Interview: The Reminders
The Reminder are a Colorado-based hip-hop duo not only representing a generation of conscious minds, but also speaking for those who have yet to find their voices.
The married duo, Aja Black and Big Samir, brings a fresh dynamic to the hip-hop scene, with clever lyrics, an unmatched sound, and an organic chemistry. Word of mouth led me to The ReMINDers, as people raved about their music and the fact that they were “blowing up.” Any artist could rightfully boast when they have a sound that is as good as The Reminders. Yet, down-to-earth as they remain, The Reminders have placed an importance on family, making it cool to be content with “one,” and appreciating the fact that life is good because the love is real.
IW: What are The Reminders about?
Big Samir: The Reminders is a group and a couple, based out of Colorado. Aja’s from New York and I’m from Belgium, so our roots are from all over the place. I was raised in the Congo.
Aja Black: Some of my family is from Puerto Rico and the other half from Jamaica. My grandfather is French Creole.
BS: Our roots are so strong being from many different places, and we incorporate that in the music we create and in the messages that we bring.
AB: With our music we are committed to our spiritual and cultural identity, so it’s not something that we compromise for any reason.
IW: You two are real! What’s the story behind your name “The Reminders?”
BS: In our belief system, we believe that we are “reminders” to each other.
AB: Whether you are doing something good or bad, if you’re making a mistake and someone sees you, you are a reminder to them to not make similar mistakes. When you do something good, you remind others to do something positive. We were just talking about how everybody has to be a reminder for each other. As a mother, it’s good to see other mothers doing their thing and it reminds me of how grateful I am to be a mother. It helps one to step up their game to be a better mother. There are so many examples that we can name. Anything and everything people do serves as spiritual reminders to the rest of us to take care of ourselves and to make sure we’re on the right track.
BS: If something comes up that isn’t right, we’ll vocalize it, not in a harsh way, but in a way to remind someone about his or her behavior and to speak up about it.
IW: So basically, to bring people back to a level of consciousness. For that balance.
AB: Yes. You know sometimes, it feels good when people say our music reminds them of “this time” or it reminds them of “that time.” So our name really fits us because people are always saying, “you guys remind me of this person or that person.” Even with our facial features, we have been told that we remind people of “this person” or “that person.”
IW: Who do people say you remind them of?
AB: All kinds of people. Especially when we were in Jamaica, everyone would stop me and ask if I am from a certain family. My grandmother is from St. Elizabeth’s Parish, but we were in St. Thomas Parish.
BS: It happens all of the time.
AB: Sometimes when we do shows, the headlining act will see Samir and they think they know him already! So it’s almost like they know him subconsciously. So “The ReMINDers” is an all-encompassing name for our lives in general.
IW: So, you two are married. What is it like to work with your spouse?
BS: It’s a beautiful thing. It has its ups and downs. We get to experience so many things together. We travel the world together.
AB: We’re right there for each other. It’s not like we have to meet somewhere and have to explain to each other what’s happening. We are together all day.
BS: We understand each other because we share the same experiences.
AB: The tough part about it is that since we are performing as a group, we have three children, so when we are performing, we are both away from our children. It’s really tough for us because we’re really hands on with them. When we went on our tour that lasted two weeks, we had to fly the kids out because we just missed them so much.
IW: How long have you two been married?
AB: We were married in 2005.
IW: So you’re going on eight years? Congratulations! Do you both feel any kind of pressure to keep up a certain standard or façade? You’re both known as a duo, a couple.
AB: I don’t think so. I think that when people see us, they say, “I wish my wife was here” or “I wish my husband was here.” It’s such a beautiful thing. It means so much. Praise God for it. One of our very dear friends spent a weekend with us, including with our children, and he went home and proposed to his girlfriend and got married shortly after. He said that after seeing that marriage worked for us, it inspired him.
When people see married couples holding it down and being happy, without wandering eyes and wandering hearts, it makes people feel like they can have the same thing – which they can. That’s one of the pluses of us being married and working together. We can show people that you can have a strong and healthy relationship and be content. We are settled with each other. Not like I’m “settling” for (Samir) but knowing that this is “it” that this is all it will be.
BS: It was never our plan to be the married couple that does hip-hop. It came together that way. We were friends first. We were both artists first, and it all just came together.
AB: At first he was putting an album out and we were going to have our first child, so I said that I’d stay home with our child and (Samir) would pursue the music, because I was so excited to be a mommy. Then he needed help.
BS: I was transitioning from being in a group to being a solo artist.
AB: He was working on a song and he was trying to come up with a melody and a cadence, so I helped him out with it and then from there we took all of that and did our own thing.
IW: So it just evolved?
BS: Yes. And we never pushed that. It was never a gimmick. But when it was discovered that we were married, the description next to our name would be “married hip-hop duo.” The “husband and wife hip-hop duo.” I never looked at it like that.
IW: Do you find it difficult to maintain a sense of balance as far as the business and your family life goes?
AB: I think there are some aspects that would be tough for anybody, but I don’t think it’s anything that’s compromising, where we felt like we ever had to make a choice between the music and our family because we will always choose our family. One is far more important to us – it’s our family, not the music. Some people have it the other way – like music is the exception to every rule for them. This is something that we kind of came into, it was put in front of us. We were already a family when we entered into it.
IW: At the end of the day, do you feel like what you’re doing is for your kids?
AB: For sure, it’s for our children, as it sets a great example for them. They are starting to see the importance of what we are doing as they get older. The importance of us being in front of people and telling the truth, being honest, motivating and uplifting people, while at the same time, sharing the story of ourselves. Story time is part of what we do as a family. They are performing every minute of every day. When we have shows or are part of a festival, sometimes they are with us and they’ll come out on stage do their thing. It makes people appreciate their kids. It’s very spiritual. It serves as a reminder that we set the standards for the path we want to take in life. So when we get up on stage with our kids, other people, including artists, you wouldn’t even dream would say something like that “I wish I had my son here.”
IW: Especially when they are hearing something positive.
SB: Ideally, we would play at shows they can attend all of the time.
AB: Our album is an album that grandparents, parents, kids, everybody can listen to together. Just like reggae. That’s the thing I love about reggae- people may not understand Patois, they feel the music. Your heart is inclined to truthful messages, so when you hear the truth – the beats as truth, the melodies as truth- your heart is so inclined, and that’s the kind of music we want to make. Where people feel comfortable putting their hearts and their minds and their mouths behind it. That was our aim from the beginning.
IW: Do you feel like you are following the path you wanted to lay out?
AB: Absolutely. We’ve had opportunities come where we have been asked to compromise ourselves, and we refused. Please the whole world for the price of your soul? We always ask “why”. They say that they want to make (me) sexier, that we should do this or do that, but at the end of the day, I’m just me. I have to just be myself. There are people that are looking for ME. If I have to be something else, I will never be found. One time a girl approached me and said, “well you’re supposed to be ‘roots’ but you have makeup on?’” I said the reason I wear makeup is because I’m a makeup artist. I’ll pull off these lashes and wipe this lipstick off and I don’t feel any differently. It’s just fun for me to do. I’m a woman; I like to feel like a woman. There was a time when we had trouble accepting every part of ourselves and letting it be displayed in front of everyone. But that time has definitely passed.
IW: In reading about the two of you. I know that (Samir) you are Muslim, and Aja, you were more “spiritual” when you got together, but then converted to Islam before you two were married. So this is directed to Aja: There is obviously a negative connotation with Muslims in America, especially Muslim women in general. Many people see Muslim women as being oppressed and, I want to know what your thoughts are on that.
AB: I think that women in general are made to feel oppressed. Whether it’s because of what you do or something you don’t do. Being oppressed by hand is one thing, being oppressed by someone’s mouth is another. But oppressing yourself is a totally different thing. I have never encountered, even before I was Muslim, a Muslim woman feeling oppressed and discontent. If they were… they’ve made choices in their life to relieve the feeling of oppression that wasn’t necessarily due to Islam, but could have been due to the relationship they were in, or their environment. They have taken the power into their own hands to relieve the feeling of oppression. For myself in particular, I have felt oppressed by other women because I felt like there are aspects of my personality that people would like me to stifle, so that I could be the example to show other people. For example, pointing and saying “well, she covers her hair, so that’s good,” or “she doesn’t cover her hair – she’s bad.” You know how it is to be a woman? You can never be all the way “right” and you can never be all the way wrong.
AB: So I struggled at first to find my place within the Muslim community. Once I accepted myself completely, and was willing to be honest about myself with other people, then I was perfectly content and I have never felt oppressed.
IW: Do either of you feel a responsibility to address the Muslim community in your music. Is it even a factor?
BS: We don’t take a religious approach to our music. When we create, we just create. It comes from the heart. There are messages in our music that a Muslim can relate to, there are messages a Rasta can relate to.
AB: We’ve been everything. When we first got together, we were living a straight Rasta life. We didn’t smoke herb just because we choose not to, but that’s just the way we got down. We have always been spiritually inclined, so when we make music, we make music for the inclination of the spirit. We don’t try to divide people by saying “I’m this, you’re that, I’m right, you’re wrong.” We just make music that people can spiritually relate to regardless of their religious or spiritual background.
IW: It has been said that the focus of your music is to bring a certain level of consciousness and a message through your music. What messages do you want to put out there?
AB: Perseverance is one.
BS: Self-determination. One of the points we really try to bring out there is to love oneself, to believe in yourself. Once you love yourself and believe in yourself, you can love others and achieve so much more. Nowadays you need that.
AB: We’ve had people come to the shows - and I don’t say any of these things like I’m complimenting ourselves. All praises due to the Creator - But we’ve been able to be such a vessel. When we have shows and it actually does things to people, and they feel they have to communicate their emotions to us afterward. We have a song, “Sail You to Saturn”, and one verse is about a girl who is being physically abused by the man that she loves, then there’s another verse about somebody who has been wrongfully imprisoned, and the third verse about a boy who is overweight and feeling very self-conscious about himself. There are people who identify with those stories because they’re real stories and they want to tell us “this song is me” and they get so overcome by emotions because they were represented. Who wants to admit that they have low self-esteem? Everybody wants to wear a mask. You’ll cry that mask right off when somebody presents you with your own truth.
So what we want to get across to people is to be honest. Be honest about it and let’s all come together through our honesty and build something for ourselves that is beautiful and that we can feel comfortable representing. That “thing” is you. You build yourself up; you live in “there” so you might as well fix it up.
IW: With that, and the familial aspect you have brought into music, what impact do you think you have in the world of hip-hop?
AB: There are so many dope hip-hop couples in every kind of music that we have come across. We all look at each other with a nod, because there are so many people doing what I think we’ve definitely been able to inspire people to want for themselves. People lose their fear of saying “it’s just me and you.” People are fearful of that in this day and age. People don’t dedicate themselves to anything. It’s like, “this is not working, I’m going to find somebody else.” You can have somebody’s arm around you, but they’re constantly looking over their shoulder to see what else could be coming.
BS: It’s just like with the marriage – it was never planned. What I mean by that is that our marriage was never planned to be the focal point of the group and the music. The same thing with our kids. It was never like, “let’s write a song about our kids.” One day we sat down and wrote a song about having kids and how we feel about having kids. It’s called “Black Roses.” Now when we perform that song, the kids will come out and dance. That was never a plan. But the reaction that the people have to it is unbelievable.
We opened a show for Snoop Dogg, and we never opened for somebody that big before. After the show, I couldn’t believe how he reacted to what we do and who we are. He said, “let me get your CD, I want to listen to it, I love what you guys do, I love spiritual people who can rock a house.” That is what we do. That is from the heart. Sometimes you’ll see people say, “Well, The ReMINDers are doing this so I’m going to hold my child (as part of an act)” and you can sense that it’s not sincere.
IW: Speaking of the song “Black Roses” when I first perused your album “Recollect,” I just searched the song titles and noticed “Black Roses” thinking about the Barrington Levy song. I was delighted to hear the sample from his track, and I was playing that ALL day today. So, how has reggae music been an influence in what you’re doing?
BS: When we got together we went to Reggae on the Rocks every year…
AB: We didn’t have a TV, so we would sit and listen to reggae all day and all night. Every time we travel we go to the little bootleg reggae shops. (Laughs)
BS: It was our first stop when we went to Brooklyn, our first stop in Atlanta. Reggae has made our lives better.
AB: For me there has always been reggae music in my life.
IW: Who are some of your favorite reggae artists?
AB: Queen Ifrica is probably one of my favorite newer artists. This is going to sound really cliché but when I was a child, and watched live footage of Bob Marley, I was so enthralled by it and I can honestly say that Bob Marley is my most favorite musical artist of all time. One, because of his message, two because of his perseverance – when they tried to get him to do the doo-wop thing he was interested but then said that he was wanting to do his own thing. Three because he built such a legacy. Four just because, through a television screen, I could feel his live performances. I think without Bob Marley, many people would not have been exposed to reggae music in the first place. A lot of people wear Bob Marley shirts – and I don’t mean as a cliché like “I smoke weed, I listen to Bob Marley” - I literally think Bob Marley changed the world. You can go into the poorest towns in the middle of any third-world country and everyone knows who Bob Marley is. Everyone. We had the chance to meet Damian and Stephen Marley. They are incredible people.
BS: Just the energy around them.
AB: They are so respectful and it was a great experience. Also, I love Richie Spice.
BS: We grew up on Steel Pulse.
AB: Steel Pulse, I love. Warrior King. One of the first times we went out together we saw Steel Pulse.
IW: Steel Pulse is a staple!
AB: My parents always had Steel Pulse playing. Capleton, Sizzla, Barrington Levy, Toots and the Maytals… Tarrus Riley.
BS: We got to meet Toots in Jamaica. That trip to Jamaica changed our lives.
AB: We went to St. Thomas Parish and most of the people there are of Congolese descent. Again, he’s Congolese (pointing to Samir), and I’m Jamaican.
BS: We performed at a place called Red Bone Café. We went to Tuff Gong to rehearse… 56 Hope Road, after it was closed at night and we just kicked it with everybody. It was life changing.
IW: I thought my trip to Jamaica was pretty bomb, but never mind! (Laughs). I know you have traveled to different countries - are there places or experiences that had any special significance?
AB: We went to a school in Jamaica; we went to Morocco and performed in front of thousands of kids. I would have left with all of those kids if I could have. Much of them were orphans, all from varying ethnic backgrounds. We performed in front of the Gestapo Museum in Germany, talking about freedom of speech and rights. One of my favorite performances is when we were in Jamaica at the school to perform for the kids, but then the kids ended up performing for us. There was one little boy who, like many in Jamaica have this reddish skin and red hair, who got made fun of because of his bright red skin and freckles. He saw me walk in and his face lit up when he saw my hair which was lighter at the time. He saw me take my scarf off, and he was in awe. The kids think you’re just this superstar. The fact that somebody would want to come and spend time with them- they’re so appreciative. Whereas here, people are just like (tsk)… “Impress me!”
BS: That’s the interesting part. Here, people want us to do workshops with kids, but the reaction isn’t the same. When we did workshops with kids in Jamaica and Morocco, they were so appreciative. The kids in Jamaica sang songs about Africa and freedom.
IW: Why do you think the reaction is different here than when you go to developing countries?
AB: They just have less, so they are more grateful. They have fewer things, they have less food. They simply have a lot less of everything, and less access to things. Some of these kids have never seen Americans before. They live in the bush, and you go to the bush and they are just (surprised). Looking at me like, “what kind of locks are those?” It was such an enlightening experience. Jamaica was my favorite.
Also, we got to visit Bobo Hill for Ethiopian New Year, and you can’t just go there. We were there for the whole celebration. I had my newborn son. They christened him, and then they started calling him the “boy king” the whole time we were there. It brought tears to my eyes.
IW: Rightfully so. What can fans and future fans expect from The Reminders from here on out?
AB: Our best and more.
BS: They can expect more. More of everything. More and better. God willing…
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