Our cover star, defining the sounds of her culture and her soul,
Layla Kardan is launching her first album from Dubai.
Photography – Ayaad Damouni at D the Agency using the Huawei P9
Creative Director – Meredith Damouni at D the Agency
Stylist – Tara Ellis at Capital D Studio
Hair and Makeup – Blow Out & Go
Production and Post – Capital D Studio
Tell us about your inspiration. How did your journey start?
I can’t say I grew up in a household of musicians, or that I was exposed to my parents’ eclectic music collection as the story usually goes, but I did always have an affinity for all types of music. As a young child I was moved by most rhythms and melodic lines, and would move to almost any beat I heard. I felt music was within me and very much connected to it. When I started classical ballet at the age of four, my appreciation for classical music its intricacies and story telling began. From then on, I started exploring all different genres, which lead me to discover soul, jazz and blues.
In your profession, there are several icons and legends, whom have you idolised the most?
There are far too many to mention. I feel the strongest connection to Sade. I wouldn’t say I idolised her, but I am most captivated by her as an artist – her sensual allure, her sultry vocal delivery, her songwriting ability, and most of all her humility and grace.
You mentioned Nina Simone as one of your stellar impressionists. With her music she delivered some powerful messages. Do you think you could resonate a theme or a cause through your music, have you tried it before, if not then do you intend to?
Of course I respect and admire those who use art to positively influence society and I can only hope my music has the same impact as that of Nina Simone with a legacy that will live on far beyond her living years. She lived through a very controversial time and was pivotal in a movement that saw much freedom for her people. I have a more subtle approach. Times are different and I would like to use my music to bridge a gap between the Middle East and the West, liberally representing the contrasting cultures brought together through music and mutual respect. Rather than the focus always being negative stereotyping, I feel that using music as a universal language can spark interest, appreciation and compassion from people of other cultures.
How did your Persian heritage shape your music choices and style?
Very positively. Iranian music is diverse and beautiful. We have classical and traditional music, which uses instruments that are up 6000 years old to make hypnotic beats and haunting melodies, through to progressive pop music that explores rhythms not typical in modern Western music. I like to fuse Persian instruments and melodies into my music sometimes. In terms of style, I often interject with some oriental runs, which makes for an interesting tie in.
You lived in and traveled to many countries; would you call yourself a Global Woman?
Absolutely. I am very proud of my heritage, and continue to celebrate it and practice some of the traditions, but these days many of us have lived in different places and have been influenced by so many different cultures, that I feel it’s more relevant to call oneself a COW – Citizen of the World.
Many singers just sing; you are essentially also a terrific performer. How do you develop yourself with such a holistic approach?
That’s very kind. I grew up on stage performing classical ballet from a young age and also acting in numerous theatre productions so I was blessed to learn the skills early on. When singing to an audience you have an opportunity to be a maestro – to tell a story, to allow a person to escape or relate in that moment, and to exchange energies. The connection with the audience and also with my fellow musicians on stage is very important to me as a person and as an artist. Singing is a choice I have made in a society that doesn’t value female musicians, so if I’m going to get up there against all the odds, I am going to do it with heart and absolute conviction!
Culture shapes our choices. We want to know how the different cultures affected your singing and life?
Exposure to different cultures teaches you tolerance, appreciation, empathy, understanding of others’ beliefs and ideals and so much more. I can say that I have friends from all corners of the globe, which have taught me that ultimately we all have the same desire – to love and be loved. We just have different languages to express it, different ways of showing it – this has affected me greatly. I have opened my heart and mind to these cultures and their respective traditions and music and as a result I feel it’s influenced my vocal delivery, the composition of my music, my lyrical content and my ability to connect with audiences made up of different races and faces.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In true modern day dervish form, traveling the world, performing to audiences of all ages and races, inspiring young women to follow their dreams despite societal pressure and judgement, to continue to weave a tapestry of bright colours from the East and West to present a positive vision of unity and togetherness. I’d like to have a house on a beach where I can dip my toes in the ocean every morning, a garden out back that will be home to my cats, and a space where I will host Friday night poetry and song evenings with friends from the arts community.
Let’s talk about the trending topic on your agenda this year – your EP.
I am excited. I have been collaborating with some excellent producers and writers from Sweden to create a fresh sound. The aim is to launch by December 2016. I’m an independent artist so I manage everything personally, which is liberating and also trying at times. I am thrilled with the direction though and look forward to working with some progressive and talented local directors to do my video clips next!
Your wardrobe choice is spectacular. Can you brief us on the inspiration and thought behind it?
Ahhhh thank you! More and more my bohemian choices are becoming ethnic with a youthful play on beautiful fabrics, prints and colours. I like to be feminine yet bold inspired by antique orientalism and romantic aesthetics with an edge.
Your music preferences… what do you listen to while driving, while relaxing at home, or to get inspired?
To get ready: A Tribe Called Quest, Lauryn Hill, The Roots, Mos Def.
Relaxing at home: Sade, Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway, Billie Holiday, Cesaria Evora, Buika, Chopin. Driving: Hiyatus Kayote, Faramarz Aslani, India Arie, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu.
To get inspired: Fresh music from artists all over the world and classical Persian music.
The art behind creating poetry… what motivates you and what drives your creativity?
Love, triumph, heartbreak, travel, anger, day-to-day life, visual and mental stimulation. Poetry can be found in everything really. The beauty about using art as an outlet is that you can turn a negative situation into a positive.
You would categorise your songwriting in which mood?
Moody. Sultry. Edgy. Fun. Playful. It really depends on the song.
You chose a lovely Plato quote to adorn your portfolio, can you elaborate your inspiration from it in depth?
It’s self explanatory really, and it rings true for me in that music gives me an opportunity to channel my imagination into an art form that can conjure up emotion in people, which is for me the essence of life – to feel and be moved by experiences.
Where did you learn dancing?
I started Classical Ballet at the ripe age of four years old and continued to dance through till the age of sixteen. I competed in local and national competitions and was very good at it, but I never wanted to be a ballerina as the pressure on my body – feet and spine – was too great, and I love to eat! Ha! I am very happy to have had that discipline as it allows me to pick up all dance forms quite easily, but I don’t consider myself a dancer.
You are an artist, how did you pick your team? Do you find it creatively easier or harder to function with many minds involved in the process?
I think it’s always better to have more heads than one as different ideas and creative flow can be achieved. I think it’s equally important to have a clear and defined direction and to have a signature as an artist or you can get lost in a myriad of beautiful ideas. Most of the time I base my decision on the person’s creative ability and taste, coupled with how well we gel as people – this is important to the process. You might have a creative genius sitting before you, but if you don’t have chemistry it’s not likely you’ll make anything great.
‘Controversial’ is one of the keywords in your folio. Sounds exciting! Can you explain its relevance in your work?
I’m controversial in that I go against the idea that in our society good, educated women are not entertainers. This has been a challenge I’ve faced in my own family and community, having a Masters degree in Business and having worked in the corporate world, coming from a conservative background, I didn’t have much support to pursue a career in the arts. And I see this all the time. There is a stigma attached to music and being a musician here, but one thing we cannot deny is that humankind needs the arts – to express, to soothe, to relate, to bridge gaps. I’d like to challenge the idea that respectable women don’t sing. I respect myself immensely, I respect my elders and my community, and I choose to sing. I’d like to inspire other young women to do the same.
Of all countries you have been in and grown up, would you call Dubai your final destination? If not then where to from here? And if yes, then why Dubai?
I love Dubai. I’ve been living here on and off since the 80’s. We grew up together. I would like to experience life in other countries, I’m open to the world and all the wonderful places I might call home along the way, but I will always have a very special connection to Dubai.
How has the UAE shaped your profile and did you have to modify your style and music to suit the culture or did the culture shape you by its own accord?
I have had the pleasure of being close to Emirati families here I have known from a young age. Their culture, hospitality and warmth is so endearing and welcoming. And with the UAE being such a global community, a melting pot of sorts, it has definitely shaped me in that when people move here they maintain their culture and it’s apparent in the way they dress. I also lived much my impressionable years in Sydney, which is also very multicultural, but you see people adapting more there. So here is where I learnt most about other cultures and their traditions. I think this is beneficial for anyone really.
What is the best jewelry that every woman can wear? What is your daily jewellery pick? Something that you won’t leave your house without.
I love ornate earrings. I think they are feminine can make a statement with the style.