Shebani is ready for her next big evolution.
Dripping in bubblegum pink, a buttery voice and a bold vision, the UAE-based singer-songwriter would be right at home next to the Ariana Grandes and Jorja Smiths of the world (the latter of whom, fittingly, Shebani opened for last year).
And now, as the Iraqi R‘n’B artist continues to climb the ranks of the indie music scene with unapologetic tracks such as ‘Be Me’ (with nearly 100,000 listens on Spotify) and ‘Girl Talk’, she’s ready to work on her debut album for a 2021 release.
But first, a send-off to 2020: ‘Higher’, Shebani’s final solo single of the year, drops on July 9. The sugar-glazed and self-reflective track marks the end of an era, and the start of something new.
“I love new themes, new projects, new feelings and new sounds,” Shebani tells Gulf News. “All of these stages are 100 per cent me. I don’t go looking for change, it just comes to me in the form of growth and new ideas… and I guess I’m ready to tell some new stories.”
As fans await her latest silky single, we catch up with Shebani about her transformation as an artist — and how she stayed inspired during self-isolation.
Tell us about how you came up with ‘Higher’. What was your inspiration?
Sometime last year, I had purchased a new bed and some pink lights. The lights arrived, but the bed didn’t! So you can only imagine how creative I got. I switched the pink lights on and sat on the floor of my bedroom. There was some music playing in the background and that’s when the song came to me. I wrote it then and there, mentioning the state I was in: ‘I close my eyes, and I dance for days, on empty bedroom floors, pink hues and colours, I feel so safe.’
You filmed the music video yourself during quarantine; it feels poignant when you sing ‘I’m on my own’ when you’re, quite literally, on your own. Did filming the video yourself add another layer to it?
It’s funny, actually, because I wrote this song a year ago, and I had absolutely no idea that I was going to revisit that kind of solitude ... It was perfectly timed and filming the music video all by myself was almost like I was giving tribute to the state I was in last year. Sometimes being on your own is the perfect opportunity to learn about who you are and what you’re capable of accomplishing.
From a listener’s standpoint, there’s definitely been an evolution of Shebani as an artist. How would you describe Shebani today, compared to Shebani when you were first starting out?
I hear this a lot! And I kinda like it, because even though it’s not the external validation I’m looking for, this kind of visible evolution and progress is what proves to me that I’m growing as an artist, and at times I think there won’t ever be an end to growth. If someone has reached a plateau in their path, I urge them to take a step back and find newer ways to keep growing ... Maybe that’s what’s different. I’m no longer afraid to fail, because through my most challenging days, I found so much strength and success.
What would be your advice to your younger self?
I don’t know, to be honest. I’ve been practicing to not focus my younger self or future self too much. Because there’s a present self right here, right now, who urgently needs my full attention. So to me right now, I’d say, keep trusting your gut feeling, keep trusting yourself, it’s gotten you to where you are today, and it’s going to take you places.
For those who are just getting to know you, can you give us a glimpse into what you were like when you were a kid and a teenager?
Oh man, I was a happy kid, a social one too, but I was very sensitive (still am!), so that sensitivity drove me to protect myself and be silent about my opinions at times. That’s when my teen years kicked in, and everything got complicated, as it should. It’s hard to put into words, but I guess I’ve always been that girl, the one that dreams a lot, fantasises a lot, reads a lot and spends most of her time listening to music with her head up in the clouds.
Did you always feel like you had a performance streak in you?
Between me and myself? Yes. I would spend my days singing in my room and learning dance moves from my favourite artists. But I never felt entitled to it, I never felt like I deserved it. So I kept it a secret until the age of 14. I told my sisters that I ‘think’ I can sing, and I was absolutely terrified to sing in front of anyone. I have no idea why. University is when I started exploring my performance skills and stage abilities.
Your latest collection of songs has been pink-themed, including ‘Girl Talk’, which is a favourite. Do you think that, going into the next phase of your songwriting, you’re going to switch up the aesthetic/colour palette as well?
Haha! That actually made me laugh, it’s a really cheeky question. And yeah, I think I’m ready to say bye to pink. Many thought it was my favourite colour, but it isn’t! Blue is. I remember discussing this with my mom last year, because she noticed that I’m wearing pink a lot more than usual during my casual day to day. And she told me that she’s certain I’m associating these colours with the way I feel about my life, myself and my surroundings. It all just looked pink to me. You know?
You’ve spoken about the pressure you’ve felt to release music constantly as an artist. Did it ever get to a point where you weren’t happy with what you were putting out because of that?
Oh yes, 100 per cent. The reason I took a step back from writing during the first few months of the quarantine, and the reason I’m going to take a step back from releasing new material the next few months, is because I’m looking to re-focus and re-strategise. I started writing again, and I’m very happy about the way it’s coming together. I just don’t want to rush like I used to, so I decided to stop focusing on the idea of ‘release music NOW’ and more on ‘release GOOD music’. Whenever that will be. I don’t care. As long as it’s good.
What direction would you like to go in for your debut album?
I’d love to give an answer, but I think it’s still too early to tell. It’ll all unfold sooner or later, I promise.
It’s a tricky time for a lot of people, with the way our lives changed overnight. What inspires you artistically and creatively right now?
I won’t lie, it was extremely hard to adapt and find inspiration within solitude, but then solitude itself sparked a lot of inspiration. Ironically. I started to dive deeper into my own feelings and thoughts. A lot deeper than before. That’s what I’m putting down on paper. Love too... I’m writing about love. It’s all we need in this crazy, crazy world.