Tasneem, who uses they/them pronouns, is a revolutionary Muslim-American artist who utilizes folk-rock and jazz in their songs. Their work is imbued with tenderness and emotion.
“In this moment of American history, I think it’s just plain revolutionary that I exist create music and tell my story as a Muslim woman,” Tasneem told Kajal, in the aftermath of 17 year-old Nabra Hassanen’s murder.
Tasneem resists the political regime through storytelling. Last year, they used comedy and music in #IAMAMUSLIM, a video they wrote and directed to challenge tropes about Muslim identity in the 2016 election.
They are also working on a photo series featuring portraits of Muslim women from different cities. They started with their home city, Los Angeles, and also shot some photos in London.
“[The project] forced me to connect with the multiculturalism and pluralistic society of cosmopolitan London. And in L.A., I met really interesting women, like a circus performer, businesswomen, artists and film producers,” they said.
Tasneem’s lyrics have been featured on the International Museum of Women’s Muslima: A Six Word Memoir, an online exhibit by the Global Fund for Women. And last year, they performed at The Inaugural Aga Khan Foundation Gala in New York, hosted by Al-Jazeera America’s Ali Velshi.
Tasneem has been a musician since childhood.
“From when I was about nine, I was prodigious. In high school, I excelled at playing the saxophone,” they said. They played in cover bands in high school with the popular guys. “It was kind of the way I was popular. Otherwise, I was not popular,” they laughed.
In college, Tasneem started their rock band, Jungli, or “wild.” Around 2006, Jungli played at the opening ceremony of world-renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, at Art Basel.
“[At the time], no one even knew how revolutionary that was. [Hadid] and this young Muslim rocker. It blows my mind now to think about it,” they said.
At Los Angeles’ Grand Performances 20th Anniversary concert series, Tasneem introduced Fela Kuti‘s son, Femi Kuti. Fela Kuti is a legendary Afrobeat pioneer who was also an activist. Similarly, Femi Kuti is a women’s rights activist and carries on the family talent as a two-time Grammy nominee. To Tasneem, the symbolism of that weekend was huge. Her mother is East African and Indian, and her father is from Kenya.
Tasneem’s music is perceptive and thoughtful. The lyrics are lain against jazz and groove rhythms.
They sing, “I’m the one with the solution/I’m here to stop the pollution/’Cause them tears in your ocean, they all just taste like oil/And your soil’s not too good/Open your eyes to the violence/While we live, live in silence.”
Their voice is implicitly tender. “Soil” sounds like “soul.” Each line underpins the the cognitive, somatic, and emotional components of the human experience in a violent, complicated world. The music reveals the overlooked politics in the microcosms of our lives down to the minutest of expressions, like the way tears may come out and even taste. Tasneem understands the simple ways the state of the world parallels the state of ourselves.