Born in Somalia, raised in Toronto, sisters Iman and Siham Hashi now reside in Atlanta. And as Sweet Rush (Flash, Dec/Jan ’09) the two flip their love of the Spice Girls into Sweet and Spicy (Universal Motown), featuring a “Fergilicious”-echoing lead single “Hot Sauce.” Here the sisters speak about their Somalian roots, defying their father’s wishes and why they want to make an African version of Lord of the Rings.
GIANT: Did you two grow up with music?
Iman: When we were younger, we were born in Somalia, and we moved to Canada. Our dad did not like music at all. He never listened to it. My mom was kind of like the easy-going one. She’d blast the radio when she’d drive us to school. But with my dad, it would be dead silent when he’d take us to school. He’d catch us sometimes, and we’d be in so much trouble. In Canada we used to listen to Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. That’s what we grew up on.
Why would you get in trouble?
Iman: He knew we could sing, but I don’t think he wanted to encourage it. So there was no music allowed. I guess it’s a cultural thing. I guess what we’re doing is kind of taboo. We’re the first Somalian singers ever. In the beginning of high school, we started going to studios in Canada, and that’s when we really started trying to do it. Our mom was on the side cheering us on, but my dad didn’t really know yet. Then two years ago we moved to Atlanta. My dad didn’t know I was moved there. Now he totally supports us and sees that we’re dedicated and that it’s not just partying and going crazy.
Can you track the ABCs of your journey to where you are now?
Siham: We were born in Somalia. My mom worked for the Somali embassy, so we moved around a lot. We lived in Saudi Arabia, and then we moved to Germany, and while we were in Germany…
Iman: War [in Somalia] didn’t officially break out until ’93, but it was bad before ’93.
Siham: Yeah, so I guess they gave us a warning. And we moved to Canada and lived there for most of our lives. I went to Atlanta first. I told them I was visiting my aunt and never went back. Iman said, “Oh, I want to get her back.” And then she came and stayed. I’m the middle child. No one pays attention to me.
They didn’t notice you were gone?
Siham: Yeah, when [Iman] came, they were, like, calling every day.
Iman: They were giving us deadlines then, like, “If you don’t get a record deal next week, you’re coming home.” It’s not easy getting a record deal!
Do you think your Somalian roots have affected who you are as artists today?
Siham: Definitely. From a cultural perspective, we don’t necessarily talk about certain things in our songs.
Siham: Drinking. In-your-face sexual stuff. It’s kind of a cultural thing. We’re not very open about things like that.
Do you ever feel pressured to do that? Sex does sell.
Iman: I think definitely from working with other writers and producers, they want us to loosen up. But as far as our label, they like the way we are and they want to keep that image.
How do you two get along?
Iman: I’m very impulsive.
Siham: I’m always thinking. My head is always in the clouds. I tend to over-think sometimes. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse I guess.
Iman: She always thinks she’s right. And if she’s not and I prove her wrong, all hell breaks loose. It’s crazy.
Do you have any sibling rivalries?
Siham: Not really. We just know each other so well, we know what we’re good at. I know her strengths, and she knows what makes me mad. We just know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Iman: A lot of people don’t think we’re sisters. They’re like, “Oh, you’re just friends. You two hang out all the time.” I’m like, “No, she’s my sister.” One time we were at the studio, and one of our producers was like, “Do you live together?” And we were like, “Yeah, what do mean, do we live together? Is that even a question?” We’re gonna live together until we get married and have kids. And maybe even then, we’ll have a huge mansion and, like, split it.
Where did the name of the group come from?
Siham: Actually, at first it was Suga Rush. And then we found out that there’s a band in Finland with the same name. So we had to change it. We changed it to Sweet Rush.
What do you like about the name?
Iman: When we first came to Atlanta, we had this other name. It was Faith and Arrow. It sounds like a gospel group, I know.
Siham: Her name, Iman, means Faith. And Siham means Arrow. Actually, I was watching TV and a Young Dro video came on, and he was making Kool-Aid and putting a pack of sugar in it. I thought, “Sugar. Sugar Rush.” And then Sweet Rush.
I read you have some difficulty getting settled and feeling comfortable in the industry when you first started. How so?
Siham: When we came to Atlanta, everybody was trying to do snap music or crunk, more urban. At that time, a lot of black artists weren’t really doing pop music. So everybody said, “You can’t be pop. You’re black.” Every producer that we met, it never really clicked.
Iman: Also, a lot of people we met were working with other people or bigger things. They don’t have a lot of time for unsigned artists who don’t have budgets. Also, we got, “There are two of you. How’s that going to work? Where’s the third?”
Why is someone going to listen to Sweet Rush as opposed to something else?
Siham: We love the Spice Girls so much. And I’ve never gotten that feeling about another group ever again. They were so fun and energetic and just did whatever. Nobody’s fun anymore. Everybody’s worried about being sexy.
Iman: We write some real songs about relationships. We have songs about our country. When you’re yourself, people embrace that. I don’t ever feel like I have to be anyone else.
Tell me about your record.
Siham: The first single is called “Hot Sauce.” We loved the song. We sing, but the song is kind of like a rap-singing thing. When people hear our other songs, it’ll definitely stand out.
Iman: The working title is Sweet and Spicy. Because we’re sweet, but we also have a song like “Hot Sauce,” some really fun, edgy, spicy songs.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Iman: “Missed the Boat.” It’s about this guy who kinda messed up. He missed the boat.
Is there anything that you’re excited about doing in the future?
Siham: We want to do an African fantasy movie, like Lord of the Rings.
What would that be like?
Iman: It would be set in a magical, fictional land in Africa, and we would be the princesses of this kingdom and then our parents got killed and somehow…
Siham: I mean, we don’t really have the story line together yet. But whenever we watch these fantasy movies, it’s always in England, and it’s always like, “Sorry, no black people.”