Moroccan singer and rapper Manal Benchlikha, who is all set to perform at the upcoming Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards Abu Dhabi on September 16, believes in being authentic and keeping things real.
“Through my music I want to help people overcome their fears and traumas. I want my music to remind them that they are not alone,” said Manal in an interview with Gulf News ahead of her awards gig.
The 29-year-old singer and songwriter — whose works are invariably an extension to her core beliefs (her song ‘Taj’ reminds women to be proud of who they are and accept themselves and ‘Denia’ talks about poverty and everyday battles that we face) — is on a path to conquer the world, one good song after another. She’s what you call a worthy rapper rebel with a worthier cause.
With nearly 4 million followers on Instagram alone, Manal talks about her love for songwriting, the hate that has come her way on social media, and why being true to herself is her biggest strength.
“I’m going to tell you something very personal. Earlier when I saw successful people, I always wanted to be like them. But everything has a price. If you want to be successful, you may have given up on a lot of things. They may have gone through a lot,” said Manal. Excerpts from our interview with the trailblazing Arabic talent ...
What are your thoughts on performing at the upcoming Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards Abu Dhabi 2023 this weekend?
I'm excited about it because I used to see those awards on my TV as a kid and I never thought I would be up there on stage one day. I feel grateful to able to perform at the awards … And when I travel, I get to meet people who listen to my music. Their love reminds me about the magic of music and how it has no boundaries. It also reminds you that language has no boundaries. Even if you are an Arab who finds it hard to understand my Moroccan dialect, you can still enjoy my songs. It’s overwhelming to see them vibe with my music.
Your music and songs are invariably a weapon for social change and are charged with hot topics like women empowerment … Is social change through art a recurring theme in your works?
I want my music to make sense. We have a lot of amazing artists that sing and express themselves, shedding light on important topics. My music has to make sense. I believe that I have a purpose. I want to share important messages through my work. I want to help people overcome their fears and traumas. I want my music to remind them that they are not alone. So for me, it’s important to share implicit messages through my music.
You are right, artists are often the biggest soft powers in today’s world ...
Of course. Today, we have the chance to have a large platform where millions of people follow us on a daily basis. They see what we do, what we eat, and how we go about our day. These platforms are becoming crucial.
But in this era of oversharing on social media, how do you ensure that you stay relevant?
I just want to make sure that I am 100 per cent myself. I am not scared to show my flaws and I am not scared to show my imperfections or my insecurities. I know that I am followed by little girls and teenagers and know how social media can be triggering. I know how people can have anxieties and can be depressed just due to social media alone. While social media was created to connect people, it has now become a tricky terrain to navigate. While it’s a great tool to connect — like who would have thought that one day we will meet virtually — it’s super important for me to keep it real on social media. I always try to share what’s real in my life. When you think of an artist, you have this idea that you are living the dream life because they travel to the best of places. But the reality may be completely different from what we think. Their challenges, their problems, and their mistakes are not on their social media. I want all those people who follow me to get to know the real me. I want to make them feel good about themselves …
So fame doesn’t lure you ...
Fame is just a consequence of your talents. I never wanted to be famous. I just wanted to sing since I was a little child. I didn’t dwell much on the things that come with fame, like being recognised on the streets. I love what I do. When my listeners tell me: ‘Your song helped me overcome my depression’, I find that sentiment amazing. I try not to take fame too seriously. It’s just a bonus and underlines the fact that people love you without even knowing me fully and I find that amazing.
How do you handle the hate that comes with your social media fan-following?
At the beginning, it was really hard because I thought all that hate was personal. But I learnt to deal with it because I realised that hate is never personal. Everybody gets hate, no matter what you do. You can’t please everyone. When I learnt to deal with it in that manner, it was fine. And remember: what someone has to say about you has nothing to do you with you. It’s more about them.
How do you describe your music?
My music is authentic and is a reflection of my real self. I always try to express myself in the most genuine and real way. Making music is very hard because when you create music you are being vulnerable … I want people to know that anything I do comes from a real place.
What’s your advice to all those aspiring pop idols who are finding it difficult to make it big or facing songwriter’s block?
Never force it and never give up on yourself. Try to overcome that lethargic mood where you don’t feel like writing songs. And remember, go ahead and do whatever helps you overcome your fears or your laziness. Remember never to give up on yourself. You need to be in a safe place in your head to be able to express yourself in the best possible way. The most important thing is to surround yourself with people whom you trust implicitly. You should surround yourself with people who remind you of your true self. Fame can easily go to someone’s head … But I am spiritual and everything else seems insignificant. Having a strong support system around you can help you overcome a lot of things in life.
What are you working on next?
I have many songs releasing soon and I’ve been working on my new album called ‘Arabian Heartbreak’. It’s such a challenging and important project for me.
Did you know?
Manal's husband is the wind beneath her wings, helping her in her journey as a singer and songwriter.
When: Sept. 16, Saturday
Where: Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi
Tickets: Tickets: Dhs69 for bronze seats and upwards