rebirth”! It’s very powerful. Something about spoken word medium reminds me of the fact that audiences really want to connect with the human beings behind the music right now. Using spoken word kind of takes you closer to that in some ways.

If someone has been through a process where they feel like they’ve engaged with a rebirth experience, like the kind you’re speaking about, do you have any ideas or advice about how to keep moving forward to make sure to benefit from the positive there, rather than carrying the past forward instead?

AB: This is where I’m at because any change, even personal change, isn’t a situation where you’re just going to integrate all this new information and be a different person in the sense of being perfect. I think it’s about integration of the lessons that you learned when you do get that new perspective. You should try small changes every day.

I’m reading this book called Atomic Habits, and I think that he says that every action that you take is a vote toward the person that you want to be. You may have a vision of the person that you want to be, and you just make small choices every day that align with that person. I don’t put pressure on myself to be a perfect beacon of light, and I think we have to take away that pressure, but integrate the lessons day by day. Gradually you will become that person.

HMS: So it’s more about the persistence over time?

AB: Yes, I truly believe that. You wake up, and the world is the same, so it’s so easy to fall back into old habits or mindsets. You really have to do it gradually without putting pressure on yourself. You have to gradually walk on that path to the highest version that you imagine of yourself. As the book says, focus more on the process than the goal.

HMS: That’s a great way of putting it. Perfection is the enemy because feeling like we’re falling short of it will make us give up more easily.

AB: I think we’re literally learning how to be human beings upon the earth because we’ve forgotten it. Learning is a process, though I’m just speaking from my own personal experience.

HMS: I think that it’s true that we’ve forgotten a lot. In my life, my mother and grandmother were people that I looked up to a lot, and though they weren’t perfect, I feel like they understood a lot more about being human than I do now.

AB: Yes, we need to value our community members. Sometimes people have the wisdom that is getting lost right now. We should value people in our lives who have value that may not be widely recognized. Skills get lost. Though it’s a small thing, I think something like knitting is a real skill, or having knowledge about food, or about plant medicine. There are so many people who are not on Instagram and who don’t have blogs who have so much knowledge and information. We should take note of people in our lives who have knowledge that may not be valued by the mainstream.

HMS: It’s like a human inheritance that we might lose. But we might not if we take a different look at things. There’s an underground movement toward folkways and crafting, though. A lot of people want more personal experiences.

AB: I agree.

HMS: One of your songs that also has a really lovely video out is “The Way Back Home”. That’s already gotten a lot of positive attention. I know that the song has some personal elements for you, but I think it also relates to exactly what we’re talking about in some interesting ways.

AB: Yes, it does. I’m glad you noticed.

HMS: It’s the idea that things aren’t totally lost, that choices that you make can bring you into relationship again with things that are important.

AB: There’s always a double meaning to my songs. On one hand, it might sound like a love song, but there’s always a double meaning, and you’ve hit the nail on the head.

HMS: I love that there are two characters in the song, too, the speaker and someone they are speaking to.

AB: Building on what you have said, you can even imagine it being the earth saying, “As you run towards the horizon, nature will always be there.” She will always be a figure and a mother telling us how to live, telling us who we are. We can never take nature out of the equation, since we can’t live without it. She will always be this mother-like figure singing this melody. I feel like that’s the call I hear right now in trying to understand myself.