Deeyah's Music: An Interview with Steven Nevets
ďWhat Will It BeĒ is the second single?
It took me many years to get over [an incident that had] happened in Norway because when I moved to London I was at the point when anyone came too close to me, I would flinch. And I actually didnít even know that I used to do this. My mom, when she came to visit me, she pointed it out and was yelling at me and was saying, ďYou know, you need to get yourself together. Nobody knows you here. Youíre going to be okay.Ē
I kind of almost had to put myself back together. And that took many years. And when it happened finally in the U.K., I freaked out. I threw away my phones, my computers, left the flat that I was in and moved in with people so that I didnít have to be on my own. And basically said, ďFuck this. I canít handle this. This is not meant to happen, not again and not to me.Ē I basically packed my bags and came to the US. I had to think long and hard about what I want to do with my life. Do I want to continue? And I basically came to the conclusion that I am going to continue because I canít stop living my life and I canít keep running. Really, ďWhat Will It BeĒ is very much a direct reaction and result to what has happened and what has been happening for many, many years. Simply, itís a protest song. Itís a big fuck you is what it is.
Is the ďLori Pashto LullabyĒ going to be on the record?
Yes, itís going to be on the new record. I really like it. Lori means ďlullaby.Ē Pashto is the main language spoken out of Afghanistan. My mom is from Afghanistan. Basically the reason and why it kind of came about was my mom was living with me in London for a couple of years. We were sitting, watching TV and this documentary about the Taliban came on. One of the segments in the documentary was basically about the women that are in jail in Afghanistan, and the crimes Ė or not the crimes Ė to have to end up there. The majority of them they showed have their children with them in jail. They have little kids and babies in jail with them. They ended it showing the execution of one of the women in a famous, famous photograph, the one in the baseball stadium. And my mom started bawling, she just started crying and just couldnít stop. And I was like, ďAre you okay? Are you going to be okay?Ē She was like, ďIím a mother. Look at this mother. She knows sheís going to be gone, she knows this is going to be it. And she has her kids with her. Can you imagine her singing a final lullaby to her baby in jail knowing that sheís gone tomorrow?Ē And I sat there quiet for a long time, just going, ďWow. Wow.Ē I got her help a little bit and decided to do ďLullaby,Ē almost like the final lullaby that that woman would sing.
How difficult is it dealing with Western-style music Ė rap or rock Ė and singing in a different language? Can you even rhyme in a foreign language?
Yes, definitely yesÖitís actually English that gets me. The first album that I did was a very odd album. When I was 13 or 14 we recorded that. The lyrics were written by a therapist of all things, like an older woman. And that was in Norwegian. That was harder than English. Norwegian, to me, is a very stiff language.
And was that In All Kinds of Light?
Yes, thatís it. Thatís the one. There was Western folk-like musicians involved in that and jazz musicians. It was just this really odd mix of things and I remember feeling a little bit lost because I was only like, I think they signed me when I was 13, and they kept pushing. They were like, ďYou have to do an album, you have to do an album.Ē And I remember myself and my parents were like, ďI have school. You know? Iím not done yet. Iím not supposed to be doing this until Iím 18. I must train and develop and progress as a singer and as an artist and thatís it.Ē But they pressurized us so much. They were like, ďNo, weíll handle everything for you, just do it.Ē And we were like, ďUh, fine.Ē
You did a second record, right? Deepika (Deeyahís true name)?
Yeah, thatís when I started to become more ďme.Ē I worked with a Norwegian guy and a British producer, and actually a guy that was living in Norway at the time. His background was more electronica and trip-hop at the time. I brought in some Indian musicians like tabla players and also gave the producers some really, really old recordings that my dad had of one-off, artists that you canít really find anymore out of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and places like that. This was in English, so this album was fifty percent English and then fifty percent all the other languages.
So you were finding yourself a lot more on this second record?
Oh, definitely. I still wasnít quite sure what I was doing, because even this album was kind of more, not forced necessarily, but the kind of album that a deal just lands on you and now people want you to do stuff. We started recording it when I was 16 and started coming out when I was 17 and early 18. This is the album, that on a personal level as well, I was starting to grow and come into my own a bit more. So the music videos that we did, everything was, now it wasnít my mom dressing me basically. I was like any other Norwegian girl my age. It was not like I was promiscuous or aggressive when it comes to sexuality. It was just the same thing as any other girl. And yet, two music videos for that did very well. It got tons and tons of attention and was played nonstop everywhere, video as well as radio. Then the second video, then things went wrong again. But this was something, even when I was pretty inoffensive, this was something that was still there. I think what a lot of people donít know, music in general is not considered a particularly respectable profession. One of the additional things that makes it worse for a lot of people, when the Brits came to India, at that time, musicians were very, very well respected and musicians basically lived with the kings and they would entertain the kings. When the Brits came, obviously things changed and the musicians were thrown out. The musicians didnít have anywhere to go. The only place that they found a roof and the only people that would take them in was actually the red light district. Today, people still equate musicians with whores basically.
I remember time and time again telling my dad not to let me sing. Because my dad was who got me into music and his friends were like, ďWe donít even let our boys do this let alone our girls. Why would you do this? Especially the fact that sheís from a respectable family. Sheís not even from a musical family. Why would you do that?Ē
My dad has always been very kind of rebellious. He was a bit of a hippie. He absolutely loved music. He so wishes he was a musician himself so badly. He used to play tons and tons of music at home. He was also quite disheartened by a lot of things in Norway. In his eyes, there are only two professions where you will not be judged by your sex, your race, your religion, your culture Ė where racism basically canít play a role. And thatís either sports or itís music, where youíll be judged on how good you are.
In terms of the music and what Iím doing in general, it might not be heard by a lot of people or it might be a huge thing. Iíve not necessarily had a lot of international success, but Iíve had success in the past. Iím not really into this, ooh, I want to be on the charts, and, ooh, I just want to be famous. Itís not really about that. Itís about something I need to do. The most important thing is for me to get a lot of things off my chest. Itís almost like therapyÖA lot of the people said, ďMusic and politics do not work.Ē
What are your feelings about that?
I donít agree. What about the sixties? What about the seventies? I mean, this is not like itís something new. I think music throughout history has had the ability to write some sort of commentary almost on whatís going on socially and politically of that timeÖ The preachiness of it is something different. If someone is going to stand there and pour something down your throat, that I donít like. But what I think music definitely has the ability to do is reflect on whatís going on. The times we are living in right now, you see there is so much plastic around still. Itís almost like people donít even want to acknowledge that shit is going on. I guess that I can understand the purpose of really light, fun music as well because in difficult times you need something that is distracting and music almost being like an escape. Iím very happy with the fact that people like System of a Down and even Green Day to an extent, a lot of the acts that are doing very well at the moment, commercially as well, but they are actually coming across a bit more conscious than just, aaah, just having fun.
You would think people would embrace you for what youíre doing and use you as a touchstone, a guidepost.
Thatís exactly what I thought. I thought, ďWow, people are going to be so proud of me because I am the first Muslim person that has been on the front covers of these newspapers talking about something nice.Ē I had nothing to do with September 11. I didnít bomb London. I didnít kill Theo Van Gogh. Iíve talked with journalists here in the US and in the UK as well and they do make everything very, very dramatic and like, ďOh, poor girl.Ē Iím not necessarily looking for sympathy. Iím actually lucky. Iíve not had it easy, but Iím alive. Music, again, itís the only thing I know. It really is. Itís the only thing Iíve ever done. Itís been my profession since I was a kid. Iíve hardly done anything else. Iím not equipped to do anything other than music.