When Salt Lake City Council Chair Amy Fowler asked Shaadie, a Salt Lake-based entertainer and entrepreneur, to perform at this year’s City Council swearing-in ceremony, he accepted immediately.
As he learned more about the event and the elected officials who were being sworn in, he realized that it was an opportunity to recognize a historical change in the diversity of the city’s representation. “Lotta women and minorities,” he said of the council’s make-up. “That’s dope.” It also aligns with the project of his music and explains why Fowler asked him to perform as the ceremony’s closing act.
For his performance, Shaadie chose the song “We Don’t Know,” a track that celebrates personal growth by an openness to understand ourselves and others. It was originally written and recorded in 2015-2016 in response to what Shaadie called an atmosphere of “turmoil and division,” and he feels it reflects the trend of embracing diversity as reflected in the Salt Lake’s historically diverse City Council.
According to Shaadie, our political discourse – especially around race, gender identity, and sexual orientation – too easily becomes superficial and substanceless. He compared it to the non-nutritional value of candy. In his mind, as a socially responsible entertainer, his role is an opportunity to remedy that with high-nutrition messaging.
“I’m trying to sell carrots to these candy fiends, so I have to sugarcoat these carrots. I have to be entertaining while making timeless music that can last,” and that communicates a message to effect positive change and raise awareness of diversity, he said.
With “We Don’t Know,” Shaadie’s aim was to “ruffle some feathers, be a little controversial,” in order to make a broader point. “It’s got enough of a rough edge to get people on the edge of their seats, but it’s entertaining and smooth enough to be palatable. I’m not being the ‘angry Black man,’” he said, referring to a common prejudice used to discredit Black activism. “I’m trying to educate.”
As a California native and self-described “Bay-area kid,” Shaadie was struck by a lack of diversity awareness when he arrived in Salt Salt Lake City in 2016. In his understanding, this wasn’t because Salt Lake was lacking diversity (which it decidedly is not), nor was it an active choice by Utahns to ignore it; rather, it was a choice that people didn’t even know they were making.
“It’s not that Utah didn’t want or appreciate diversity, it’s that Utah didn’t know how to find it,” he said. “People like me can help raise that awareness, contribute to that diversity in politics, news, and media.”
Shaadie sees his role as something that can help eliminate the gaps in understanding and communication that create an expectation that people must code switch – the act of altering or eliding some aspects of their identities – in order to be accepted in certain social or cultural spaces.
As a former track and field scholarship athlete at UC Berkeley who grew up in what he describes as an “urban” social landscape, Shaadie has had plenty of firsthand experience with code switching. “I could put on the suit and tie when I needed to,” he said, “but still have a little street edge.”
Now, he hopes to connect disparate and diverse parts of Salt Lake without erasing the unique identity of any one person, group, or community, contributing to a space where everyone can belong as they are. No code switching; no need to suppress any aspects of self.
He sees the City Council’s new composition as proof that messages like his are gaining traction. “It goes further than skin-tone and color,” he said, “it’s diversity of genders and sexual orientation – everything. It’s amazing to see how open Utah is to it when they’re given the chance.”
“The times are finally catching up to my music rather than my music catching up with the times.”