Flash Entertainment continues its Regional Artist Spotlight initiative to champion regional music talent…

Shébani has come a long way in her musical career since dancing to music videos in her bedroom. The talented Iraqi R&B singer-songwriter has launched a successful YouTube channel, released several killer singles, and performed not only on the UAE’s top stages but internationally, too.

But it’s her drive to create positive change that’s really making her stand out from the crowd…

How did you first get into music?

Memories of my childhood are filled with singing and dancing to music videos and dance movies in my room. I was a performer before I even realised it could be my profession. Luckily, I grew up in a very creative household. My older sister was my biggest inspiration. I regularly watched her perform in talent shows. By 18, I was singing every day, but I never performed in front of anyone until I signed up for a singing competition at uni. Things picked up after graduation – I launched my YouTube channel and began uploading covers. I got involved in jam sessions, open mic nights and a few performances here and there.

In 2016, I took the plunge and released my first work, the Alter Ego EP. The rest was history…

How would you describe the music that you make?

My music is vulnerable and honest. I’m strongly driven and inspired by my thoughts and the way emotions work. I’ve experimented with a lot of sounds and I’m still trying to figure out who I am as an artist. I definitely don’t think it’s an overnight achievement. We tend to learn more about ourselves in our personal and social lives. The same goes for music. I’m always learning and growing, and that inspires me. I write about my learnings, feelings, happiness, pain, struggles I’ve overcome, love and all the things that make us vulnerable humans.

Who are the artists that inspire you?

Any artist who has found the perfect balance of self-awareness, kindness and determination to get through the hard days. I’m inspired by people and artists who leave an impact and create value in what they do. I’m also inspired by sounds, voices and aesthetics. But music to me is more than just the way it sounds or how it looks. I like to get deeper and really understand the intention behind everything. NAO, Banks, Julia Michaels, Gallant, Aaliyah, James Blake and Jon Bellion are some of my all-time favourite artists.

What are your latest musical accomplishments?

I’ve done a lot of things that I’m proud of. I’ve crossed so much off the list but there’s still a lot to do. I can give an easy answer and say maybe supporting Jorja Smith and Liam Payne in 2019 for DSF’s 25th-anniversary show.

But I believe that the hardest thing I was able to do is deciding to take a break from releasing any music and start working on my debut album. I’ve gotten so used to releasing singles that I’ve become desensitised to it. It’s been over a year since I’ve released my last single and I’ve been on a non-stop process of writing, creating and allowing myself to mould a new sound. That excites me more than anything, and I’m really proud of how it’s all coming along.

What is your creative process like? Has it changed since the pandemic?

Yeah, a thousand per cent. My creative process used to make me anxious. I felt like I had to be quick with everything. The pandemic taught me to slow things down. You can’t rush good music. The best fuel for music is to live your life away from it. How else are you going to make stories to write about? I find that that really helps me with writing.

Technically speaking, my creative process always begins with an idea or an emotion I’m feeling in the moment. I write it down on my notes if it’s lyrics, or record it on my voice memos if it’s a melody. This one single and small idea then turns into a whole song. My process is definitely gradual, and I find that journaling is the best way to get ideas out.

Where have you performed?

I’ve performed in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, Lebanon and Jordan. The most performances I’ve done are in Dubai. I’m so grateful for shows like Sole DXB, DSF 2019, the Beat DXB and much more. They’ve shaped me tremendously.

Some of my favourite venues to perform at were Under The Bridge and O2 Academy Islington in London. When Ed Sheeran started out, he was one of my biggest inspirations to become a songwriter, and I had heard that in his beginnings, he performed at a venue in London called The Bedford live. So during my musical studies there, I called them up and asked if I can put on a show. They said ‘yes’. I don’t know how that happened, but I was so humbled to be on that stage. It wasn’t big, but you can feel all the history and the incredible moments that were created on it. That’s irreplaceable.

What are your latest releases and what are the stories behind them?

I haven’t released any music for a while, but I’m currently working on my debut album with Berlin-based artist and producer James Chatburn. He’s incredible and I’m so happy to be creating with him. This is a project that I am truly ready for. I’m so excited to share it with the world soon.

Which one of these releases is your favourite and why?

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It’s hard to choose, because every release I had was an important moment in my life. But if I had to choose, I’d say my favourites are the unreleased ones. It’s my biggest project thus far, and it’s therapy to me.

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

I love to see more women get involved in the music industry. I love to see women write songs and get in the studio to make projects happen. I love to see new producers, artists, songwriters, managers, DJs get out there and take up space. But regardless of gender, here’s the bigger picture: I believe that the more we speak out as artists, the more we inspire others to come out and join the field. I don’t only want to shed light on my music and accomplishments and call it a day. I want to leave a positive impact on the world and make sure it’s known that it’s not wrong to pursue a creative outlet. If all it takes is for me to be loud and present, then that’s the easiest way for me to create a ripple effect and help others believe in themselves and what they have to offer. One day I want to be on someone’s “top five artists who inspire you” list.

What is your top five after-party playlist?

1. Anything by NAO. All of it.
2. Alternative R&B
3. Best of James Blake
4. Byfaith (a playlist curated by my sister)
5. All the throwback playlists (‘90s R&B, ‘00s R&B)

@RegionalArtistSpotlight, @shebanimusic