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It was nearly three years to the day that sahn rose from the ashes of heartbreak and grief.
Simone Ledward Boseman, as she’s known by her government name, was reeling from the Aug. 28, 2020 death of her husband, Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, after enduring four years of balancing the euphoric highs of a meteoric rise with the shattering lows that included setbacks, hospital visits, surgeries, and the burden of keeping his grueling battle with colon cancer completely private.
“Grief is not a linear journey. It's back and forth, and it's up and down, and it's sideways and it's inside out,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment in an exclusive interview (watch excerpts below).
So she put pen to paper, attuned to her sorrow, spilled her heart into verse, and found her voice as a musician. “Writing songs has always been a way for me to process my emotions,” she says. “And after my husband passed, I had this kind of intolerance for excuses. For anyone outside of me, and especiallly for myself."
It began with “wake up my love,” a haunting lullaby over minimal bass and strings and punctuated by stirring chants in which the singer motivates herself to overcome both paralyzing despair and fear of failure. It continued with the sultry, bassy lead single “angelsxdemons,” and the percussive, mournful spoken word eulogy for her beloved Chad, “the mornings.”
It eventually evolved and coalesced into her nine-track debut album the mornings, a triumph in genre-twisting, ambient alternative soul that presents sahn as a revelation in her own right, a fearless songstress with the chords like Jorja Smith, the smoky swagger of Erykah Badu, effortless sensuality of Sade and hypnotic meditative trances akin to Ali Farka Touré.
This is the story of how Simone became sahn.
A recording artist in waiting
sahn has been singing most of her life. Born Taylor Simone Ledward to a Black mother and Japanese-Hawaiian father in the northern Bay Area enclave of Vallejo, Calif., she began entering talent shows at 8 years old. She idolized Sam Cooke, inhaled Motown, blues and funk, loved hip-hop crews like A Tribe Called Quest and Hieroglyphics, and found kindred spirits and influence in Badu, Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo.
“But coming from the family I came from, I was definitely pushed more toward having a more kind of stable 9 to 5 with a 401K and benefits and all that stuff,” she says. “And so I didn't really look at performing or living as an artist as a plan A.”
She majored in music industry studies at Cal Poly Pomona, then worked in music promotion and talent booking for electronica festivals and famed Los Angeles venues like The Hollywood Bowl and the now-defunct Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Angeles.
After she began dating Chad, though, she watched as the venerated actor poured himself into roles like T’Challa in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, another historical icon in Thurgood Marshall (after previously playing Jackie Robinson and James Brown) and his searing swan song as a hot-tempered trumpeter in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
“I always sang on the side, but I think that it wasn't really until the events of the last few years,” she says, “and being able to watch an artist live as an artist and what that looked like and what it meant to pursue your art form in that kind of way. And it looked more real to me.”
“I think actually Simone's been becoming sahn for a while,” the singer says. “I would say in the last five or so years, before I had put a name to this persona, I was really just starting to come into myself. I was exiting my twenties and stepping into that new era [where] I felt a sense of self-awareness that I didn't have [before], and I just started to focus in on what I wanted for myself and how I wanted to operate and move in the world and what I felt God's purpose was for me. And so she was kind of born out of envisioning the highest version of myself.”
“sahn” is a meditation term, a breathing exercise meant to invoke peace. “It trains that endurance of breath for singers,” she explains.
She found inspiration in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and began writing in October 2020. “I used some of the superpowers that grief will give you to help me to push through, and it felt like a very clear direction. It felt like something that I had to write. [It wasn’t like], ‘I'm deciding to write an album today.’ The songs were just kind of coming and it was taking shape before I had to put a label on it."
The label would be the mornings, which has a double meaning once you add the “u.”
After “wake up my love,” “angelsxdemons” and “the mornings,” there was the poppy “gracenotes” and the autotuning rap track “high speed meditation.” She teamed with long-time collaborator Kayhan Azadi, who produced the full album, and recruited trumpeter Dontae Winslow for the evocative wordless opener, “chad’s prayer.” She added the head-snapping neo-soul album highlight “better with you,” acoustic number “strong friends, live from the backyard” and the tearjerking, wistful love ballad “green tea.”
Music is healing
Chad’s presence is felt across the entirety of the mornings.
“It's hard to say how his spirit didn't influence the album because it influenced me,” sahn says. “So I think about just the things that I learned from knowing Chad, from loving Chad, from being loved by Chad, from watching the way that he approached his life and his relationships and his work, I learned how to start to trust my spirit. I learned how to start to listen to the right influences… I was learning how to process my thoughts and decide which ones I wanted to listen to, and decide which ones were coming from a higher power and which ones were not… [There were] countless times when I would see certain signs that I kind of associate with being messages from different angels of mine, and I feel like his presence is all around me, all the time. And during the making of this album, it was no different than that, than it is every day.”
As a couple, the pair maintained as much privacy as they could. After Chad passed, sahn carried the torch for him, delivering heartfelt speeches while collecting his posthumous awards for his performance in Ma Rainey and launching a foundation in his name. In the public eye, it became clear how supportive she was; but the support was always mutual, sahn says. There was his encouraging words and constructive feedback around her fledgling artistry, and willingness to turn up at her modest gigs in small venues, where he instantly became the center of attention. “Those are not always comfortable situations for people in the spotlight,” she notes.
Making the album was deeply therapeutic for sahn.
“It’s how I healed,” she says plainly. “It's how I got comfortable with the feelings. It's how I got comfortable with the vulnerability of it all. And it gave me a space, really safe space, to go through all of that.
“Grief is circular and it's cyclical, but I think discovering those moments when you make something that feels magical and that feels true, sparked this fire. It's like, I had this little light and now through this process, it's like burned a hole through the ceiling.”
Released Oct. 20, the mornings is already drawing attention and praise from outlets like Vibe, Soul Bounce and Blavity. She also released an accompanying (and stunning) full visual album (watch below).
There’s certainly more music in her. She wrote upwards of 40 songs before narrowing them down to the mornings’s nine tracks.
But for now, “I just want to enjoy releasing my first album,” she says. “And see what it feels like on the other side of that, because it's the first time I've done anything like this. And sometimes you have to do a thing to figure out whether or not you're going to want to do it again. I think I do. I'm already [thinking about] what does the second album sound like.
“But overall, one of the things I've had to get comfortable with is the fact that we can plan, but God has a purpose. So I'm just trying to be conscious of listening to where I feel like I'm being drawn to. And I think that on the other side of this release, I'll have the mental space to sit and listen to that. But for now, I just want to enjoy this moment.”
Music lovers discovering a golden new voice in alternative soul should enjoy this moment, too.
Just remember, call her sahn.