August 25th, 2017
Earlier this summer, Hoot’s co-blog editor Alyssa Gengos caught up with Wafia, an Australian singer-songwriter of Arab and Dutch heritage. They chatted about being a woman in the music industry, the importance of POC’s representation in music, personal style, and confidence.
Alyssa: Hey Wafia! You’re based in Brisbane, Australia, right?
Wafia: Yes! It’s really beautiful.
Alyssa: One thing that I’ve noticed about Australian artists is that there seems to be a strong community of musicians within the country. Do you think that has to do with just your proximity to each other, or is there something else that brings you all together? A lot of your collaborators are on your label – Australian producers.
Wafia: I think it’s different for everyone. For me, personally, I kind of built my own community because I felt like I didn’t fit into the ones that were preexisting. It all happened perchance, the producers that I worked with. Everything was pretty much a chance meeting. I worked with this guy called Thrupence who hit me up on Twitter because… he did [laughs]. One day, I was doing a photoshoot on some basketball courts and I met Ta-ku that way, and he hit me up that night. That same day, I met my principal co-writer, who has been [Ben] Abraham. Everything kind of happens perchance. In that, I sort of built my own community. And I always have to fly to see them, it’s not like they’re actually cl
ose to me at all. If I want to see Ta-ku, it’s like a 4 to 5 hour flight to the other side of the country. I think the internet makes it easy, if anything. Working with them is almost like having an LA collaborator, because I do think there is quite a lot of land between us.
Alyssa: Have you ever considered working with female producers or other female vocalists? It seems like there’s this pattern of female vocalist-male producer, and I think it just has to do with more male producers at the forefront. And like you said, you running into these people, this is all by chance – but do you ever consider your role within that pattern? Do you ever seek out female producers to work with, or do you know of any you’d like to work with?
Wafia: Yeah! There’s this producer called WondaGirl. I really love her stuff. I think she did a bunch of Drake. I love her. I just haven’t had the chance… I work with this co-writer called Caroline Pennell, who has become a really good friend of mine. But there just aren’t enough – there are women in the music industry, they just sadly aren’t in the limelight as much. I don’t know how to describe it.
Alyssa: Do you think it’s not as easy for them to get exposure, or do you think it’s because there’s just not enough women?
Wafia: I think it’s harder for them to get exposure, definitely. Like, it’s a male dominated part of the industry, the whole production kind of thing. I think most women end up more on the songwriting side then they do the production side, and it would be awesome to see more women doing more production. I do know that there is a community of women – people who identify as female – doing more electronic stuff in Australia, but I haven’t encountered that in LA. LA, to me, is still really fresh and new. I’m just scratching the surface.
Alyssa: Have you ever considered learning production yourself, or would you rather keep the two – your songwriting and your singing – separate from the more compositional background of your music?
Wafia: Personally, I know enough production to make a song. I’ve started songs by myself before. I know that I’m not good enough to produce out the full song, so it works really great on a demo level because I just want to get the ideas out as quickly as possible. I think there’s something beautiful in taking something to someone and saying, “hey, I can’t do this and I need your help to finish it.” I think it definitely keep me humble, because I like collaborating with people. I love getting to know people and knowing about their stories. I’m a woman of color, so it’s important for me to work with people of color, above all, more than anything else. That, to me, is a priority. If I bring this song to this particular person, it means I get to sit across the table from them for a few hours and get to know them and their life story. That, to me, is more of a personal gain than finishing a song by myself. You get to share the experience of writing a song with other people, and I feel like that’s more rewarding for me.
Alyssa: The more people you have working on one piece of music, the more diverse identities are going to be represented, especially when you’re performing live. Let’s talk a little bit about your live performance. How would you describe your personal aesthetic? Does your music ever influence the way you dress, or does the way you dress influence your music?
Wafia: For me, it’s always about comfort. I will always pick a piece based on comfort and make sure that I can sit and move around in it on stage. I’m not really a big dancer – I choose to just be in the moment and sing it. I think of where I was when I first wrote the song, and try to connect with the crowd as much as possible that way. I’m not a grandiose sort of performer. I think that reflects in my style of clothing. I like things that are really detail-oriented, like lots of embroidery, but it’s kind of hidden – it’s not always the first thing you see about that piece. I really like nice fabrics because, again, comfort. I want to be able to touch it and feel like it feels good on me. I think that’s what it comes down to in terms of my style. If I don’t have to be on stage, I’m not wearing any makeup, I’m not wearing any fancy clothes, I’m just in jeans and my favorite shirt that week, and Vans. It’s super casual for me, because when I have to be on, it’s a lot of work involved, and I just don’t enjoy doing that.
Alyssa: It seems like your style really reflects your music. Your live shows seem chill, really focused on the music and not as much on the performance. Your style really lets the music speak for itself – it doesn’t detract from your performance in any way.
Wafia: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. For me, the song is king. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have that experience that I wrote about that day – maybe that brought me here. The song is the thing that matters all of the time. If you strip it away and I sing it at a piano, is it still a good song? I feel like that’s how I feel. If you strip me away, could I still sing a song to you? Yes [laughs]. I’m not a great show-woman, I just like to sing.
Alyssa: I think that says a lot about your sense of self, too. You’re confident just being a person who sings and performs honestly and truthfully. Are there any musicians that you look to for style cues that don’t generally influence your own music? Someone that works in a different genre, or not even musicians?
Wafia: The obvious is Rihanna. What she exudes in her style in confidence. She’s just killing it. She’s always been killing it. That is the most powerful thing I think you have as a woman: being really unapologetic, and not shying away from the space that you occupy. Just be like, “this is me, this is where I am, everything else is whatever.” I really admire her for that. And then Zendaya. She dresses so well. Her stylist – I follow him on Instagram – he’s genius. They’re so good together. She does every look really well.
Alyssa: She is so cool.
Wafia: When she wore her hair in dreads [at the Oscars in 2015]… Again, so unapologetic, confident, and incredible.
Interview by Alyssa Gengos
Photograph courtesy of Wafia