Searching for something. Something better. Something devastatingly dynamic and willing to oppose the day with skill, talent, beauty and the hardcore.
A conglomerate of Original artists that have compiled their worth at the latest oasis of Hip Hop music making, Goblin Music Studios. Here in Astoria, Queens, a core of criminally unknown MCs (Spit Gemz, Starvin B, G.S. Advance and others) and one gifted singer (Carmen Indhira), wield all the tools supremely—lyrical and vocal dexterity, diverse content, distinct vocalizations all embalmed naturally in the Realness.
This is the Opposition…
Rhythm and Blues is a music of the freest impulse. Its core is the triumph through struggle and all them pure ol’ worried notes over a controlled blistering of melodic wails. It’s beautiful. It calms our genre of the street, that Hip Hop Boom Bap and lets intimacy settle minds and babies fill up homes. It’s been more and more rare these days and we got some reasons like too much club-pop-rap, too few singers who can sing worth a riff and all those patrons that forgot how to listen to the deepest part of their sentiments. Times is ripe for The Opposition to sing.
A Dominican songstress via the streets of Queens, Carmen Indhira has now revealed herself through collaborations with her Opposition members and the few leaked solo singles. The epitome of raw talent she is not guided by the technicality of the supposed learned; rather, she is naturally learned of Soul, with a passion for the curves of words, the bells in vowels and the timbre of consonants. She’s often got too much Soul, writing every immediate pledge of her heart into sung verse, letting her vocals tear with intensity or playfully wisp witticisms. Carmen is commanded by the music to croon her every day’s emotion through stormy nights until they ravage quietly.
With her debut album, The Secret Garden, ripe for release October 19th, we set our dusted decks to prepare playback. To prime our ears Carmen Indhira sang to us of the roots of her work and the fruits of her Art.
SUNEZ: Tell us when you started to sing?
CARMEN INDHIRA: For me it really started when I was in church. I went to church for almost like 18 years. Very hardcore religious. Pentecostal, skirt wearing, Jesus saves. Every single day in church then one day I was like 9 years old. I used to hum around the house but I never really—I just didn’t really analyze it. I thought it was normal to do that. Being around the house my mom had Ana Gabriel, Fernandito Villalona—the old school playing in the background. That’s like what I grew up listening to. When she had that playing in the background I would be singing with her. I didn’t realize if I sounded good or bad. I just enjoyed doing it. Then one day I was in church and they asked me if I wanted a special part. So I was like, ‘okay, what am I going to do?’ They said, ‘go sing a song?’ So I sang a song and I was so scared and nervous. But at the end of the song when people applaud for you and say, ‘that was such a great job,’ I got so high off of just the energy. I was like, ‘this is it!’ I have to do this all the time. So I sang in church for a long time.
Then I strayed away from the church. I didn’t start writing my music until I was like, maybe 14 or 15. I used to write a lot of poetry and I turned one of my poems to an actual song somehow. I don’t remember how I did it honestly. It just kind of came. After that, I was like, ‘I think I can do this.’ From there I started hanging around a lot of artsy people. I dropped out of high school when I was in 10th grade so I had this big gap between high school and college when I decided to go back and get my GED and my degree. I was hanging downtown with people that were going to Julliard and everything. To me they were like the coolest, dopest people because where I come from in Jamaica [Queens, NY] nobody was really into what I was into.
SUNEZ: How did you get into poetry then?
INDHIRA: It literally came. I was a melancholy child. I got affected by everything very quickly, very emotional. So the first time I liked this boy I couldn’t tell my mom about it because a Dominican mother—no, no, no, you can’t talk about shit like that. My mom’s like, ‘Que?! Tu esta que?!’ So I really had a crush and I took that crush and I said I have to express myself. So I used to write in my diary, then I would try to match the words when I wrote. Then it turned into poetry. And that became a song. I wanted to express myself and it really just floated out.
SUNEZ: Any artists that really affected this freedom developing?
INDHIRA: Some really affected me. When I was 13 years old it was Sade. Being 13 years old listening to her music—that’s heavy music. A lot of people don’t understand her lyrical content. Not that I understood what she was talking about at that age but emotionally it really impacted me. That’s one person, the one artist that I idolized for a long time. I was like, ‘I want to sing with her, do a song together.’ All of those things but what I really appreciated was the Art. It’s really intense and that’s what I really liked. I like tracks that are very intense and make me fluctuate emotionally. I like to feel.
Carmen’s tenderness handles the grit of a snare with delicately placed wooing. It’s often a floating vocal confirming of the brutality like, “Lights, camera, action/ when we come around we’re the fucking main attraction…” that can’t be timecoded so you don’t know when you’ve fallen into her groove. Her mastery of the hook is sublime enough to contrast the most rugged verses. Or it becomes a co-star on “Love & Loyalty” where her sultry stance “about to make love to this track” makes her a living sample from the better note eras.
SUNEZ: When did you start to sing your penned songs publicly?
INDHIRA: Actually when I turned 18, 19 I started—not as hard as I’m going right now—cuz I’ve learned so much more as an adult. In my teenage years I was very scared. I used to sing and if my friends were like, ‘yo, you wanna get on a hook?’ I was like, ‘alright, cool.’ And I would go perform. I did perform a lot when I was younger. After having a child, it’s a bit more difficult. But I didn’t have the understanding of how to balance life yet. I was still all over the place with school and learning how to be a parent. I have to put food on the table but I never forgot about my singing. I’m going to work it out somehow. But, yeah, I was going hard. Whoever did music around the way, ‘Yo, you need a hook? I’ll do it for you.’ I did so many hooks back then I got tired for a little while and I stopped. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be hook girl.’ I want to make my own music. But that didn’t happen until I was like 23, 24 where I was saying I’m going to try to write my own songs and try to develop. Because I didn’t know—I still don’t know the correct way to write a song honestly. I just write and let it come out by itself. I am the first to say that I am very illiterate when it comes to the professional terms of, ‘Yo! I need you to go this octave and can you do this at that bridge?’ I’m like, ‘no. What? I don’t know.’
SUNEZ: How were those first performances?
INDHIRA: One of my very first songs I wrote when I was like 19—it’s so embarrassing. It was this little lounge place. They had some stairs and the producer was like, ‘alright, do your track. You’re going to stand by the staircase and just sing.’ Nobody was paying attention and I’m standing there just shaking. So I’m singing, ‘It’s been good while it lasted. Yes it has. But times have changed—‘ but nobody’s paying attention. I’m like, ‘I love this song though!’ Still, I stuck through it. I sang it and I guess with thinking no one was paying attention my nerves were gone. Afterwards, you get people saying, ‘yo, that’s a cool song.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh! Thanks!’
SUNEZ: You had no idea.
INDHIRA: No idea. You blackout. You really do go to a different place.
SUNEZ: Has that changed? More connection or still a blackout?
INDHIRA: I think now I have more of a connection. I’ve learned to have that connection. Professionally you want to be able to interact with the audience. Eye contact and show them that you are engaging them and that you want them to be a part of the song. Before it was more because of my nerves I would just go somewhere else. You know when you’re in elementary school your teacher teaches you to look at the clock behind the auditorium—that was my zone. But now I have more interaction.
SUNEZ: Do your current feelings and emotions affect your rendition of your songs?
INDHIRA: Always. I think I always try when I’m singing to be a part of what I’m singing. Most of the time it’s because I’ve written it myself so I have to feel it. I hope that never changes. That you perform so much that it becomes a job. I don’t want it to be like that. I feel like that’s unnatural. If it gets monotonous. I feel like whatever you feel that day let that be your performance. I mean connect somehow. Like if I had a happy day I might sing with more energy. If I had a really lazy day I might sing in a more alto-monotone voice but I still try to connect somehow.
The love of love to pen all of its stages, every breakup, every makeup. The majesty it puts in our stature and the collapse it indulges in for our demise. Carmen’s vocals are filled with these chaotic inflections that are living fluctuations on stiffly persistent breakbeats. They can be subtle and endearing or dynamically overt in spoken verse. They are composed in the simplicity of openness to just say, “I think it’s love…”
SUNEZ: The Opposition MCs are for the grimy warriors of Hip Hop culture resurrection. How did these rugged MCs get the most feminine, intimately tender songstress in the group?
INDHIRA: I’m definitely a contrast. I walk in all cheery and they’re, ‘wassup. Wassup.’ [laughs] I’m the most uppity, happy girl. I met Shaz actually about 3 years ago at a Hip Hop spot that my cousin invited me to. I was like, ‘yo, I want to go.’ I’d never been to a real pure Hip Hop event. A lot of DJing, breakdancers—just the culture itself. I’m dying to go so we go. Everybody’s in kicks, t-shirts, fitteds. I come in with this flowery blouse with shoes on and everything, thinking I’m cute. But you know you gotta be yourself. But I met him there. You hear everybody having conversations and he is telling about when he going into the studio. So I’m in the mist of all that and say, ‘oh, you do music?’ I think we were probably smoking a cigarette outside. That’s when the conversation moved through that. I said, ‘if you ever need a hook, holla at me.’ At first he was very apprehensive. He was looking at me like she’s probably another regular girl from the hood. She thinks she can sing but she can’t. He was like, ‘who would you compare yourself to?’ I was thinking, ‘damn, is this like an interview, right now?!’ I’m like, ‘a lot of people say I sound like Sade. I don’t like comparing myself to her cuz she’s a huge big deal.’ And he said, ‘that’s a big deal.’
So we ended up linking up. He heard my music and he definitely thought we definitely gotta work together. So I did like maybe one or two things for him. I remember “The Yard.” That was the first track we did. Then we kind of went astray. I started working with some people in Long Island cuz they were like, ‘we really want to work with you seriously.’ So I was cool with it. I have a team now. I have backup because my whole life I’ve been doing it by myself. Working with them for about a month or two I was going insane. I wasn’t able to just create. There was just too much pressure for me. I remember hitting up Shaz complaining about it saying, ‘I can’t write the way I want to write. And they want me to sing the way they want me to sing. I don’t like this. I feel so claustrophobic in this environment.’ He was just, ‘come through to the studio.’ I was like, ‘what the hell am I going to do with a whole bunch of rappers?!!’ I was kind of like, ‘nah, I don’t know.’ Until one day I just went. I came to Goblin Studio by myself. Shaz was like, ‘I got you. Nobody is gonna do anything to disrespect you.’ I’m up in there. There’s mad goons in there and I’m not used to that environment. So he’s like, ‘you want to do something?’ I say, ‘okay but listen. I can’t be here all night. I have to go home.’ I ended up staying until about 6 in the morning. I’m going home groggy but it was a great experience. And as the days passed by I would meet Starvin, Late Nite, Gemz. It was kind of a natural falling into each other. You just start creating and I just love that. We were there like every single day. Thankfully, my son was on vacation with his father so I had time. I would be there for two days straight, zombied out with coffee and bagels and music. That’s all there was but it was great. We would make like four or five songs in a night. I was like, ‘this does not happen. How is this even possible?’ But I think we just fed off each other’s energy. And it was comfortable. That’s very important. You need to be in a comfortable environment to make music and let it grow.
Tip-Toe Through the Garden
There is much to anticipate. Indhira’s keys are not just pressed notes. They are emotions and ideas played with and pressed upon wax. They are brought forth as on “Tip Toe,” the leaked single off The Secret Garden, in an intensity that creeps through held notes of descriptive metaphor. They are peaked at each ending, held for wonder and then let go for the next. “You’re the rhythm to my heartbeat/the sound that I need to sing/the air that I breathe/ the warmth that I need/with you, I don’t miss a thing/the guitar that holds my string/the flower that blooms in spring…” Here the snares reset us and the piano keys twinkle upon each of her noted delights. Entranced throughout we now must think we are in love or learn to find it too.
SUNEZ: How do you see R&B sampling blatantly, not merely a hook or a looped aspect but almost like an unknown cover?
INDHIRA: You know I don’t like samples as far as an R&B singer. People give me stuff and say there’s a sample in it I’m like, ‘no, no.’ It’s already hard as an R&B artist to try and prove yourself naturally with your own material. Then you’re going to sample everything from back in the day? Where’s the originality in that?!
SUNEZ: What are the songs like on The Secret Garden?
INDHIRA: To me when I hear it, it really brings you back to the 90’s when Aaliyah came out. It really gives you that feel. To me, that’s what I wanted to do. This album really is for me. I wanted to make something that I’m like, ‘this makes me feel good.’ Or ‘this makes me sad.’ That’s what I want to express and if real recognizes real the other person is going to naturally feel the same way. But definitely has a definite ol’ school 90’s feel to it. Back in the days music. Good ol’ made-in-the-kitchen music.
SUNEZ: What’s in the kitchen? How is it made and what’s being played?
INDHIRA: The themes are that R&B mixed with Hip Hop in it. It gives you a feel where a lot of dudes can appreciate it. They won’t get bored and say it’s too melodic. A real Hip Hop head can listen to it. Late Nite heard one of the tracks I played, “Yesterday” which is not Hip Hop because I can’t really pinpoint the sound for some reason. It’s very eclectic. Shout out to Funk E who made the beat for that song.
When making Secret Garden I didn’t think if people wouldn’t like it. You can’t think like that. You really gotta do what you enjoy. If you enjoy it someone else out there is going to appreciate it and enjoy it. Really, it’s very playful. It’s romantic. You have your sexual aspect to it. It’s mature. It’s sad. It’s emotional. I think you get a little bit of everything on this album.
I have one song I’m very very proud of and it’s very very personal to me called, “It’s Alright,” which is the last track on The Secret Garden. The song is about my struggle as a parent trying to put food on the table and pay rent. I even get right now—it’s a very emotional song to me. Not only as me as a single mom but just as a parent or someone who lives a regular life and it’s hard in New York to live every day and buy food and pay rent and keep a job. The song is very powerful and uplifting. It’s just letting you know that even if you’re going through so much it’s gonna be okay. We’re going to make it somehow, someway, someday. The song is really dedicated to my son. It’s funny cuz he heard it the other day and he was singing it and it just drives me crazy.
SUNEZ: You’re very eclectic. Are there any limitations imposed by Hip Hop with R&B?
INDHIRA: I think if you really love music and if this is something that comes within your spirit there’s never going to be a limitation. Whether it’s R&B or Hip Hop and it’s so many different things. I feel like R&B and Hip Hop are like brother and sister. You can’t really have one without the other. After you’re done listening to a real good Hip Hop track you’re like, ‘now I’m gonna listen to this nice R&B song.’ They kind of go together especially the track I did with Gemz, “Love and Loyalty.” I remember bringing it to his attention. I’ve heard the tracks he’s done. They’re kind of like hit-you-in-your-face tracks. One day we’re in the hallway in the studio and I show it to him. It’s amazing and one of my favorite tracks. I tell them all the time, ‘y’all need to do some female tracks. It’s not all spray canning and all that battling. Girls need love too! [laughs] That’s where Hip Hop and R&B show there is no limitation. I told Starvin the other day I like how he does his tracks. You can tell he really just goes in there and has a lot of fun doing what he does. They’re not afraid to tap into a different page with you. If you’re down and they see that you’re focused and interested then they’ll do it with you. Which is why I’m glad I’m part of this team of people that decided to come together and make some fucking good music.
SUNEZ: Have you ever thought of having a band?
INDHIRA: That’s actually my next step. To try to create Carmen Indhira’s family. Growing up in church that’s what you know. All you know is to sing live. There’s no track or beat to press play or stop to. There’s a guitar and some drums or whatever it may be. I think that’s where the group of singing comes from. Being on stage and having a live band and you are being in control rather than the beat. Where you can say this is where I want to go now with this song. Now I want to bring it back here or I want it a little bit louder, a little softer now. It’s that interaction when it comes to the music – the song and your audience.
The Secret Garden is the introduction to me. This is what she can bring to the table and then taking that to, ‘now this is what I want to create.’ The Secret Garden is really my blueprint to bring it somewhere a lot higher. I will always do music to do it and for the passion but realistically I do want it to take me somewhere. I want to be able to travel and share my emotional connection with people all over the world that will appreciate real music. I would like to be the voice for the girl that couldn’t express herself. To maybe her mom, or to her boyfriend or her best friend or her child. And to herself.
The R&B singer is supposed to be obsessed with emotions and offer us a fruitful garden of relation and contemplation so exalting we awe at what we surely may not have deserved. Indhira’s talents forthcoming indeed sing with this secret potential.
NOTE: Additional reporting by Earth Izayaa Allat.