Listen and be enraptured.
Ms. Mohammed is a London-based musician using her gossamer presence to take command of her audience. Her music is original and catchy. But it’s more than the kind of sonic surfactant that gets us through an afternoon commute. It’s the kind of music that is cross-modal to our senses. We can hear it, taste it, feel it.
Mohammed, founder of Clit Rock, a music events campaign to raise funds to end female genital mutilation and create safehouses for girls around the world, is an activist. And her name is an attestation to the politics around her very existence.
She wasn’t always Ms. Mohammed. She used to perform under her first two names, Dana Jade, until 2012.
“Mohammed is my actual real last name, like in an airport for instance. I am Ms. Mohammed. It’s on my birth certificate, it’s on my passport,” she said. “I wasn’t even raised Muslim but I am perceived as Muslim when you read my name on the list.”
Changing her stage name was a way to stand up for her family and friends who are dealing with the trauma of rising hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric, she said. We spoke to her on the day of the London Westminster attack.
“[Islamophobia] is constantly topical and I think it needs to be addressed. That was my reason for using my last name,” she said.
“[At first,] I avoided talking about the name change. I felt more comfortable telling people I have a girlfriend than my real last name, at least in my liberal, London circle. There’s a little bit of fear in myself about the word ‘Muslim’ and how much weight is put on people with these names and of this heritage…[I don’t want to run] from that association,” she continued.
According to Mohammed, the persona of Ms. Mohammed is also a more mature version of Dana Jade.
“Dana Jade was kind of young punk, singing about unrequited lust and love. Now, I have more to say and the world is a lot more serious. It takes a certain amount of confidence to do that, to comment on global things,” she said. “[My song], ‘Alibi’ is about imperialism and ‘Pandora’ is about celebrating the feminine. A lot of our problems come from not directly celebrating the feminine. That would be the revolution that we need.”
Musically, Mohammed fuses her life in London to her upbringing in Trinidad. She grew up in a multi faith family, with Muslim grandparents, Christian parents, and Hindu relatives. She celebrated Christmas, Eid, and Diwali and describes herself as “the odd atheist.” She is also a Rupaul’s Drag Race fan and inspired by drag culture. She names Madonna and Grace Jones as influences.
“I think that’s how I came up with alternative fusion and island punk— toying with these ideas,” she said.
In May, Bobby Friction featured “Alibi” on BBC Asian Network show, describing the track as “powerful, feminist, brilliant, [and] goddess-like.” Her music is sultry, smoldering and empowered. The lyrics probe our dark, carnal corners. It is reminiscent of The Cure’s goth-pop and Catwoman’s twisted, cheeky (and deeply effective) seduction in the 1990’s Batman movies. And here is Ms. Mohammed, reinforcing darkness as a necessary fabric to art and clarity. Listening is like watching an orb in a floating lantern, advancing through an inky night.
It is this awareness around sexuality, darkness and empowerment that informs her work in social justice. In her Clit Rock campaign, Mohammed marries activism and music.
“We are addressing more than one thing, like the gender imbalance in the live music scene. Women are completely underrepresented in all the major U.K. festivals. So part of our agenda is featuring female-fronted bands and DJs,” she said.
For Mohammed, art is an integral part of existence and resistance. But it is her identity that makes the part about existing a bit heavier.
“Just existing is an act of resistance—if you are, in my case, a woman of color and an immigrant with a Muslim last name in post-Prexit England and the Trump era. We need to galvanize and come together. Art is a big part of that,” she said.