Wafia makes danceable pop music about the Syrian refugee crisis
While the pop music industry is often accused of cranking out songs that are vapid and formulaic for a radio hit, Wafia is a shining exception.
Her songs have lyrics that depict the plight and exclusion her family endured as victims of the Syrian refugee crises, while still being sonically up-beat and danceable. After putting out her debut ep, XXIX, which caught praise from pop legend Pharrell, she is set to go on tour with Børns across Europe, North America, and Australia.
Wafia describes to us how her background and upbringing influence her music and gives us an inside look in to her creative process.
How does your song “Bodies” illuminate your personal story?
It’s about my extended family in Syria and I felt like they deserved a place in my music. Despite the distance, I feel extremely connected to them, the hardship they’ve spent the last few years facing within the country and the struggle of attempting to get out.
You talk about cultural expectations of pursuing a more ‘academic’ career — was it a risk choosing music?
It was but anything is a risk. Even picking a “safe” job is at risk of being phased out by some sort of technology so knowing that made pursuing music as much of a risk as anything else.
How has your ethnicity and heritage influenced your musical style?
I think so. I grew up listening to a lot of Arabic music and so I think it’s in my blood to be drawn to melodies and chords that take me back to that.
How do you enter the creative mindset to write such evocative songs?
I don’t really seek it out. Songs and their concepts come to me in waves and so I always find it best to wait around for the song to find me than to force anything. Sometimes even in parts, so that by the time I hit the studio and get to share it with the producer, it’s all fleshed out to me.
How does it feel to have attracted the attention of huge pop producers such as Pharrell?
It’s obviously such an honour. I think for me it’s important that I approach everyone else that I work with, with the same amount of enthusiasm and respect. Early in my career my manager told me that every producer/artist/etc is one song away and that’s something that has stuck with me.
You talk about the importance of evolution to discovering your true self in your ep – what is the most significant way you’ve evolved over the years, creatively and personally?
I think in both regards I’ve become more transparent and open over the years. I used to be really closed off and my earliest material was always written in third person as a way to distance myself from my actions or feelings but over the years there has been a shift that’s seen me progress to first person in (what I hope) a really healthy way. I don’t feel like hiding stuff from my audience now or ever. It’s kind of all there documented in music and elaborated on in interviews in a way that I never saw myself doing three years ago.
How important is it that pop music has a purpose?
I don’t think that it always needs a purpose. Sometimes people just want a fun song to forget about their work week and that doesn’t make the song less important. For me and my songwriting, I enjoy putting as much into a song as I can to give it layers but that’s just because I’m really methodical, I’m driven my concept and love when things have a theme. To each their own.
What album is your holy grail — and why?
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It was the perfect debut album that never needed a follow up. There’s a confidence in that that I love.
What is your dream collaboration?
Right now it’d have to be SZA.
You’re going on tour with BORNS – what can we expect from your live shows?
You can expect to hear a bunch of new music! I think that I open the set with two new songs because I’m impatient.