The Making of IDMAN
In an exclusive interview with V, Somali songstress IDMAN details how she’s using music to defy societal and gender norms.
IDMAN’s journey to music is one riddled in a series of formative moments all rooted in unwavering passion, liberation, and purpose. The 27-year-old Toronto-native has found her voice through utilizing strings of those personal experiences to color her music. And in turn that unapologetic sense of transparency has fueled her rise as one of alt-R&B’s most promising voices.
Transitioning from social leader to musician played a vital role in the themes we hear throughout IDMAN’s music. Whether it’s a slow-simmering sultry track like “Down For it” focusing on the grind of a new artist or high-energy banger “Polytics,” that zeroes in on the complexities surrounding polyamorous relationships…one can always expect their notions of pop culture, art, and music to be challenged. Single handedly redefining what it means to be a female artist in today’s industry with her playful exploration of societal taboos IDMAN places a sonic time stamp on the moment that we are currently living in.
After keeping a low-profile during quarantine to make the conscious effort of committing to what matters most—her artistry—the Somali songstress has emerged more in tune with her craft than ever. Finding her superpower in creating meaningful messages through her music has only made IDMAN’s trajectory more astounding. And with her debut EP titled Risk under way, her freshly honed skill of songwriting and composing comes in handy as she takes on new themes. But trust, in true form it’ll be just as risqué as we expect.
Read the exclusive conversation below with the burgeoning musician.
V Magazine: Hey IDMAN, how are you?
IDMAN: Good, how are you?
V: I’m so excited. I’m doing good as well. I think the question everyone wants to know including myself is, how do we pronounce your name. Is it IDMAN (id-mun)?
I: Yes, It’s IDMAN (id-mun). You are right, most people don’t get it on the first try (Laughs).
V: (Laughs) Amazing, now that we’ve got that sorted…Let’s get into the making of IDMAN. For those who may not be familiar with you just yet, I want to offer some insight into how this magical being that you are, has come about. What were your earlier years like and how did you get into music?
I: Yeah, I think as an artist I’m really committed to just being transparently a person who’s figuring it out. I’m super new in music. I’ve only been doing music for the last couple of years so I feel like a baby in the grand musical zeitgeist. I used to do social justice work, I still do, but that was what I thought I was going to do with my life for a long time. I used to do a lot of direct action work, I helped co-found a couple of racial justice organizations in the Northeast coast of the country. I think for a long time, I was like, “this is what I’m going to do. This is the only way to be of service to my people.” I learned more about what it means to have good movement, ecology and good movement ecosystems. That we need people like our food access workers, our healers, our lawyers and the folks who do the thing that sustains our joy I think the most are artists, our creatives, our musicians. Those are the pockets where joy exists for us. And I think that that’s what sustained us through abominable atrocities throughout time. I feel really honored to have come into the understanding that music is a way to be of service to your people too, and to be of service to yourself first. And so I think I’m just really committed to seeing this thing through and figuring it out. My only commitments are unpacking my fear and unpacking what the roadblocks are in here to hopefully liberate myself in real life through art. And if it’s a dialectic experience, I’m honored.
V: So well said and beautifully put. I love how your need to give back to your community has manifested in different ways. It started with social activism and it’s blossomed into music. Growing up in Toronto and being of Somali descent, what kind of music did your parents play at home and would you say it influenced your sound today?
I: It definitely has. My mom was a wedding planner and she was a bit of a socialite in our community. We would have musicians coming in and out of the house. I had the honor of being around legends growing up, like Magool and Hasan Adan Samatar. Because of my mom I was the kid who would stand in front of all of her friends and perform, doing things like the jazz hands or whatever. Those moments were definitely super duper impactful. I saw my parents love each other through music. So in my household, my parents were really affectionate and I knew that music was their connector. And I think my younger self was like, “oh, snap, this is how you permeate. This is how you resonate with others.” And so I think that I am still trying to walk that path and figure that out too, for myself.
V: With all of that in mind, who would you say some of your musical influences were growing up?
I: I think a lot of my influences were older Somali women, to be honest. I feel like there’s a fearlessness I see that’s really uniform for all of us. Non-musical influences, I think about someone like Assata Shakur. I say the Assata chant every week with the homies. You know what I mean? “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” I’m inspired by black women, period. I think my favorite artists a lot of the time have always been black women. Nina Simone, Beyoncé, obviously Rih[anna]. I like the people that are shy too, you know? Beyoncé is so shy. Janet is so shy. Rihanna seems so shy. I like the people who are doing this not in a hedonistic, look at me way, but at the expense of their own anxieties, their own fears. I feel like it’s such a gift in that way. The essence of it rattles with it in a way that I’m really inspired by.
V: What has L.A. been like for you as a creative?
I: L.A. has been tumultuous, for sure. When I came down here, I drove down with my best friend. We packed up a car and we drove for five days from Portland, Maine. We didn’t know where we were going. I knew no one in the industry. We had no plan. We slept in our car for a while. I came here not with any real leads rooted in reality, all my leads were rooted inside. And my best friend was this talented human who was working on an accessibility app and used to be in radio. I was like, “okay, I’m over here with literally the strongest person I know. And we’re about to do this thing together.” It was rough the first year, for sure. It’s one of those cities that really makes you reflect on how you move and how you operate. When I came down everybody was like, watch out for the posers, the boogeymen, but thank God we’ve only met really awesome people along the journey. This last year we’ve kind of been coming in full swing with this music stuff. We’ve found our tribe. And I think that no matter where you are, if you have your wolf pack, you’re good.
V: Very true. Has L.A. and it’s environment influenced you and your music in any way?
I: I think L.A. has made me hungrier for this, for sure. I’m in a city where a lot of artists and musicians live. 60,000 songs are coming out every single day. What makes my voice matter? What makes my lived experiences stand out? Every single day you’re surrounded by dreams and nightmares. You really have to choose [your fate] on a daily basis.
V: Let’s segue into your latest single “Polytics.” Can you tell me more about how you conceptualized the idea of the music video, recording the song, and just the whole process itself?
I: “Polytics” was one of the ones that was a quicker write. I had a messy summer in Minneapolis two years ago. I was around a lot of my friends who were at the time unpacking for themselves. My tribe is super queer, super trans and dating is already hard in the digital world. Add our lived experiences and those intersections on top of it. And we are also the layer of our parents and our elders being from the analog times. What does it look like to socialize or relate to someone on this computer thing that is its own language in a way? I think the cool thing about being young right now is that we get to kind of decide for ourselves who we are and in the way that there is no blueprint. My friends and I call it experimenting with non-traditional dating styles. And I remember being someone attached to my monogamy. And I think I’m still figuring it out. But I found myself wanting to confront the parts of me that thought polyamory was so complex. Just because I haven’t been socialized to experience it freely does not mean it’s complex. I think love is super simple. It’s a connection between people. It can be one, it could be two, it could be three. I think there will be a much better place if we all minded our business. And so I was like, how do I write a song that makes a complex emotion, feel like what it really is, which is simple. I didn’t want it to feel like I was preaching anything. So when you sing along, you understand my love isn’t that different from yours. It’s all love.
V: What was the inspiration behind the song? Do you think those experiences between you and your friends really shaped the song’s lyrics? While listening to it, I thought maybe it was a personal experience. I could have never thought it could be influenced by your friends.
I: To get more specific, I had met someone that I fancied and then I bumped into them again, six months later. And I thought they weren’t single and they had approached me and were like, hey, I’m going to take you out. And I was like, how when you’re totally with someone. And they told me that they were practicing poly. And it just so happened that the person that they were practicing with was an old coworker of mine who I didn’t get along with very well. And that coworker started leading workshops on polyamory called Polly Pockets. In the line where I say in the song, “she’s out of pocket,” it was because we were having conflict about this. And I was like, you are the expert, you know, you’re the person who knows all about this thing. How are you getting out of pocket about this thing that you teach people about? I didn’t want to write a song where I blamed anyone or pointed any fingers. That’s why I say so many times in the song, “you like a person and they liked me and I liked them and all of it is okay.” None of it is wrong. At the core of it, we all like someone and it isn’t necessarily a negative thing, you know? I was saying to myself, I’m probably poly too. At the time, I very attached to my monogamous identity. I think confronted with the fact that maybe I don’t know me very well and maybe I’m okay with this. And maybe this is something that I want to explore for myself.
V: And that’s important to mention because I think in a city like New York, I’ve realized that we’re so young and that we’ve been taught all of these things regarding how to live but we are all coming to terms with our own uniqueness. It is important to be open to the possibilities of life and that is what “Polytics” means to me, so thank you for being so transparent. What are some things we can expect from you from your forthcoming project?
I: I think this next EP Risk is a culmination of my experiences the year leading into me starting to do music. There’s a song on the project where I’m reflecting on one of my arrests in Portland and that arrest was the reason why I could even do music. I had to be home because I was in court all the time. I also lived in a small town, in one of the whitest states in the country and felt a real hostility towards my police department. All that alone time was the reason why I could even sit around and listen to Hot 97 to hear Jessie Reyez on the radio talking about the Remix project and then applied to the Remix Project. It was such a huge integral part of why I’m here. “Down for It” speaks to my mental health and my apprehensions in music and coming into this industry. The EP in and of itself speaks to where I was when I was making the decision to take this risk which is I’m doing this job that is freaking terrifying.
V: I love that. The pandemic has had a major effect on all of us. We’ve all spent the last two years confined and in quarantine. How’d you spend your time? Were you making music? Do you think you’ve grown as an artist because of COVID and the unfortunate lockdown?
I: I don’t think there’s anything like going back to normal. I feel like everything has changed forever because of the pandemic. It has touched all of us in really specific and challenging ways. I finished this project before the pandemic, this project has been completed for over a year and a half. I was set and ready to release it before the uprising began and when the uprising began, we kind of all were on pause because there’s something happening in the world that’s greater than all of this. We all were committed to making sure that no one worked at that time. We have a predominantly black and queer trans team and all of us were touched by what was going on. I went back and was doing digital support work for some of the homies that I have in Minneapolis, all of us went hands on deck with everything going. I think I talked the most to my team during that time as humans, you know? We are all so close and we love each other so much that time I think was integral for us. How are you doing? How is your spirit? What are you sitting with right now? Everyone’s sitting, what are you holding? I feel really good about the way that we handled that and how we’re able to collectively figure out what it looks like to pick up the pieces after such a hard thing.
V: So as the year comes to a close, what do you look forward to the most for 2022?
I: I look forward to that within which I cannot imagine right now, the unimaginable. I look forward to welcoming in abundance however the universe sees fit. I just pray that the universe sees it to be positive for me. Very generally, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude lately that I don’t know what to ask for, or that I can ask for more. I feel like we all have a bit of survivor’s remorse. Joy, happiness, if it so be, I would feel very grateful for.
V: Are there new, exciting projects coming from IDMAN? What can we look forward to?
I: Yeah, what’s really exciting is that when I first put this song out, we were thinking about maybe doing acting. I think at the time I was like, hold up, we just put the song out and it’s doing better than I thought. Maybe we focused on this thing and not really looked there but I think hopefully some acting next year. Definitely excited to get some solo shows under our belt. I think the job is harder than I ever thought. It’s like the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I hear that touring, performances, and the live aspect of it all is the part that keeps you in. So I’m excited to taste that part that keeps you in.
V: You have the most calming spirit, your energy translates and it is such an honor to speak with you IDMAN. You have so much to look forward to, you will go very far in this lifetime. Thank you for the opportunity.
I: Thank you so much, Carlos. This is not lost on me. I totally understand that word is so powerful. By talking to me right now and putting words to pen and pen to paper, I think you’re advocating for me and you’re sharing me with the world and I appreciate it. It’s not lost on me. I won’t forget it.