Shamir Bailey was born in Las Vegas, Nevada on Nov 7, 1994. He is known mononymously as Shamir, an American singer, songwriter, activist and actor. Shamir was raised by his mother and was inspired to make music with the support of his aunt who was in the music business. He grew up being influenced by producers, musicians and bass players who frequently visited his family’s house and supported his aunt, who was a songwriter. At age 9, he received an Epiphone guitar on his birthday and began writing music. He started a punk band at the age of 16 but this was short lived due to a band mate’s intense stage fright (wiki).
Shamir was raised in a Muslim family and has reported he is more spiritual than religious, where god is the universe. As a teen he attended a youth group run by the Nation of Islam, called Freedom of Islam, and would sit in groups where he was taught white men were the devil and learned he was a participant of an oppressed group. He went on to have critical race conversations with his mother and chose to keep his friendships with his white friends. Shamir was a sexually ambiguous teenager since adolescence, identifying as non-binary and does not have a preferred pronoun, although he has stated some comfort with male pronouns over singular pronouns such as they and them when addressing him (wiki).
After graduating high school, Shamir was motivated by his mother to send a demo tape to Nick Sylvester of Godmode and was quickly signed to the label, releasing his Northtown EP in June 2014. He signed to XL Recordings in October 2014 and released his jam single “On the Regular” which was picked up for commercial use by Android Wear. In March 2015 he released another single, “Call it Off”, from his debut album Ratchet, released in May 2015; he then toured with the British synth pop band Years & Years in the UK, opening for them. He also toured with South African electro pop artist Troye Sivian’s Blue Neighborhood tour in March, 2016. In April 2017 he put out his first self released album Hope after being dropped from XL (wiki).
Soon after the release of Hope, he uploaded the album for free to Soundcloud and experienced a psychotic break where he was hospitalized and diagnosed with bi-polar disorder (Kheraj, 2020). After discharging from the hospital, he returned to Las Vegas and recorded his lo-fi pop anthem ballad third album, Revelations, featuring our favorite track from the album, “Straight Boy.”
In March 2018, he self released his fourth album, Resolution, featuring “I Can’t Breathe,” a protest song inspired by the police lynchings of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. Shamir fictionalized his lyrics in his first verse, assigning a character “Gary” to Garner, who was “selling loosies by the liquor store/ didn’t really mean no harm/but he was black and stood 6 foot 7 so the owner sounded the alarm.” The song then builds with a distorted guitar after subtle melodic arpeggios under Shamir’s falsetto, where he sings, “When heard the sirens he started to run/ and bullets was all he saw.” The second verse assigns Rice to a boy named “Bobby” who went to play in the park with a toy gun: “A neighbor got scared and called for help with nothing but fear pulsing through but failed to mention he was all alone / so there’s not much he can do.” The chorus sung twice, with Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” accompanied by large drums: “Somebody help me please/ I think I see the light/ I’m gonna die.” “I Can’t Breathe” is a powerful anthem that confronts the ongoing murders of Black and Brown people in the U.S. by racist white power police systems and systemic racial bias.
Throughout Shamir’s musically eclectic career, his musical compositions range from grunge, punk, indie, electronic, rock, pop and experimental. Shamir’s vocal range is wonderfully androgynous, or as he calls his vocal talents, “countertenor” (wiki). Fans of Prince and Sylvester, or any weirdo indie music, would definitely appreciate his sound and social critiques that challenge oppressive dominant white heteronormative binaries.
Shamir’s identity is often politicized. He is an activist because he exists. He is black, identifies as queer, where his intersectionality and positionality includes him in more than one marginalized group. He chooses to make changes that he wants to see in the world. During his early career, he reported to AnOther Magazine, he felt like he was “cosplaying activism”, even though he never viewed himself as an activist. He has now embraced his public platform to voice his transformative ideals and advocates for the empowerment of genderqueer people, challenging racism, climate change reform and abolishing the police. He maintains a belief to get rid of the old ideals to bring in new ideals and reform. “You can’t keep trying to gloss over the old when it’s literally decaying. Everything has an expiration date. Trying to hold onto things that are past their expiration date prevents the new from coming in. These things are going to continue to happen around the world, but specifically in America. They are going to keep happening until we throw out the old, start over, and allow space for the new” (Shamir, 2020).
Now residing in Philadelphia, he self released Be the Yee, Here Comes the Haw, April 2019. And in March 2020, he put out Cataclysm, available on Bandcamp with a 105-limited cassette release, with 100% of its profits benefiting the Center for Black Equity; it quickly sold out. Check out his new song, “I Wonder,” from his upcoming album, due for release October 2, 2020.
Shamir Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamir_(musician)
AnOther Magazine. Shamir “My Whole Career has Been Undervalued” https://www.anothermag.com/design-living/12713/shamir-interview-quarantine-new-album-pop-music
Written by Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour)