Nouri / “I know what I want and I know who I am”

Nouri is the girl you need to know. The singer and songwriter is destined to make her mark on the international music scene and we are so here for it

"I quit everything and I thought, look, I can come back and do this whenever I want. But I can’t do signing forever. I have to give this a chance now and that’s when I made the move," Nouri on taking the leap to pursue music full-time. Photo: supplied

by Maán Jalal

Entertainment 8 May 2019

Nouri is a Kurdish Iraqi. Nouri was born in a Syrian refugee camp. Her family were granted refugee status in New Zealand when she was three.

But today, Nouri is a singer and songwriter.

And, she’s a pretty big deal.

Here’s why: 

When she was 15, she began uploading cover songs on social media which got her a lot attention.

When she was 23, she left a Computer Science Degree, her family and home in New Zealand for LA, to follow her dream of breaking into the international music scene.

Thanks to her distinctive, soulful voice and talent for songwriting, Nouri caught the eye of Grammy-award-winning producer who has worked with the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna.

She was also featured in the soundtrack of the film Daddy’s Home 2 starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell and performed the American National anthem at the at the Staples Center in LA for two different games.

Her first single Where Do We Go From Here reached number one in eight countries on Anghami (The Middle East and North Africa’s largest streaming service with over 55 million users) while the music video has already got over one million views.

The single even beat Ariana Grande’s thank u, next on Anghami.

See? We told you she’s a big deal.

And, her follow up single Favourite Goodbye reached number one in Morocco, KSA and Palestine on Anghami

Nouri told The Arab Edition that she writes a lot of her songs while driving in her car.

‘I usually do the melody in the studio. And I take the melody and I play it in the car, and that’s where it just writes itself.’

She is currently working on her EP (and we seriously can’t wait to hear the whole thing) which she describes as, ‘going to make people want to dance and cry at the same time.’

We are so here for that. Who doesn’t want to cry in the club? We do.

Nouri also told us that her family are her biggest motivation.

“My motivation every single day is my family of course. And it’s also sharing my story on a much bigger scale all through my music though. My moto every day is it’s bigger than music. Because it is. It’s about sharing my story through my music platform.”

And Nouri takes her platform seriously. As an independent recording artist she believes in the importance of diversity and how important the path that she’s trying to carve will be for other people of colour and particularly Middle Easterners in the industry.

“One of the biggest obstacles in this music industry, I would say, is the lack of diversity when you think about the people at the top. What I’m trying to do is break these kinds of different barriers to open the door for others who are trying to do the same thing.”

Again, we are so here for it.

I got the chance to have a great and in depth conversation with Nouri over the phone while she was in LA, her second home after New Zealand.

Nouri told me about how she got to where she is, what her plans are for the future, her thoughts on the devastating terrorist attack in Christchurch and how she maintains a relaxed, chilled out attitude.

I didn’t want to leave out any part of our great conversation so I’ve left the full transcript below for you guys to read, in full if you like.

Also check out our video all about who Nouri is which includes clips from our conversation below and personalized videos that she sent directly to us.

Watch: Our video with exclusive content from Nouri

When did you first get into music? Is your family musical?
My dad sings, but he sings in Kurdish. I don’t think that’s where I got it from. I’m not going give him that credit (laughs).

I used to watch Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears on TV and I would just mimic the way they would sing and then, I’d make it my own.

Then one day I wanted to test it out to see if I knew how to sing. So I sang in front of my whole school and I sang Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey’s When You Believe.

That’s a big song to sing in front of the whole school.
Yeah it was crazy. I received a standing ovation and ever since then I’ve been chasing that same feeling.

And how old were you then?
I was nine.

Did you get any kind of resistance from your parents when you wanted to be a singer? Because you know, in our culture it can be viewed as something that isn’t stable or whatever.
Yeah, I did. At the beginning, my mum was just like ‘are you sure you want to do this? This is not what we kind of do’. But I was so adamant that I wanted to do it, that she eventually had to just let me do it.

And I’m glad I did because now she’s super proud and couldn’t see me doing anything else either.

Now, I’m in a position where I can change the way other parents think about their children doing the same thing. You know?

Your sound is very hip-hop / R&B influenced – I wanted to know, when you first started how were you trying to or how did you find your own style? Because I think it’s quite hard as an artist to have her own unique fingerprint in the industry.
That’s always something that’s in the back of your head I think. But if you don’t think about it  that’s when it really truly comes to you. I find influence in a lot of people and I bring that in and I make it my own.

Like for example I always say, I like to think, I’m a mix of some of Adele some Rihanna and some Post Malone. There are certain things about each one of them and I think at the beginning, you don’t say “this is my sound”.

I think you eventually find that just through making music and practice makes perfect and eventually the audience really decides what’s your best song is.

When did you decide to leave New Zealand? Cause you’re based in LA now aren’t you?
Yeah, I’m back and forth but I’m based in LA.

When did you decide to make that move and think ‘I’m really going to make this music thing my everything’?
It was actually in in 2016 when I made that decision. I was studying Computer Science at the time and I had a scholarship and I was working two jobs. I was in contact with a producer in LA and he said,

“You know what? You just need to be out here.”

And all I needed was for him to say that. And I was reading  this book called The Alchemist.

Yeah I know that book. It’s a great book.
It’s a book I live my life by. It’s an amazing book.

I was just  like you know what? I just have to do it now or its never.

So, I quit everything and I thought, look, I can come back and do this whenever I want. But I can’t do signing forever. I have to give this a chance now and that’s when I made the move.

How old were you then?
I was 23.

That’s a young age to give up everything you were working on to do that.
You have to believe in yourself enough to do that.

Is that difficult sometimes? It’s quite a tough industry and I’m sure you get setbacks. Is it tough to maintain  the motivation?
Yeah it is tough, but you have to really believe in yourself and believe in what you’re doing and know where you want to go. Even a no shouldn’t discourage you if you have that vision because everything happens for a reason.

You go down a path for a reason and if you get a no it just means that you’re not meant to be there. And you always  have a choice on whether you say yes or no to an opportunity as well.

So It’s not just them saying yes you can do that or no you can’t do that type of thing. You just have to maintain that belief in yourself.

What’s been one of the toughest obstacles that maybe you didn’t expect to face when creating music and being in the industry and be recognized?
I think… I think the biggest obstacle is where you’re from.

And how you’re seen in the industry. I would say that. Which is an obstacle but it’s also my driving force. Because I don’t want that to define what should be in the music industry and what shouldn’t.

You know what I’m saying? That’s my mission. My goal is to make music and to make sure that I’m sadly the first Middle Eastern to break into the US.

So they view you as a Middle Eastern as opposed to a Kiwi?
They see me as both but because of my story and how proudly I say my story they view me as that as well. Mainly.

Do you write your own music or are you working with different song writers and producers?
I write all my music right now I’m writing all my music. I wrote all my music in the car (laughs).

Really? When you’re driving around you just make voice notes to yourself?
It’s just a place where I get… er, I don’t know, just all my ideas come to me in the car.  Which is really, really random. But it might be because I’m focused on one thing and the other side of my brain is trying to write.

I don’t know what it is but that’s what I do. I do collab as well. I never say no to a collab, I’m always working with different people, but right now I’m writing my own music.

And when you  write your own music what’s the process like? I know you say it comes to you in the car, but does a lyric come to you first or how does it work?
I usually do the melody in the studio. And I take the melody and I play it in the car, and that’s where it just writes itself.

Like my first song Where Do we Go From Here? I had in my notes even before I had the melody and we did the melody and I went in the car and was on my way home and it literally wrote itself.

Watch: Where Do We Go From Here

Do you write specifically about things that happen in your life or your observations of other people’s relationships?
At a point in my life I was very numb about everything that happened to me. So I was like, how do I dig into myself to write about certain things when I don’t care about them?

My first song  that I had written was about my cousin and her situation, like her relationship.  It was crazy because I wrote it and then three months later the same thing happened to me.

So, I called up my producer and was like, look we need to recut this because I think I can smash it now because it’s happened to me and its actually real. So we did that and it sounds so much better. But it literally can be about somebody else’s situation or my situation it’s a mixture of both.

Is this song you’re talking about in your new EP coming up?
Yes it is, it’s called Dangerous.

How’s the EP going? How long do you think you’ll have until you feel that you’re “done”?
Ohhh. I don’t think an artist is ever done. We are very … we are perfectionists. I think they will literally have to take it out of my hands and put it out there because I don’t think I will ever think I’m ready to put it out but I just… I think I have… it’s pretty much done.

I’m going to say I’m done. But I still want to explore a bit more to see if I can add a song, take away a song or… it’s really a song away from being done.

Can you describe the feeling or style or sound of the EP?
I always say this EP is going to make people want to dance and cry at the same time. I don’t even have a name for it yet but I think it will be something very obvious think, but I haven’t labelled it yet.

Have you been back in NZ since what happened in Christchurch?
Yeah, I was actually there when it happened.

What were your thoughts and feelings about that? Because I’m assuming you’re Muslim correct?
I am.

For me, I was shocked when it happened It’s a shocking thing to happen anywhere in the world. But for me New Zealand has always been a safe haven from that kind of stuff.

So to me it was shocking and it affected me, even though I’m not based there at the moment.
(Sighs) It was quiet shocking only because New Zealand is a such a safe place. And for that to happen and for that to happen in a mosque  it was just so shocking and heart breaking.

My heart goes out, to this day, to the families affected.

All I can say is the good that came out of that is just seeing how New Zealand came together and supported one another because I’ve never seen any country do it like that. It was just amazing because our Prime Minster really did a great job at uniting everyone.

Why do you think music is so important today given the kind of climate that we are dealing with. Especially with issues like with what happened in Christchurch and so many other “serious” issues right now in the world.
It’s just such a big influence because everybody listens to music. Whether you’re a fan of this person or that person it’s just everybody is always listening to music. It’s a great way to send out a message that needs to be heard.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years or have you not thought about that?
Well, on a world stage (laughs). For sure I  see that in the very near future. What can I say without giving away anything…umm…(laughs) I’m going to say movies.

That’s exciting. Enough of a hint to leave with us.
That is enough of a hint.

You seem like you’re so chilled and relaxed. Is that the kind of attitude you have working in this industry, which can be stressful and tough?
You need to find the balance I think and being from New Zealand you’re just very chilled. And LA hasn’t changed me one bit and I don’t think it ever will just because of my family and where I’m from.

And I know what I want and I know who I am, so it really is just about the music and being confident in what you’re doing and having the right people around you.

If  you have the right people around you don’t need to be stressed or trying to be in a rat race type of thing.

As someone from the Middle East that doesn’t fit into a specific box but still working hard to make it happen, what advice can you give any young artist out there?
Well first things first – always be yourself. Don’t ever change to try to fit into something that they think  is acceptable, because my whole mission is to be their friend and make them accept it.

Show them that, look, we are here as well and we are going to do it whether you think it’s right or wrong, so don’t ever change for anybody. I’d say that’s number one.

Don’t ever get discouraged by a no either because you are going to get them along the way, you just have to be tough enough to take them. Cause it a very, very tough industry, so you have to have thick skin.

Don’t ever get discouraged by a no – you will get a yes, so keep that positive energy and put out  to the universe what you want, to get what you want and it’s all going to come back to you. And work hard! Practice makes perfect!

Watch: Favourite Goodbye

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