Name: Rasha Nahas
Occupation: Composer, songwriter, singer, instrumentalist
Current Release: Rasha Nahas's current single "Amrat", title track and harbinger of a full-length album in early 2023, is out via Cooking Vinyl.
Recommendations: Album: Mingus - Joni Mitchell; Book: All About Love - Bell Hooks
If you enjoyed this interview with Rasha Nahas and would like to stay up to date with her music, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was naturally drawn to music since I can remember. I think I was 10 years old when I wrote my first song. By 17 I was playing in front of live audiences.
My early influences were the music of my parents, mainly Rock N’ Roll artists - Guns N’ Roses, John Lennon, Queen, Bowie, The Velvet Underground as well as the music I picked up among the Haifa underground scene and, naturally, Arabic classics and Arabic pop.
I think what attracted me to music or to musicians was mainly lyrics and authentic songwriting. The character of the artist also played a big role.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Music of course is multi-layered experience, but for me it’s mainly two things that hook me in, the lyrics - the story that is told and the songwriting, as well as the overall scenery - the sound, voice, tempo, groove. It’s about the artists, how they present themselves and what you feel they’re trying to tell you or make you see.
And that is also how I like to approach songwriting, I like to find the sweet spot of intellect and emotion.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
The funny thing is that I never saw myself as a singer until I was actually performing my songs.
My journey with music began mainly with the guitar, as I was studying classical guitar at the conservatory in Haifa when I was a kid. But when I started writing songs, I started naturally singing what I was writing and therefore began working on my voice.
That's when I realized how much I loved singing and performance and storytelling.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
For me in my listening experiences I’m (consciously or unconsciously) searching for emotional and intellectual stimulation. As a songwriter I’m always searching for the sweet spot where the intellect and the emotion meet. I find the lyrics to be a very important part of the composition, as well as how these lyrics are put together and sung.
What’s important for me is also who the artist is, and what they stand for. Specially being a Palestinian woman, I admire artists who are aware of the power of their voices and manage to gracefully underline a certain struggle close to their heart or the intersectionality between different struggles.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Authenticity, truth, community (maybe also not taking things too seriously and keeping things simple and real)
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I feel it has to be a balance of both, we as humans need both. Like the tree, there are the roots deep in the soil as well as branches up in the sky.
I think there’s a lot to learn from what has been done, and there’s a lot of space to create something new. And again, it’s a matter of that sweet spot.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
That’s a really big question. Artistically I feel the need to always keep learning and growing and enriching my knowledge and practice and stepping out of the comfort zone.
For me, building the team around me has been the most precious, because sometimes being a solo artist can be a very lonely experience, and I managed with time to surround myself with a team I care about and trust and able to grow authentically with.
I think as artists we’re usually overprotective when it comes to our work, and I think as much as it’s important to insist on the vision - it’s as important to let go when needed.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
When I’m not traveling for shows, I try my best to have a boring routine. I like to wake up early, take a moment to connect to my body, if it’s with yoga or a morning walk, fruits, a lot of fruits. I listen to instrumental music in the morning, because I don’t like a lot of words to penetrate my brain as I’m setting the tone for the day.
I usually go to the studio and it depends on what I’m working on, either continue something I started already, or dive into a new idea and just empty my system into whatever comes out.
For me meeting friends is always a grounding & fun experience. I love my friends.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
On Amrat, my upcoming album, it was a very queer process, queer, as in approach.
It began when I had a hand injury which stopped me from playing guitar, so I started to produce with more electronic elements, as in looping a synth and adding the drums and singing on top and ending up with a song.
When my injury got better and I started healing, I went back to playing guitar and reworked the materials as well as writing more materials. It created this beautiful duality, two almost different sounds, but also very alike, of acoustic and electronic, of urban and natural landscapes.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I love collaborations. I feel they bring something out of me that can never come out when I’m in the studio by myself.
In my side project “Kallemi”, an all female band with La Nefera, Jasmin Al Bash & Maysa Daw, I explore in new territories like hip hop, electronica, RnB & arabic / North African percussions to which I bring my guitar sounds and songwriting approach. These are territories I cannot tap into organically when I’m alone working on something and I’m very grateful for that.
But of course, I also love going to the studio by myself and going inwards and coming out few hours later with a song.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
As a Palestinian woman, music and creating music means being. And the act of that specific being is resisting patriarchy, apartheid and occupation in the same breath.
For me responsibility, artistry and community are connected and inseparable.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Absolutely, I reflect a lot through art. The beautiful thing about music and lyrics is that it’s a lot to do with the subconscious.
Sometimes while improvising with my voice on a new track, I start singing something and I don’t immediately understand my choice of words, but in retrospect when I hear the song as a whole, it gives me a different perspective on what I was going through and helps me understand myself better.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I go by John Burnside's argument that it is poetry and art that save the world every day. It is how we declare our love for things, how we remember, nurture hope, give shape to our grief, how we define ourselves as something more than mechanical beings. We make culture.
That kind of magic is what we are here to perpetrate. Music and sound is vibration and frequency and I think that vibration means life.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
That’s why I love songwriting as a medium so much, because I feel it gives life to ideas and feelings in a way that other art forms cannot.
You can create a whole scenery, feeling, soundscape which I feel for example in cinema you can do, but music as a medium I feel it’s the most accessible and relatable out of all mediums.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Even before language existed we were using sounds to communicate our needs. Music is one of the oldest art forms, I think it’s an innate thing, it’s not something you learn or can really teach or explain beyond science, theory or history. Everyone can feel a beat.
And that's where songwriting comes in for me, the ability to transmit emotions and thoughts in the form of a song is fascinating in my opinion.