Soundcheck Winner: Shanara The MouthPeace

She flows poetically, letting go of judgmental notions and relaxing in the easiness of her ways.

She is Shanara “the MouthPeace” Sanders, a singer, songwriter and spoken word artist. Wordplay, animation, vision and honesty are the tricks of her trade, which formulate a creative space to relay messaging wrapped in the beauty of Black, self-awareness and knowledge.

“The words come from my heart and are an instrument of peace,” Shanara tells JET. “When the message is all said and done, there’s no hatred being spewed.”

Originally from the West Side of Chicago, the now L.A.-native’s intrigue with rhythm and rhyme came at an early age. Some memories in particular are the journeys she endured while traveling home from high school.

Something always caught her attention along the way.

“I would always get off the Blue Line on Jackson, and there would be this group of older guys with their instruments. One day me and my homegirl decided to start rapping with them. I would stay for like an hour and used to get in trouble, because I was supposed to be going straight home and would be coming in late,” she laughs.

Fast forward, and Shanara has been performing across various stages for over a decade. During which, she met artistic partner SharmonJarmon!, who further shaped the vision and delivery of her celebratory track “Yellow”.

The song and video would mark Shanara’s fourth grant from the Community Arts Assistance Program.

In this one-on-one, she breaks down her artistic mission and the inspiration behind her words. Get to know this Soundcheck winner below!

JET: You’re no stranger to competitions, so how does it feel to be crowned a Soundcheck winner?

Shanara: As an artist, I understand the climate we’re in right now. People have their choice of things to listen to.  I realize I’m not a mainstream artist or can’t even be considered pop. But for the response to be big enough to be selected and supported, that’s something that I definitely don’t take for granted. It means a lot to me.

JET: When did you develop a relationship with words and storytelling?

Shanara: I always did speeches in church, but this one really stood out to me. For my preschool graduation, I was given a speech to memorize called ‘Moving On Up’. My uncle always says, ‘you drove us crazy at home and by the time we got to graduation, everybody knew that speech!’ So, me being in front of a crowd and not sweating, started very early on. Then throughout grade school, my teachers saw that I had an affinity for words, so I entered writing contests, particularly for storytelling. I was always in the spelling bee. By junior high, I was in oratory contests and memorizing Maya Angelou. Those words really hit my heart, and I remember saying when I was young, ‘I hope I write something this deep.’ It didn’t take the form of poetry until high school, and then it was a mix of poetry and rap – golden era hip-hop. I had really great teachers in English.

JET: When did you become fearless in delivering your art?

Shanara: Part of the confidence really comes from constantly practicing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in front of a crowd during an open mic set. There’s no other way to put yourself out there and see what works and what doesn’t. Part of the thing is Chicago has such a talented group. I was around people that had been doing it for so long and were excellent at it. There was a point in my development where I realized I wasn’t as great as I thought I was or as great as I wanted to be. I was around this nucleus of people, listening day in and out, not necessarily always getting on the mic. But that forced me to go home and write. I could just see the growth within the last 10 years. That’s what pushed me.

JET: Can you take us through the birth of “The MouthPeace”?

Shanara: It took a while for me to get to a place of knowing that what I had was different to offer. What really turned around for me was when I stopped trying to sound like somebody else. The topics that I had were genuinely something I cared about…developed from my own voice. That’s when I became the ‘MouthPeace’. I would encourage spoken word artists to even take some acting classes and learn beats. Your delivery should not always be strong and pungent. Take your people on a roller coaster. ‘What is your motive for saying this line?’

JET: You released your debut project in 2012, The Discipline & The Diligence. What was the focus of that body of work and the creative process?

Shanara: Awww man…that’s my baby! Those were writings from like 2011, and there are still some songs that are pretty popular that people ask for. But even looking at the growth from then until now, it’s like I could have done better (laughs), but it was good for where I was at the time. SharmonJarmon! and I were both working at hosting shows and had a set called ”State Your Poetry’. I used my platform, ‘A Word with The MouthPeace’, and the set to bring in good music and great artistry. I enjoyed sharing that platform with other artists. And from that, I got so much support when I put my project out. I just really owe it to that platform.

JET: For those who may have been first introduced to you through “Yellow”, how would describe your message?

Shanara: As far as ‘Yellow’, it was really a poem. I wrote it and didn’t even perform it. I wrote it from a place of extreme pride and my African-ness. I was extremely proud in what I knew – knowledge of self that had been part of my development during my 20s and early 30s. It was just a different spin on the braggadocious stuff, but it was coming from a real, honest and authentic place of self-love. Collaborating with SharmonJarmon!, she brought concept. She went deeper with it and based it all around the Yellow Chakra theme. That’s how ‘Yellow’ became bigger than just a poem.

JET: As a songwriter, how has re-locating from Chicago to Los Angeles broadened your perspective for storytelling?

Shanara: Oh yes! I really just felt like I needed a new flavor. At the core, I really want to put my songs in film and television. I’m actually stretching my wings a little bit into screenplays, so that’s what I’m zoning in on now. I think when you step out and get into unfamiliar territory, for me, it was such a surge of creativity. I keep an ongoing book of ideas. I have two show ideas, and I’m in the middle of writing one script. I also have a country song that I wrote with another songwriter/producer, whom I connected with off of leisure conversation, and he saw me perform. I didn’t even know he was as big as he is! That’s why you always have to be ready. I’m just trying to be an influencer.

Stay in-tune with Shanara The MouthPeace, here!

*Note: “Yellow” is a music project fully funded by the City of Chicago, 2014 Community Artist Assistance Program Grant