PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Postas
I have been speaking with Zjál…
about her upcoming E.P., Home. That is dropping very soon and, in the coming weeks, its title-track will be unveiled. The Australian-raised artist talks about themes that inspired the E.P. and how she got into music; which albums are important to her and why she idolises artists such as Michael Jackson.
I ask what advice she would give to artists coming through and whether she has a favourite musical memory; what she hopes to achieve by the end of the year; if she gets time to chill away from music – she selects a great song to end the interview with.
Hi, Zjál. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, guys! My week has been amazing, thank you! I just recently had a single release party in my hometown of Adelaide, Australia. It was such a special night finally being able to share everything I've been working on with my family and friends who have been there from the get-go. It's all very real now. I’m preparing for the release of my first single, Home, next month and I couldn't be more excited.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I'm an R&B singer/songwriter of Middle Eastern descent, born and raised in Australia. My name, Zjál, is actually an Arabic word which describes the ancient Lebanese art of poetry slam. I love to be lyrically meaningful in what I do because I appreciate anything of substance and love to contribute a sort of ‘essence’ in my music. Everything I write is close to my heart or born out of experience or something I’ve witnessed.
I have been building this dream for years working under my previous name ‘Yasmine Amari’ but recently underwent a rebranding and a rebirth discovering my voice and realizing my current sound. My musical style, which has emerged in the last few years, is something I’m really proud to share. Music is about connection, for me, and I hope it reaches people on a deeper level.
Home is your debut E.P. What sort of themes inspired the songs? Do you have a standout cut from the E.P.?
My standout track would be my first single, Home. There is something about it that just hits the right spot, not only for me but with everyone who has heard it thus far. There is a variation of themes throughout my E.P.: I love to mix it up and have a bit of everything. There are some soulful tracks on the ‘love’ theme. Then, I have some more upbeat Hip-Hop feels which showcase my sassy side and attitude.
There are also some more cheeky and fun vibes. I've honestly been through a range of emotions in the last few years which I’ve incorporated into this E.P. All the smiles, tears; struggles, victories in discovering my worth, falling in love; moving from place to place and finding my purpose. It’s the first time allowing myself to be this transparent and bravely expose my sensuality. This is only the beginning.
I get the impression poetry and Hip-Hop’s use of language, in addition to Pop and Soul, is important to you. Would that be a fair assumption?
Yes: that is a perfect assumption. I admire the art of poetry and I respect Rap just as equally when used in the form of poetry and storytelling as it originated. I appreciate learning and connecting through music and lyrics. I'm more likely to be listening to music with meaning because I’m someone who yearns for depth. I’m an old soul and feel as though, if something isn’t stimulating me emotionally, then it’s not really for me. I believe life is about sharing and using art as a form of elevation. I am someone who longs for authenticity and honesty so when I need to express myself or want to feel connected I’ll most likely pump some music and let my pen move freely.
You were born in Australia but spend a lot of time in London. What compelled the move to the U.K.?!
My heart is the boss of me…I do what she tells me.
I was at a point in my life where I was in transition, I felt stagnant; I felt suffocated. I had to let go of everything which was no longer serving me and needed to just be free for a while. I wanted to take a risk. I had always felt a connection to the U.K. since I was a child so my heart led the way and I followed it.
To me, it just felt like a new beginning; somewhere I felt like I could build my new foundation, so I decided to stay. I’m a traveller by nature. I love immersing myself in new cultures, new places/experiences and I feel travelling goes hand in hand with my creativity. It brings out a passionate side of me and inspires my music and writing. Looking back now, moving to another country on my own was a bold move, but I am extremely proud of it.
Which artists compelled you growing up? What sort of music were you raised on?
I was raised on mostly Rock music growing up so I have a great appreciation for it. My parents listened to a lot of '80s American and Australian rock which has rubbed off on me in ways but, when I first saw Michael Jackson, I was utterly mesmerized. He pretty much took over my speakers from the moment I heard him sing. Then it wasn’t until around high-school that my love for R&B and Hip-Hop emerged - Lauryn Hill, Tupac and Erykah Badu. I love being open to all styles of music as long as it reaches me on some level.
Do you recall when you got into music? Was there a time or moment when you knew you had to chase it?
To be honest, I can't seem to recall a single moment where it just hit me because I’ve always been so innately drawn to music. Every time I lose focus, I return to the understanding that I can’t see myself doing anything else. It’s strange…it wasn’t until I joined the school choir, when I was about seven or eight, and we sung Heal the World by M.J. that I became the instigator of dance performances and singing groups with my friends. I'd organize performances in assembly for no reason at all and my teachers would just allow it!
As a child, I was always singing and dancing but then, as I got older, I became really shy and introverted. There was a phase where I wouldn’t sing in front of anyone by myself…then, it was in high-school that I worked through the shyness and became a lead singer in the school band. When I realised people’s positive reactions to me singing, I was shocked into confidence and that’s when I started feeling as though I could actually build a career out of this and I have not stopped since.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
This is one of the hardest questions ever! It always changes but, for right now...
Lauryn Hill - Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
It would definitely be one of them. Lyrically, she expresses EVERYTHING that I’ve always wanted to say. It’s the closest lyrically to what I express in my poetry.
Tupac - Greatest Hits
I mean…this was on-repeat throughout my life. He’s such a special truthful and authentic soul; I connect with him on so many levels.
Michael Jackson - Thriller
Of course! Choosing one M.J. album is torture - because I’m in love with every single one.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
I hope to continue to build a loyal following and reach people across the globe. I'm really looking forward to promoting my E.P. and furthering my career. I hope my music is received well. I’d also love to be travelling and performing.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
My favorite memory so far would be being nominated for an Australian Independent Music Award in Sydney a few years ago. I knew that was just the beginning of amazing things to come. Being one of two women in the Urban category was an unforgettable moment! Walking the red carpet that day brought a sense of pride, especially being an independent artist. I'm focused on making many more memories like that and much bigger.
If you could support any musician alive today, who would you choose?
The legendary, beautiful and powerful Janet Jackson. She is someone who has maintained the longevity any artist would dream of. No limitations, brave heart and soul. I love her.
How important is it being on stage and playing? Is it possible to describe the emotions you feel when connecting with fans in the audience?
Live music is healing. I believe it’s one of the most important things as an artist. For me, it's all about a vibe and connection. When I get onstage, it unleashes parts of myself which I would usually keep reserved. It’s my ‘high’ since I don’t drink or take any mind-altering substances. For me, being on stage and expressing myself authentically is my freedom...my euphoria.
I get overwhelmed with gratitude for being able to live my dream and have people appreciate it…but it is also the place where I feel I’m completely in control. That is priceless.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Don’t ever feel like you need to be more than who you actually are to be unique. Everyone seems to try so hard to stand out but when you are authentic in who you are all you have to do is show up.
Always trust your own intuition above all! Never allow anyone to tell you how things have to be done: always listen to your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not. Allow time to build a solid foundation. Define your purpose. For me, this is not about fast fame, it’s about longevity. Trends aren't necessarily always healthy, so always do what you believe is right regardless of what everyone else is doing and don’t compare yourself to anyone. Ever. And know how amazing you are.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sabrina Claudio
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I make sure to get enough ‘me time’ because, if I’m not good, nothing else will be either. I can turn into a savage otherwise! I do a lot of winding down. Things that might not seem ‘fun’ to many people but are necessary for my wellbeing. Meditation and alone time is a necessity for me; after all the energy, adrenaline and excitement of traveling performing and meeting people...my favorite thing to do is be alone. I lavishly indulge in anything which makes me feel relaxed and balanced: good food, long baths; candles, incense.
Sometimes, I need absolute silence and won’t even listen to music. It's crazy. I like watching films to take my mind off of life and I love immersing myself in nature. And, when I've had my time to center and reground myself, I love being with those that I love.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Thanks so much for having me, guys! Right now, I'm feeling: Killem with Kindness - Dizzy Wright