The Regional Artist Spotlight initiative is all about championing regional music talent…

Born in Belgium with Iranian roots and raised between Sydney and Dubai, singer/songwriter Layla Kardan’s rise to regional stardom has been a journey of courage and self-discovery. She left a successful corporate career to follow her dream of being a singer. In doing so, she lost the security of a full-time job, and felt familial hostility for her choices, but the gamble paid off, allowing her the freedom to pursue the truest side of herself. To date, she has won many accolades and awards, sung on the region’s biggest stages, and been handpicked by Quincy Jones himself to perform at his award-winning Dubai venue, Q’s Bar.

What’s On: How did you first get into music?

L: I have always been very musical and poetic. I grew up on stage as a classical ballerina, but was never really encouraged to be a musician or a singer. I got to a very low point in my life where I wasn’t living my truth or being my most authentic self, so I made a decision almost overnight to drop everything and instead pursue the things I was passionate about. Top of the list was music. From one day to the next, people would ask me what I did and I would say I was a singer and before I knew it I formed a band and started to perform live with no training or previous band experience. I just went for it.

WO: How would you describe the music that you make?

L: Dream Pop. Dreamy pop music with electronic synths and beats, jazzy melodic lines and lyrics with substance.

WO: Who are the artists, or people, who inspire you?

L: The artists that most inspire me are Sade, Prince and Nina Simone for their sheer talent and individualism as well as how timeless they are as artists. Women like Maya Angelou, Frida Kahlo and Madonna inspire much of my messaging and grit, and I’m also inspired by people around me who I admire and look up to. The more current artists I’m loving are Cleo Sol, Jill Scott and Sault.

WO: What are your latest musical accomplishments?

L: I recently released my EP Abscission, which was well received locally and by international publications. Not much has been going on lately, but I am proud to have won Emirates Woman Artist of the Year and Esquire Middle East Music Artist of the Year.

WO: What is your creative process like?

L: I am generally quite busy with lots of things happening, so I really need to carve out the time to focus on my craft and my creativity. I listen to beats or play with my band and just improvise melodies and lyrics and then edit them into a song with structure. I feel I’m freer when I freestyle and flow and more of an authentic sound is produced. Since the pandemic, I have done less, traveled less, seen less and so have been less inspired, so I guess you could say I haven’t been as active, but I am working on my next album now with six-time Grammy award-nominated producer, Benny Cassette.

WO: Where have you performed and which was your favourite?

L: I have performed in so many great venues globally and regionally, and all these experiences I am equally grateful for, but I do prefer the smaller more intimate venues where you’re so close to the audience that you can feel their energy and they can feel yours. I love performing at Quincy Jones’ bar, Q’s in Palazzo Versace Hotel, Dubai for that very reason.

WO: What are your latest releases? What is the story behind them?

L: Abscission, my four-track EP, is a project about releasing yourself from people or things that no longer serve you or elevate you to a higher state of being. I had to cut off a lot of negative attachments to release myself from painful cycles that were repeating in my life and this EP shares some of those stories.

WO: Are you working with any other artists right now?

L: Yeah, as mentioned I am working with Benny Cassette from LA (ex Good Music producer) who is really hot right now. He’s working with a lot of big names from Burna Boy to Dua Lipa so I am honoured to have this opportunity. There are also some dream collaborations I have in mind so hoping that will come to life.

WO: What does your involvement in the Regional Artist Spotlight mean to you?

L: It means a lot. It’s so important to have recognition as an independent artist in a very tough market. I am always grateful for any exposure I get and for the chance to connect with a new audience. The more support we get from the local community, the more our audience base grows, and in turn the bigger the industry gets. Thank you to all involved in this great initiative.

WO: What is your top 5 after-party playlist?

Top Down by Channel Tres

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Images: Provided