By Adeem Bingham, Staff Writer
I was able to steal D’orjay for a short conversation about spirituality and art with a backdrop of distracting cats; just a couple of natural gals having a chat. Her pervasive sincerity translates to the text, and I hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse into the origin of the Singing Shaman. (Read our recent review of D’orjay’s remarkable debut album, “New Kind of Outlaw”.)
Thank you for making time to sit and chat with me. I’ve been listening to this album so much and I wanted to ask when did you first start writing songs? These are incredibly well written songs.
Thank you. That’s literally one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever gotten.
I think that’s something that I’m probably most proud of with this album. I wrote every lyric to every song and I’m an avid writer. I started writing songs probably about ten years ago. I wrote a lot of poetry in my teenage years but actually had a mental block with me feeling like that could not translate to writing songs. That was one of the first conscious limiting beliefs around me being a performer / singer-songwriter. I was like, “Oh, but I can’t write songs. I can write poetry.”
I met a kind of magical person somewhere in my path and he was really great at guitar and I asked him if he could teach me how to play. I thought maybe that would make me feel more confident in just singing and at that point I was just wanting to build up confidence around singing for myself.
Pretty shortly in, he discovered my singing voice and was like, “Hey, I just did this little riff. Why don’t you write a song to it and come back to your next lesson and we’ll see what it sounds like?” So, I sat down and banged out a fucking song in 30 minutes and then got home and was like, “Songwriting power!” That’s kind of the spark. I genuinely believe that was some type of spiritual intersection for me of encouragement.
Honestly, songwriting is probably my healthiest coping mechanism that I have. I have hundreds of songs. I’m still not exceptionally proficient in playing an instrument but I have a knack for songwriting. That’s something I would feel the most confident in saying. I feel like I’m a stronger songwriter than I am a vocalist for sure.
You mentioned a “spiritual intersection.” I grew up as a Conservative Christian in the American South and I wanted to ask what your religious upbringing was like and how that informed your evolving religious narrative?
It was pretty fluid. My grandparents went to a United Church their whole lives. It was the church I was baptized in. My grandparents lived in Irma [a small town in Alberta, Canada]. They were born there, they died there, and I’m positive I was the first – probably only – Black person ever baptized in that church.
When I was around 7, my mom met some people who practice the Baha’i faith. She was really drawn to that so we practiced for many years and that community of people was incredible. What I probably enjoyed the most about it was they were people of color that we were around which I didn’t get a lot of experience with.
Then, my mom kind of fell off of that and then later on in my teens and mid-twenties, my religion was severe depression. That’s a religion in itself. I really had a pretty dark phase in my life and that was just working through traumas.
That led me to what I am now which is a Buddhist Practitioner. I really struggled with suicidal thoughts and wanting to take my life and my best friend Fred in Vancouver called me one day. He had met the person who became both of our Gurus. He said, “You know, I went to the temple and I told Rinpoche to do a prayer for you and help with your depression,” and I was like, “Okay, cool.”
He called me the next week fully expecting that I was better. Shortly after, he invited me to come and stay in Vancouver. A few months later, I met my Rinpoche. He actually is from Tibet and he traveled between Tibet and Vancouver and Taiwan and I went to an open house to meet him. I looked him in the eyes and that was the first time I’ve ever experienced what people liken to love at first sight.
A knowing immediately awoke in me and the beautiful thing is there was a mutual recognition there. He pulled my friend aside after and said, “Oh, thank you for bringing her to me. We’ve been together very many lifetimes.” That first year I sat at my altar, chanted my Sadhana’s every day. I went on pilgrimage over to Tibet. It’s been with me ever since.
I love that so much. You touched on this some but I wanted to ask what is the relationship between your spirituality and your singing?
Around the same time that I found Buddhism, my friend introduced me to Pranic healing. He reached out to the Pranic healing community in Vancouver and a group of healers all agreed to do sessions on me. From the very first session, I was just so blown away with how effective the energy medicine was for me.
It started out with just being inquisitive of how I could do that for myself and then that led into me having just this natural aptitude for it. Turns out I just naturally was good at it and that led me onto the path of wanting to become more educated and to be of service to others.
In Alberta, pretty much a rite of passage is to have an oil and gas job. I worked as an administrator and had the funds to do the Shamanic training. The Four Winds Society is an accredited school of Shamanism. It’s run by a world-renowned anthropologist, Dr. Alberto Villoldo. He trained with Q’ero Shamans for 40+ years and had been given permission from them to bring the curriculum forward and to work with them.
So, it was two and a half years of really intense training, and the last round of training, I’m sitting around with a group of 25 other Shamans-in-training in the middle of the jungle in Chile. My teacher’s like, “What’s coming up for you?” and I’m like, “I think I want to fucking sing. Like do it. Not just in my bedroom but be a whole ass artist and claim that.” So I’m kind of like, “What am I doing here to be a Shaman? How does that fit in and how do I claim that?” and at that point I was almost 30 years old.
It just unfolded all of this stuff and all of these experiences from my past. My mom was a single mom so a lot of times I was alone and had to fend for myself after school. So, I was in the fifth grade and I’d come home, make two chicken burgers, eat my chicken burgers, and then I’d go to the living room.
I’d roll the carpet back from underneath the couch to expose the tile floor and I would put the movie Aladdin on. I would pour ice cold water all over the floor and I would go to “A Whole New World” and press play and wait for Jasmine’s part.
When she jumps in, I’d put my feet in the cold water so I could shock myself into hitting that high note and I would do that for an hour and then wipe up the floor, put the carpet back, and wait for my mom to come home. I did that for probably two years in secret.
Yeah! So, I started to claim it that day. It took me almost 5 years after that to fully unpack all of those limiting beliefs and those energetic blockages and certainly a big piece of that was, “Okay, but I think I actually write Country Music so how do I do that?” Because the moment that I started to speak about doing music, then always what was projected back was, “Oh, you’re going to do soul music? You’re going to do R&B?”
It was never a consideration from anybody that I might do Country so that also really built up that idea that I don’t belong in Country Music and it started to make me think, “Well, yeah, I guess I wouldn’t do Country Music, right? There’s nobody that looks like me that does it.”
It’s important to be “D’orjay the Singing Shaman” because music is a big part of my medicine now. I will always resonate with the role of healer. At my shows, I say, “One of the things we do as Shamans is create sacred space” and then I have a sacred prayer that I sing. Then I say, “The other thing we Shamans do is bring light into the darkness” and my hair lights up.
We often do mantras together as well. That’s always a part of the show. I try to make it as interactive as possible for people to get an experience with a Shaman but in a way that I think is more universal and easier to digest and doing that with the vehicle of music.
D’orjay the Singing Shaman’s new album “New Kind of Outlaw” is available now on all major services.