Music, Pop Culture

Meet Rajae: Multi-talented Muslim artist challenging society’s stereotypes, one masterpiece at a time

In a world that puts people into camps, I place myself in the role of the outsider, then paint a broader narrative and remind people of their humanity.

Rajae is a Moroccan/Algerian/Dutch singer, recording artist, composer, producer, art director, and theater maker. The Tempest spoke to her about her music, inspiration and about what the music scene is like for young Muslim women artists.

The Tempest: What is your background in music and how did you get started?

Rajae: I started with ballet at age 4, classical music at age 7. Age 15 I left home to take care of myself and to dare to live my dreams. One year later at 16, I was admitted into a music conservatory. From age 20 I started recording in The Netherlands, London, California, Ibiza, Hollywood, everywhere. At 25, I started my own label, because mainstream labels couldn’t deal with a Muslim female artist and Muslim labels wouldn’t promote women. I released albums, performed a lot and built a skill set in the studio, on stage, and behind the scenes.

I recently started my own production company to build a larger platform and create a ripple effect, we’re building a bridge between the Maghreb region and the West.

What inspires the music and initiatives you create?

Rajae: Life, emotions, love, friendship, faith, roots and social justice. Music to me is a vehicle for emotion. Art is capable of uniting worlds and people in a universal manner that transcends differences. In a world where society is pushing people into camps, I place myself in the role of the outsider and observe, then paint a broader narrative and remind people of their humanity and love. Old music legends also inspire me, as well as old traditions and because I am North-African and European, I mix rhythms, melodies, styles create a new iconography.

I love pop, soul, jazz, world and decent deep house music. Love, relationships also affect my music. Longing, missing, wanting, all of that romantic stuff… I can express it in songs. Other initiatives, like my theatre projects, are often inspired by issues in society I want to discuss. I am for social justice and access to art for all people, not just for the elite. Art/music without that element is also beautiful, but aesthetics without purpose doesn’t make art appealing to me. I love art and music that triggers emotion, intellect, spirit and when it’s time to celebrate makes me dance and be joyful.

You have a huge tour coming up – how did you get to where you are now, and what’s something people should be on the lookout for with your music?

Rajae: I’ve been building for quite some years… Building a skill set on stage and behind the scenes + a local and international network. I was indie from day one because I didn’t fit in mainstream categories. I’m glad I took that path because unlike many I am in charge of my message, image, and sound.

Being a woman with my roots and faith means I can be free to be me and allow others to do the same. The professionals around me and the media that support me really dig my style and message. They are my partners, no one owns me. I have already released 2 albums.

Recently, I released an EP titled ‘Watani’ (My Homeland), which has 4 songs about my Maghreb roots, my grandfathers, the power of women and grace (in love and friendship) which are also the songs I will use in my theater production (music, visuals, and storytelling). It’s crazy to see that all my dreams are actually coming true. I’m a bit nervous…. people who know me, know that I am quite shy and an introvert.

How did your childhood influence your life decisions, and is there anything you wish you could have done differently?

Rajae: My childhood was quite hard. We moved to Amsterdam when I was a baby. I grew up without a father, in a new country and had to break with my family at the tender age of 15 in order to pursue this path. It has been lonely and painful, but I never became bitter. In fact, I worked 20x as hard as my peers to not show I was weaker and to show that I was able, worthy and capable of excelling and performing well. On the outside people don’t know what pain or fear you carry. Artists learn at an early age to impress with their artistic talent. Juries and the judgment of the industry can be hard, so you have to develop a thick skin.

I never had the luxury to be a kid and make mistakes. I think my childhood has grounded me and confronted me that reality is hard and it is up to you how you react to failure and loss and what you make of life. No one promises us an easy life. It is what it is. Growth comes with growing pains I guess…. If anything I wish my mother and I could have found a way to understand each other and for her to have had a better support system to make it easier.

TT: What’s the importance of having more women like you in the work that you’re doing? Do you see women like you in the people you look up to?

Rajae: In music, we see a lot of beautiful, talented women creating music and narratives from a dominant Western perspective. Often entertaining yet highly sexualised. What I hope for is that we also see more women who shape a broader narrative, of contemporary (North)Africa or Asia and their diaspora, of contemporary Islam (and other faiths) of immigrants in the world defining their new hybrid identities. Of vulnerability. You have to keep it real as an artist who records.

Music influences kids, the sounds, words, and images. Pop culture is important to kids, so we have to make it relatable, without it being fake or restrictive. If anything, I hope I can foster an energy that allows youth and my audience to be their authentic selves. Whether you are religious or not, whether you are a kid or of an older generation.

I hope that women like me can show that where you come from, what you believe in or what childhood you’ve had does not have to impact you in a negative way. Other artists like Hindi Zahra, Yuna, Malika Zarra, Oum and a couple of others are all extremely gifted, beautiful souls and making amazing music that brings joy and inspiration to the world.

Attribution: Afagh Morrowatian

What’s some advice that young diverse women should keep in mind as they go through life?

Rajae: Be patient, educate yourself, study and work hard, be humble… but perform, strive to be excellent, be kind and show solidarity to other women. Don’t be gullible. Understand it still is a man’s world, so be a boss, be professional and take your space. Be patient with love, be picky with whom you allow in your inner circle. Travel the world if you can.

Be your own best friend when life or people disappoint you. Be joyful and celebrate this miracle called life… It truly is a miracle. Be a kind human being without being a doormat, be kind to yourself and no matter how hard life can be: make sure you look great, put on beautiful perfume and wear your smile.

More info: www.rajae.net  Facebook: /rajae.net  Twitter: @rajae  Instagram: @rajae  Snapchat: @rajae.net. Check out Rajae’s music on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Amazon. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.