When Sarah Shebani was living in London on her own to study music in 2016, she had a sudden thought while doing the dishes. What if there was a fire? What would she save? More importantly, what would she leave behind?
“I thought about what I would leave in the fire to burn out and destroy, basically,” said the Dubai-based singer-songwriter, discussing the inspiration behind her upcoming single, In the Fire, releasing on April 26 (Friday).
Two years later, Shebani (who goes by her last name professionally) was diagnosed with PCOS — or polycystic ovary syndrome. It’s a condition that can cause physical symptoms of varying intensity, such as excessive hair growth and weight gain due to increased insulin, and mental health complications such as depression and anxiety.
Before her diagnosis, Shebani went through a “very dark phase” in her life.
“I wasn’t very confident in myself. I struggled with the way I look and how happy I felt in my skin on a daily basis. I would wake up thinking, ‘Oh, I’m fat,’ and then I would sleep thinking, ‘Oh, I need to lose weight,’” said the Iraqi artist.
She decided to face her self-doubt head on by writing a song — one of her most personal tracks to date.
“The chorus says something like, ‘These are things that are left in the fire, reflections that never accepted me,’” she explained.
“Because I used to look at myself in the mirror and I used to really get frustrated immediately; if I had class, I would put on my clothes and head out of the room quickly, just so that I would avoid looking at the mirror,” she added.
The singer had been struggling with the undiagnosed condition since her teen years, and said that even the people closest to her didn’t understand how their comments about her appearance could hurt her.
Her diagnosis provided relief and answers, and the singer has since been able to reflect on the importance of self-love and body positivity.
“I wouldn’t want to approach this in a way where it’s like I’m victimising myself, as opposed to just shedding some light on the matter, because the people who don’t have [PCOS], I don’t think they understand how difficult it is to cope with. Because mentally speaking, a lot of these hormonal imbalances do affect your daily life,” she said.
The 28-year-old singer will also launch a cathartic music video, directed and co-produced by her sister Iman Shaybani, and shot by cinematographer Stefan Redjimi.
“In the music video, we got a projector to project some words in the back... You’re going to see a lot of words reflected, like ‘Too skinny,’ or ‘Too fat,’ or ‘Eat a sandwich’ … I wanted to approach [the topic] in a more generic way, so that I can target all types of bodies,” said Shebani.
“But as a person, as Sarah, this is why I wrote the song — because of all the struggles that I went through,” she added.
Shebani said that ‘In the Fire’ would not be part of an upcoming album, but the music video will link into another unreleased track.
“You know how Marvel movies have a clip after the credits? It’s going to be very similar to that, where I’m going to be wearing something different, with literally a 10-second of my next song, which will [be released] probably end of this year,” she said.
Shebani comes from an artistic family, where both her parents are authors, her sister Iman sings and directs, and her eldest sister, Ishtar, is a fashion designer. The youngest of the three, Shebani moved to the UAE at six months old and has been living here ever since.
“There’s so many other women who came way, way before me [in the local music scene], but I’m happy to say that I pushed forward that kind of movement, because at the end of the day, I don’t want to do this for myself only,” said Shebani.
“I really genuinely want to see more women come to the forefront and feel confident enough to go up on stage.”
Don’t miss it!
Shebani’s song and music video ‘In the Fire’ will release on April 26. She’s also set to perform live at Art + Soul at Toro + Ko in Dubai on April 23; the event kicks off at 7pm.