We had the pleasure of finding out a little more about rising musical talent Shébani. The Iraqi-born singer was raised in the United Arab Emirates and has been making a name for herself thanks to her blend of introspective alternative R&B.
Shébani celebrates the release of her latest single Burn Me Out – a metaphor for a cycle that repeats itself. The song shines thanks to Shébani’s inviting vocals which impress atop atmospheric production which conjures up a dreamy poignancy.
I’d love to know about the first music you discovered in your youth and what effect it had on you?
I had so many different phases! I started off with Pop and Boy / Girl Bands. Moved onto a lot of R&B, the likes of Aaliyah, Usher, TLC, etc. And by the time I was 16, I added Alternative-Rock to the roster. I’m not big on putting myself or any other artist in a box, and I have quite a mixture of different influences. I think that when I hear any good song / sound that I can relate to as a fan or artist, then I’m completely sold.
Was music always a goal for you? At what age did you start to actively pursue songwriting and making music?
I wasn’t surrounded by an environment that allowed me to believe something like a music career was attainable. So, I spent most of my younger years singing and playing the guitar in my room, up until I met a few artists in my city and dove deep with starting my own YouTube Channel, as well as getting involved in open-mic nights. One thing led to another, and that’s when I found myself pursuing songwriting and a full-time career in music at around the age of 25.
Could you narrow down your three all-time favourite albums?
Saturn by NAO, The 20/20 Experience 1 & 2 by Justin Timberlake, Glory Sound Prep by Jon Bellion.
Can you share a little bit about the musical scene in the UAE? Is there a vibrant live music culture? Is it quite a musically creative country?
The music scene in the UAE is a young and rapidly growing one, which really gives so much opportunity for a young artist to be seen and heard a lot faster than in other cities where the music industry might be a lot more saturated. There’s incredible talent and hard work here in the UAE. I’m very grateful for the opportunities that I’ve received so far, and I’ve accomplished so many of my goals here. There’s going to be a lot more coming in the near future and I’m excited to see where we’re headed.
You released your EP Alter Ego in 2016. What was that feeling like of putting music out there for the world to hear? I guess it must be quite a vulnerable sensation.
Yeah, absolutely. I was absolutely terrified! Excited, but equally terrified. As an independent artist with no team and no prior releases, I had no idea what I was doing and no idea what to expect from it. The only thing that clicked was that I felt like I was finally doing something that made sense to me. I was finally honest with myself about my love for music and how much I wanted to pursue a career in it. Alter Ego made me fall in love with songwriting. I enjoy performing so much, but there’s no feeling like being in your zone and writing your heart out. The outcome just hits differently.
Going into as much or little detail as you like, can you tell me about some of the thematic inspiration behind your single Burn Me Out?
Burn Me Out started off with a simple beat and an emotion that always sat in the back of my head. I wanted to write about it and I wanted to express how I felt right then and there. The inspiration behind the song is simply stemming from being stuck in a loop of paranoia inside your head. I didn’t know how to express it with just a simple conversation because it was a vicious cycle that kept coming back to me over and over again, so I decided to put it in a song. Sonically, I wasn’t so sure it was going to make the cut for my upcoming project. I thought it was just a private moment between me and music, somewhat like a therapeutic exercise, but it turned out to be a favorite. The producer, James Chatburn, turned things around and did his magic.
What is your favourite part of the musical creation process?
Definitely, the writing process! I get so excited to see where a song goes and how it develops into what it could be eventually. It starts off with such a small idea or sound, and then it’s a whole story to tell. I love storytelling. I get really into it, and it makes me happy to see what I can create from the ground up.
Who is currently inspiring you creatively?
It’s weird to say, but sometimes I feel like it’s just me. Or at least the music I’m currently creating. Of course, I get inspired from other artists. But I tend to get attached to the art that I create; I give it names, colors, faces, and personalities, and I feel so proud of all the hard work that gets invested. So I get inspired to write more, to work harder, and to keep pushing. I wouldn’t want to disappoint the younger version in myself and call it quits. It’s a self-fueling process, I guess.
You recently opened for Khalid and have previously opened for Liam Payne and Jorja Smith. Is it quite a daunting experience performing at larger scale gigs? What keeps you calm and grounded?
I LOVE those shows! They changed my life completely and it’s exactly where I want to be. Of course, I get so nervous and anxious, but that’s why I end up giving it my all. It’s hard to calm myself at times, but I realized that it’s either fight or flight. And running away from what scares you the most is never an option. It scares you the most because you love it or want it so much. I just jump in, and after performing the first couple of songs on stage, I feel centered again. The crowd’s energy is what makes it all worthwhile. They help you forget what you were even nervous about in the first place!
What do you make of the current debate about artists removing their music from streaming services such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell?
I wholeheartedly and fully believe in people’s right to make decisions for themselves and steer their careers in a direction that aligns with their personal values. Which is why I see Digital Streaming Platforms an important tool for people to make their voices heard, and would advocate against silencing voices, no matter where they stand and no matter what opinions or values they may uphold.
As a website that covers film as well as music, we would love to know if you have a favourite film and why it is special to you?
Before pursuing music, I graduated with a degree in storytelling and film. I was convinced that I was going to become an animator / film director, so I love films! I’m a big fan of fantasy, gothic fantasy, drama, comedy, and animated films. So, Tim Burton is the guy for me and my favourite movie would be Big Fish. I just love the main character (and the actor too), Edward Bloom. I relate to him so much. He portrays a dreamer and a storyteller, and that’s exactly how I see myself. People get a bit frustrated with him, and like many dreamers, we all get told to get out heads out of the clouds. But he never did, never listened, and that’s something I relate to.
Photos: Waleed Shah