The INTO Interview

Somali Singer Idman Talks R&B, Musical Roots, and Black Queerness

· Updated on October 4, 2023

Idman (pronounced Id-mun) is a rising Somali R&B singer whose debut EP “Risk” comes out July 14th. Ahead of its release, INTO’s Latonya Pennington sat down with them to discuss their musical roots, the EP “Risk”, and the history of Black queerness in R&B.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Idman, it is a pleasure to be chatting with you today. How are you?

It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you as well! I’m good Alhamdulilah, how are you?

I’m good, thank you. I enjoyed listening to your EP and I’m sure others will too. You’re the daughter of Somali immigrants and you grew up in Toronto with a strong immigrant community. How did that influence your early exposure to music?

It influenced me majorly, I think. My mom did a lot of wedding planning, and her and my dad tried their hand at events/concerting. Very often, the Somali artists they were booking stayed at our home, too, so Somali music and the culture of house jams felt very normal and familiar to me. Toronto is a melting pot, meaning in a class of twenty-something students you can find twenty different backgrounds. A lot of us immigrant kids proudly would share our different music tastes and put each other on. I grew up next door to a Jamaican DJ and his family, my Japanese and Sri Lankan homies would play their stuff. 

That’s amazing. When it comes to your debut EP “Risk”, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of ’90s and ’00s R&B sounds on there. Who would you say are your musical influences as a singer?

That was super intentional! I don’t know that there’s a better genre for unpacking and expressing through heartbreak truly. For this project specifically the influences were Rodney Jerkins, Brandy, Jojo, and Dallas Austin. My musical influences are mostly Black women and artists who emote. I love Solange, Magool, Janelle Monáe, Nina Simone, Umm Kulthum, and Kehlani.

That’s really fantastic; I definitely noticed the Brandy influence. Speaking of heartbreak, your EP gradually goes from a place of heartbreak to a place of acceptance and peace. What was the composing and songwriting process for it like?

It was intense. We worked with one group of people the whole way through so everyone that’s on one song is probably on every other song on the EP. We spent a month together pretty much every day: I mapped my entire breakup from emails and voicemails to texts and we talked through the storyline and wanted the track list to feel like a chronological retelling. I cried so much making ‘Hate’. The whole process became a sort of therapy for me for sure.

It really does sound cathartic to listen to. In the past decade, R&B has provided catharsis for many Black queer music artists besides yourself, such as Kehlani, Syd, and Siara Shawn. Why do you feel that R&B can be used to express Blackness and queerness simultaneously?

In my eyes, R&B has always been queer. Luther Vandross and even Whitney Houston come to mind immediately. I think artists today have the freedom to be able to speak to it and provide context and add their truths to the storytelling. There is courage that the depths of our feelings sometimes lead us to and in a genre where “air grabbing”, falling to your knees and proclaiming to give your life and love to someone in the rain that just hits different. I think that to be queer is to see the world in fuller way, through a clearer lens.

Well said! One last question. Your most recent single from the EP Risk is “Still”, which has a gorgeous music video. What influenced the visuals?

We storyboarded a lot and the actual final looked different at different times. Initially, we were going to do a nighttime recreation shot-for-shot of the full moon but I’m happy that we didn’t go. Visually, the cinematography, the colors, and capturing Echo Park (where I fell in love, ironically) and LA the way we did was all City James, our incredible director and his really lit production company BASEWOOD. 

The documentarian in me really wanted a sweet approach to femme-for-femme love. I had initially wanted someone masc. We also teetered – at one point I got spooked and changed the lead back to a cis het man (my trainer). On the day of, we switched it back to Natalia, our incredible lead on set. I had to unpack for myself why I wanted to repeat a trope so readily used and what it would mean personally for me, culturally, to see femme-for-femme love done in a non-hypersexualized male-gaze-y way. ♦

Idman’s EP “Risk” comes out this Friday.

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