Name/Stage name: Shamina / Shamina Khangaldy
Hometown: San Jose, California
What does Shamina mean? Prosperity. Used as an adjective, “aprakh shamina.” I forget which Assyrian song has that line, but it references prosperous land.
How often do you get asked that question? Pretty regularly because people are curious of the origin of the name and there aren’t many “Shaminas” around. There’s a belly dancer Shamina on YouTube, but that’s not me.
How did you get involved with music? I was born into a musical family. My father was in an Assyrian folk group called Sirinas back in Iran. He [also] sang in the opera in Tehran (Talal Roodakee). He plays guitar and is a songwriter, and he is a worship leader at the church I grew up in. My uncle is a composer and a piano teacher – my piano teacher growing up! I grew up with music around me at all times and picked up on it pretty early on. My earliest memories are singing in church as a toddler alongside my dad. My parents and uncle were great encouragers of my love of music and I began writing songs, both instrumental and songs with lyrics, at a young age. I began playing piano around age seven. I wrote my first song with lyrics on the piano at age nine, picked up guitar with some help from my dad at age 12, wrote my first song on guitar a few weeks after that, and have been writing as a singer/songwriter ever since. I began writing more reflective, personal worship songs in my early teens and jumped into the world of singer/songwriter when I was about 17 or 18.
Why is music your passion? Hmm…it sounds cliché, but music is what makes the most sense to me. I feel most fulfilled, most secure, and most understood within music. On my own, I’m a pretty mellow person, friendly but rather introverted. I don’t feel like the most eloquent or articulate communicator most times and I talk in circles a lot. When I’m writing, however, whether instrumental or with lyrics, I believe I’m able to best communicate what’s in my head and my heart. From the chord progressions, to the production, to the lyrics – everything flows naturally, but is intentional. If someone can understand my music, I feel like they have a greater look into who I am. For all my quirky nerves and jumbled words in conversation, my depth and strength can be found in my music. I’m also passionate about people. I’m a volunteer high school counselor at my church. Walking through life with them, unpacking and processing baggage/stories/events with them, and just loving them. To love people, not as projects, but just as people is the most beautiful, simple and most complicated thing. Same with music. It’s so simple where it instantly resonates with different parts of you deep down in your bones before you’re aware of it, and yet, the intricacy behind each layer tells an even deeper story and blows my mind. It’s absolutely beautiful and so necessary. I hope that my music can do for others what some of my musical heroes have done for me. Valuing art and valuing people are my jam.
Through all of this, music becomes a platform that allows me to connect with people and share the deepest parts of me. I think one of the scariest things is to live a life without hope or purpose. Music allows me to share my silliest experiences alongside my darkest moments and that’s my purpose. People see through insincerity and "products" or "formulas." At our core, we long for authenticity and honest art with tension that either calms or confronts something in us. My purpose and desire is to share where my hope is rooted, through my tension and resolve, and to be as honest as possible doing it.
If you weren’t pursuing music what would you be doing? I actually still work a full-time job. I’m a worship leader at my church and I love it. My official title is “Worship Arts Creative Manager,” which is a fancy way of saying I get to play music regularly, do life with people, work with students, and work on creative projects. As a worship leader, I get to piece together cohesive musical worship sets that create a safe and freeing atmosphere, leading others into a sweet place to encounter the Lord. I also oversee student ministries worship. Pretty much, we take what is done on a large scale in the main service and do it on a smaller scale within the high school and middle school services. They have their own meetings on Sunday mornings, so I’ll work with student-led bands on song selection, structure, rehearsals, and leadership. And I also get to work on creative projects around campus and be a part of groups that cast vision for what we could be doing as a church within ministry and for our community. It’s too much fun. Sometimes it gets crazy, but I absolutely love what I do. People and art. Not a bad setup.
Which artist(s) have influenced your musical taste? Brooke Fraser. Jon Foreman. Dustin Kensrue. All three of these artists have influenced my writing and musical journey. I can only dream to one day write as they do, but their work challenges and inspires me. I find them to be incredibly intelligent musicians and storytellers. Their ability to communicate complex and abstract thoughts through lyric and melody leaves me speechless. They’re most powerful tool is their honesty. From their lyrics, melodies, faith and just who they are as people. They always put forward the most honest representation of their hearts and that resonates with people. It’s what makes their work so compelling. They don’t write by formula or for an end product. They just do what they’re uniquely wired to do. And they’re just crazy talented musicians, vocalists and performers. How could you not be blown away?
Can we expect new music from you? Yes! I’m always writing and have been compiling two separate projects. One is a more acoustic, stripped down collection of songs that are a bit darker and more reflective, asking hard questions, exploring suffering and an underlying hope. The other is a collection of indie/pop singer/songwriter tunes. It’s been a crazy season of life, but I’m hoping to have one of the two projects ready to share in the fall.
What do you have planned musically? Any performances? Music video releases? I’m planning some shows for the summer and working on some acoustic covers to film and release in the coming months as well!
What do you like to listen to when you’re feeling hyped up or excited? Hmm…This is a very random list, but...lots of MuteMath, Thrice, The Reign of Kindo, Citizens and Saints, Kygo, The Devil Wears Prada, Anberlin, Ben Rector, Justin Timberlake, some Notorious B.I.G. and Coldplay.
Which Assyrian superstition do you find interesting and why? “If you sit at the corner of the table, you won’t get married for 7 years.” I just always thought it was funny. At this rate, I won’t be married for at least another 245 years!
ow does the situation facing Assyrians in the Middle East make you feel? My heart breaks. I feel helpless, useless. It's so difficult to see such evil being done with such a struggle to be heard. I don’t know what else it takes to acknowledge this evil and put an end to it while so much news and attention is thrown the way of other stories. The heartbeat of this topic for me involves faith, so in regards to Assyrians in the Middle East, my heart breaks doubly because these are my brothers and sisters not just in their ethnicity, but their religion as well. The term “Nasrani” is not synonymous with “Assyrian;” it means “Christian.” These brothers and sisters are being persecuted for their faith, not ethnicity alone. These people are legit living out their faith, not just as tradition and are being persecuted for it. All over the Middle East and Africa, it’s an attack on those who follow Christ, not just their ethnic background. Persecution of Assyrians and other Christians has been happening in the Middle East for centuries.
I wish I could change the world and undo the damage done. Often times it feels like I don’t have anything new or profound to say. I feel powerless and ineffective. It feels like my words are empty, but my hope isn’t. There is grace and compassion for brokenness and pain, even for those that persecute. I know there is hope because I have experienced it and I know, just as things once were, they will be good and whole again. I can use my voice, in speech and in song, to educate others on the fight of our people and to speak of a deeper hope in Christ.
Describe your music in three words? Soulful. Vibrant. Storytelling. I asked my family and friends.
Describe yourself in three words? Quirky. Disarming. Wise. I asked my family and friends again.
Any final thoughts? I need to eat some Nutella.
Portions of this interview have been edited.