With each and every synth-pop tune the soulful singer croons, Wafia is staying true to herself. The singer isn’t afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve—or rather, rip her heart straight out of her chest and throw it into the universe—whether on stage or in an intimate conversation. The soft tone of her vocals over lucid synth beats brings a fresh outlook to the saturated pop genre that is unlike any other, making way for more open dialogue within the industry.
Tackling issues such as her queer identity, her nomadic upbringing within a Syrian-Iraqi household, and her mother’s family’s denial of refugee status in Australia, the singer-songwriter is the star for those who crave more than a bass drop. The ingenuity, thought-provoking compositions that still stay humble have webbed a unique DNA for Wafia, making her a force to be reckoned with in the era of the woke generation. Below, COOLS talks to the up-and-coming sensation about her life, her music, and much more.
How did growing up moving city-to-city influence your music, and your overall perspective on life?
“I think a lot of my growing up years was based in Europe, and so I just naturally gravitated to pop in that way. I’ve never really gotten comfortable in one place to find my own music and go to record stores. I don’t really listen to the radio, and so that’s what I attribute my love of pop to. I feel like it geared me up for this lifestyle pretty well, in terms of moving around a lot and being nomadic in that sense.”
Being on the go for touring, keeping up with a beauty regimen can be difficult. How do you stay up with yours, and what are your go-to products when you’re on the road (or even just relaxing at home)?
“I keep it really simple because most of the time on the road I don’t have the space to get too crazy with it. Keeping my face clean is #1. I don’t use anything I don’t need to and I only wear make up on stage. I could never go to sleep with makeup on, so I wash every morning, night and just before I put on makeup. My day time routine is a spritz of whatever toner I’m using at the moment with a dab of Herbivore Botanicals Orchid Facial Oil. Then I just use the Glossier Priming Moisturiser (I actually mix that in with my foundation too to lighten it, it’s my favourite product right now). Then at night, I spritz with toner again and then I use the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate paired with a Sukin’s Sensitive Calming Night Cream. I developed eczema under my eyes in extreme weather recently, so if it calls for it I will apply a prescribed cream otherwise, that’s really it.”
You have such a lighthearted synth sound, but you explore very strong topics. Why did you decide to mesh these two contrasting components together?
“In the general sense of pop music, there are these conditional tropes around it, and therefore it must fit to this “pop means popular” attribution. I like the idea of something that was quite talked about at the time, but overwhelmingly vulnerable, and I put that in a way that can be positively conveyed, and meshed the two worlds together.
“Also, I guess I like to be an inner intellectual about anything I do. I can write a sad song on any day of the week. I’ve done that already—I’ve written it out of my system to death. How can I challenge myself to make this topic a little less scary to everyone? I think that was my thought process around everything I created.”
How do you think your music has evolved from the beginning of your career to now, both in that sense and beyond?
“Everything is tied to me just trying to be the most honest, vulnerable version of myself to my audience. I just try to be as honest as possible with everything I do, I think that’s the commonality of it all.”
Who are your biggest influences and inspirations at the moment?
“I think SZA and Rihanna are a constant. I’m very much inspired by Brian Eno’s work. He has so many albums, but the one I always come back to is Music for Airports. It’s just piano, electronic-driven instrumentals, and I go back to it a lot. I’m also really excited for Kacey Musgraves’s album, Golden Hour, who is, in terms of songwriting, one of my favorites.”
Who are your major style influences?
“I love SZA and Tracee Ellis Ross right now!”
How would you describe your sense of style?
“Comfortable and oversized, with lots of gold jewelry.”
What are your favorite brands/labels at the moment?
How has your Muslim background influenced your music? Also, at least with my experience growing up in a Muslim household, our culture can be very traditionalist but you explore very progressive topics. How has your family reacted to your exploration of these topics, along with you coming out as queer?
“There’s a certain thing with our culture, and we tend to be concerned with what other people will think. I think most of the time, our parents would be very progressive if they didn’t have this looming burden of the community questioning how they raised their children. I feel like if they eliminated that, most of the time they wouldn’t be concerned with the things that they truly aren’t concerned about. To a degree, I have do what I love, but I’m also half-trapped in the way that they raised me. I’m not going to become a new person just because I make music. Sometimes, they associate the art with things that don’t exist.
“Ultimately, I just have to do what I love, do it passionately, and prove them all wrong. My mom is my biggest supporter after she saw the fact that I could actually do this as a career. I think after that was proven to a degree, the second part of the obstacle was what will people say, but it doesn’t matter to her anymore, because I’ve proven myself as self-sufficient.”
It’s so true, the traditionalist factor that comes with growing up in a Middle Eastern household. The older generation tends to care so much, a very “keep your skeletons in the closet” policy. But the younger generation is changing into an open, true-to-self community.
“I think we’re so lucky as a generation to be able to test our real-life selves online for a little bit. The Internet, Tumblr, all of that didn’t exist for our parents. If I didn’t have that, I would’ve felt completely alone in the world. I would’ve been solely surrounded by my family and my family’s friends, and they all have the same mindset. I was able to go online and test out music, and it really broadened my view of the world.”
You’re becoming prominent within the community, especially to the younger crowd for your honest persona. How does that feel?
“It’s so humbling, because when I grew up I didn’t have many Arab role models to look up to, except people who were solely in Arab cinema or pop culture. The only ones I can think of in the mainstream culture is Salma Hayek or Shakira. So, I just try to be my most authentic self when I do my thing. I know I have younger sisters, and they’re looking at what I do. It’s important to me to represent my family and my cultural world. And there are so many up and coming Arab artists that are going to change the world, and it’s really cool to see these artists and myself finally break the barrier. I don’t feel special for being able to sing or write, because our culture has always been doing that. The difference is that I had a very supportive family, and I think what needs to happen is that parents need to listen to their sons and daughters when they say they want to do art or something within the creative spectrum.”
Where do you see the music industry going within the upcoming years?
“In my eyes, there’s no direction but forward, in terms of inclusivity. It will take time, but we will eventually get there. What I would love to see is the Arab community fully embracing the artists representing them in media. I would love for them to be represented more, and feel like they own themselves. If someone comes to my show, I want them to feel like they have all the rights in the world to comfortably be there.”
Do you have any projects coming up?
“I’m playing SXSW in March, which is really exciting. I’ve never been before, so it’s exciting. And I have a ton of new music coming out, so everyone can look out for that.”
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