Queen Iminah’s Musical Journey Through the African Diaspora

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Queen Iminah's new EP is a love letter from—and to—the African diaspora.
Queen Iminah's new EP is a love letter from—and to—the African diaspora. (GLM Studios)

Let's start Black History Month with a dose of something to dance to, coming directly from the African Diaspora.

On Saturday, Feb. 6, Oakland's Queen Iminah will perform music from her debut project From Ghetto 2 Goddess via livestream from San Francisco's Great American Music Hall.

The six-track EP is a blend of what some might call hip-hop, reggae, Afrobeat and R&B. Queen Iminah simply calls it "melanated music." Or better yet, "born-again African soul."

Just by looking at the EP's featured artists—Ghana's Yaa Pono, Brooklyn's Jahdan Blakkamoore (originally from Guyana), and Oakland's D’wayne Wiggins—a common thread emerges of the African diaspora. That theme carries over to the recording process, which occurred in studios in Ghana, Nigeria, Brooklyn and Oakland.

"It all represents my lineage," says Queen Iminah, who is African American and Jamaican, and became an ordained priestess in the Yoruba tradition after traveling to Nigeria.

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Along with her bloodline and culture, the artist brings her passion as an academic to her craft as well. “People are educated through their art,” says Queen Iminah, who is the head of Oakland Unified School District's African American Female Excellence program.

True to form, her music is both spiritually enlightening and intellectually inspiring.

The song "Osun" comes on like a jam session, heavy on the percussion; Queen Iminah's repetitive praise of the deity's name makes me wonder if there's even a difference between prayer and song. It helps that the track-ending guitar solo sounds like the strings were plucked from the heavens.

As a song more grounded in worldly ills, "Ife Me" is an uptempo reminder of the need for consensual respect, communication, and understanding in any relationship. "Yes means yes, and no means no / respect is key for us to grow," sings Queen Iminah. And if you're looking for a song to use as curriculum this month—or any month—I suggest "Warrior Queen." It's another uptempo recording, full of lyrics honoring women who lived as warriors, in many forms of the word.

Queen Iminah plays the drums while wearing a guitar over her shoulder.
Queen Iminah. (Carol Dutra)

African American luminaries Betty Shabazz, Fannie Lou Hamer and Harriet Tubman are mentioned on the same four-and-a-half-minute track as the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut; Queen Nzinga, who once ruled the Kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba (modern day Angola); and Yaa Asantewaa, the Ghanaian warrior queen who fought against British colonizers in the 1800s.

From Ghetto 2 Goddess, which officially drops in March, is named for what Queen Iminah describes as her "personal journey of ascension." She says the term isn't about being better than anyone—it just reflects her own experience in going from "hanging out in strip clubs and throwing my life away" to traveling the world, developing educational workshops and focusing on her art.

She's been open about her experiences in the past, and hopes to continue to discuss her philosophy with the young women she works with, as well as anyone looking to better themselves and their community—especially people of the African Diaspora.

"It's about breaking out of temporary oppression," says Queen Iminah. "And embracing the multifaceted origins of humanity; all of the spectrums we come from."

Queen Iminah is joined by Jahi of Public Enemy's PE 2.0 for a livestream on Saturday, Feb. 6, live from the Great American Music Hall. Details here.