Bahamian musician Zee is QLiC Press’ February Close-Up and we’re so glad we got the chance to catch up with this artist on the rise! Zee talks about her journey as an independent musician, explains island life as a queer woman of color, and opens up about the harrowing events that led her to seek asylum in Canada. Check out the interview below:
QP: Despite having a degree in Business Administration, you’ve decided to pursue a music career. Those two fields don’t seem too closely related. Why did you choose this path?
Zee: They’re not! To me, Business is very boring [laughs]. Since I was eight-years-old, I knew I wanted to be an international music artist. But, my mom was the one who encouraged me to have a back-up plan. She knew that musicians and artists can struggle when they only have one focus, so she wanted a more conventional career path for me. That’s why I chose Business. Actually, I’m still in school for it. I’m one class away from getting my master’s. I understand now that my degrees will help my music career as well.
QP: Congratulations! So, you’re from the Bahamas, but the Caribbean isn’t known for being queer-friendly. What kind of reception did both you and your music receive?
Zee: Well, it’s not as if I ever announced it on stage or otherwise, but people knew. It wasn’t a secret. Overall, I got a very positive response. I just try to give people ME as an artist. I find that when people can sense the soul, spirituality and conviction in your music, they’ll love you in any event. They might not support your personal life, but they’ll enjoy your music.
QP: “When they sense the conviction in your music, they’ll love you.” That’s powerful. So tell us, what music convicted you when you were growing up? What artists captured you spiritually?
Zee: Oh man, I’m so old school! I grew up listening to the music that my dad loved and that was Paul Simon, Anita Baker, Michael Bolton, Luther Vandross, the Temptations, and others.
Zee: Yes! Personally, I fell in love with Nina Simone because her voice is so low and so soulful. As an artist, you have to explore the extreme emotion of a song, whether it’s happy, sad, or whatever. You have to explore the deepest emotion of that song in order for it to connect. And I think Nina Simone does that incredibly well and that’s why I appreciate her as an artist.
QP: So how would you describe your style then? What kind of artist are you?
Zee: Well, because I grew up listening to so many different kinds of artists, when I tried to define myself I couldn’t. I know the music industry is big on defining people because that’s how they make money, but it’s hard for me. Recently, I’ve been leaning towards hip-hop, but I prefer to label my genre as “Fusion,” because I do my best to discover what style of music best suits the emotion of the song [I’m writing]. I try many different routes.
QP: You shared with us your song, “Send Dem.” Can you talk a little about it?
Zee: Yes, the song is all about being discriminated against. What I tried to do was meld some of my experiences as a black, queer female with some of my grandmother’s experiences as a maid cleaning white people’s houses back in the day. My grandmother and I are very close. She taught me how to be strong and how to feel beautiful in my black skin even though she had to enter homes through the back door and had to drink out of a tin cup so that her lips didn’t touch her employers’ china.
QP: That’s some strength!
QP: Okay, so we could talk about music all day, but we’d also wanted to about another important event happening in your life-your quest for asylum. Can you speak about the experience that led you to this decision?
Zee: Well, I was assaulted. I was assaulted at a queer bar in the Bahamas. [Prior to that incident] a female friend from Canada was visiting me. Throughout her stay, we just kept getting hateful and homophobic comments almost everywhere we went. At one point, while we were at the beach, just talking, a guy walked up and said, “Yo, what is it?” He was referring to me. I guess he couldn’t tell at the moment if I was a guy or a girl and whether he should be attracted to me or not.
QP: Wow. So that was one incident, but you also mentioned an assault at a bar. What happened that night?
Zee: Well, [another] friend and I decided to visit a queer bar in downtown Nassau. We were still in the parking lot when three guys approached me and asked if I was a man or a woman. They didn’t believe me when I told them I was a woman, so they started to beat me up. I was either stabbed or punched really hard because I ended up with a deep cut under my chin that would later require stitches. After that, I passed out. My friend had locked herself in her car because she was afraid. She watched the whole thing happen. After the guys left, she picked me up and took me to the hospital.
QP: So that was the event that led to your decision to claim asylum, the final straw so to speak.
Zee: Yes. One day, I was talking on the phone with my Canadian friend when she suggested I seek asylum. She didn’t think it was safe for me in the Bahamas anymore. I’d heard of it before, but I really didn’t know what my options were.
QP: What happened next?
Zee: Well, I came to Canada and filed paperwork. I’m now a refugee claimant and I’m going through the step-by-step process that involves lawyers and written statements.
QP: Skye Tenevimbo, a woman featured in an earlier QLiC Press article, said she had a terrible experience even after leaving her country and that the asylum process was an unpleasant one for her. How has your experience been?
Zee: I must say, my experience has been okay so far. I came over here [to Canada] with the mindset that I was going to make the most of this. I was going to stay positive and flow right into the system as best as I could. Get a job, establish some sort of normalcy, and embrace this situation. And, so far, so good. Right now I’m just waiting to be issued a court date.
QP: How does your family feel about everything? Are they supportive of your sexuality and your decision to leave?
Zee: Well, we don’t really talk about my sexuality. I find that people focus too much on differences. My family and I try to focus on the ways in which we are the same. But, as far as the asylum part goes, it’s hard because you can’t go back home…ever.
QP: Ever? So how do you feel about that? Surely, some of your family members can visit you, but what about those who can’t? What about missing home? We’re talking about the Bahamas versus Canada here–talk about culture shock!
Zee: Yes. Well, when you’re an artist and you’re someone who considers herself an international artist, your sense of home is….weird. I haven’t been getting home-sick per se, just “family sick.” But, I get to see them all soon. We’re having a big family reunion in Florida in July and I’ll be able to travel by then. Right now, my first responsibility is ensuring that I’m safe. My second is making sure I’m doing what I’m called to do and that’s music.
QP: Right. Where do you see yourself in a few years? What’s being successful look like to you?
Zee: Well, I want to tour. I see myself with a band touring Canada and then everywhere. I also eventually want to start a performing arts school. Right now, I want a full band and I want to share my music. I’m so excited! The Canadian audience has been so receptive and they love me. I’ve only been performing here a year but when I get on the streetcar I hear people whisper, “hey that’s Zee!” I feel their love and that’s incredible.
QP: At QLiC Press, we like to wrap up our conversations with a simple game of Word Association. All you have to do is say the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the following words:
Rob Ford: (Laughs) Cocaine!! Can I say that?! He’s a character!