Interview: Rasha Nahas – ‘As a Woman No-One is Going to Say, Have Your Space’ (February 2023)
Rasha Nahas has felt the complexities and challenges of meeting the stereotype of Arab women in Europe. And her newly released album Amrat meaning ‘Sometimes’ reflects on this. As a Palestinian composer living in Berlin, she became heartfelt about singing in Arabic for this LP. This adds a nostalgic sentiment. Diving into subjects such as desire, belonging, home and freedom, it’s both a product of the times we are living in and her inner-life.
The album straddled a physical healing journey and became a product of two chapters. In the latter, she collaborates with musicians from the Palestinian indie music scene: percussionist Rami Nakhlee (Tootard); composer and multi-instrumentalist Raymond Haddad, singer-songwriter TerezSliman and Egyptian singer Dina El Wedidi.
Despite the chilly Berlin weather, Rasha took the time to talk to us about her creative journey, shared her unexpected but favourite moments and told us how inspiring she found the connections she made. She will be playing at the Water Rats in London on 21st March, the first day of Spring, and we can’t wait to see this release bloom.
If someone hadn’t listened to your music before, how would you want them to experience it and how would you describe it?
I am very much narrative driven. I was a song-writer first even before I started singing. I think ‘Amrat’, my latest release and ‘Desert’, my first album, are very different. I just want people to be open when they listen to the music. It’s going to be a bit colourful, it’s going to be surprising in places but also it is drawing on classical gestures. I always go with the emotion of the song and I try to surrender to that in the moment. That’s the most important thing for me and I invite the listener to be open like that.
You talk about how you tell a story in your songs. Did you find any messages coming through while writing the latest album?
I wouldn’t say there is a message but I would say it is a claiming of space. Because the album is very personal, it’s one of the most personal pieces of art I’ve ever done. I tried to make it about ‘being’ and not ‘making a statement’. But I guess that’s just who I am. Releasing this album as a Palestinian woman in 2023 in Arabic, although it doesn’t have a statement, it is taking my space in music.
You mention singing in Arabic for this album, what’s made you passionate about sharing this side of your identity?
I have no choice. I think as a woman no-one is going to say, “here have your space, here have some empowerment.” No-one is going to come and make sure my voice is heard. I have no choice if I want to be authentic but to do it honestly by myself.
It sounds like a pivotal moment of growth for you, claiming your space. Has this reflection opened any old feelings for you? As someone who grew up in Haifa as a Palestinian and moved around Europe, how do you feel about having an identity that wasn’t given much of a European platform?
At the moment in this post-pandemic time, we are in a very individualistic time and space. And so for me it’s important for me to connect to my strength through vulnerability as a counter to the world. Because I believe in community, and music comes out of a dialogue. We as people are in a constant dialogue with the world and each other. And I think we live in a world where impact and meaning is measured by numbers and algorithms. And I feel that this album is a counter to that. It’s strong, but strong in it that it’s honest and something I cherish.
How are you feeling about putting yourself out there so much for this release?
Great! Can’t wait!
I’m very excited. So far the response has been great over the single releases. I can’t wait to see how it takes shape in the world and how it manifests itself.
I’m so happy to hear that. So what started the seed, the journey for Amrat?
In 2019 I had a hand injury in both my hands, I couldn’t really do anything with my hands for two months and I couldn’t play for almost a year. And around this time, I opened some software and started producing and creating music pain-free. And this is how I wrote all of the songs in the first chapter of the album.
Then when I started getting better, I was recovering quite slowly, I started playing again but continued writing the album. This created the second chapter of the album which is more acoustic. And I love this duality of this acoustic song writer approach and produced more urban sounds. I think it represents an internal duality of analogue and digital, of city and nature, memory and being.
The way you talk about different representations of duality in creation is beautiful, how do you think that informed your writing?
In parallel to the injury, we were also experiencing the pandemic. And I was in Berlin. And it was the same city I knew but it was different also. So I mean the experience of being in an empty city, a city that is on hold and is slowing down all of a sudden. A lot of time for myself and isolation. It brought up a lot of thoughts, a lot of memories and a lot of feelings of nostalgia. And also a lot of longing, longing for nature, longing for home, longing for the Mediterranean.
The duality in the album goes very much hand in hand with the duality of life between the city and nature. It is very metaphorical and impressionist. It happened very organically. The more I experience the album now, the clearer it becomes. It’s quite beautiful, and as an artist I wasn’t aware of that when I was doing it.
When you were writing this, did you listen to anything or purposefully take inspiration? Or is there anything you just really enjoy listening to in general?
I constantly listen to lots of different things. Jazz to rock to hip-hop to singer-songwriter to Italia-disco. I don’t know. Brazilian music I really like. I spend hours listening to albums with the lyrics in front of me. And I take inspiration from everything really, from encounters and architecture and visual arts and movies. But when I’m sitting with my pen and guitar I’m just trying to surrender, because I believe that the subconscious knows better than what we consciously think.
How easy do you find it to surrender?
Well I guess it’s just the art of letting go in a way. If I feel I’m hitting a wall I just let it go. The songs I connect to most are the songs I’ve written in 20 or 30 minutes. I think they are the most impactful songs too, in the shows and the ones people listen to the most. I try not to intellectualise too much in the process of creating. I try to intellectualise in every other moment of my life but when creating I try to let go and trust.
You talk about some of your favourite moments being those songs that almost come like a bolt of lightning. How would you describe those moments on this album?
‘Al Madini’ is the song that touches me most on the album. It’s a song I wrote in 20 minutes. I was moving and sitting among boxes, and I just took out the guitar and wrote it. And that was the moment I realised it was time to record an album.
‘Ya Binti’ was also written in 20 minutes. ‘Habbetek’ was also written in a short time, it was the first song I wrote without a guitar.
And you collaborated with some amazing artists on this album, can you tell us about that process?
Dina El Wedidi and Terez Sliman are both pioneers in their ways and the choices they make in their careers are so inspiring to me.
With Dina, she was so fearless in changing the songs and adding elements. This was so inspiring for me, as I really love her as an artist and a person.
And with Terez, she wanted to rewrite the lyrics. And we sat in front of each other and had a couple of sessions and decided to make it a mother and daughter dialogue. And here we address themes of generations and grief and suppression and freedom. That was a very healing journey for me.
The two processes were so different for me, it was fascinating to involve these amazing women in such an intimate way.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, I can’t wait to listen to the album again. Do you have any plans for the future? Any collaborations, tours, new music.
Absolutely! I am already working on the next thing. I’ve been writing a bit in English recently, but also in Arabic. And I’m wondering how these can co-exist in a record. I’m currently searching for producers to help go into new territories. I’m mainly open and curious. This album is the first step into something new. I feel I’m just starting.
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