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  • Writer's pictureMajid Alhusseini

Meet Shebani, The Up-and-Coming Arab Female Powerhouse Taking Her Music Global

Hailing from Dubai and now based in Toronto, Iraqi singer and songwriter Shebani embarked on her musical journey in 2015 with YouTube covers and open-mic performances. Shortly after, she made her official debut with a 6-track EP titled 'Alter Ego.'

Taking a significant step in her career, Shébani relocated to London to pursue one of her major aspirations—studying songwriting at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. In 2017, she earned certifications as both a songwriter and performer, marking a pivotal moment in her artistic development. Since then, Shébani has continued to release captivating music and grace stages with her performances, venturing into new sonic territories and expanding her musical horizons.

What was your first interaction with music?

I was always surrounded by art and music, for as long as I could remember. My parents sang and played music around the house all the time. My older sisters are heavily into music too, so growing up I would always hear them sing and get involved in talent shows. That had a massive effect on me. I spent so much time dancing and singing in my bedroom, I used to sit down and memorize the lyrics of my favorite songs, and then pretend I’m performing them in front of a crowd.

Which song of yours is your favorite so far and why?

So hard for me to choose. I’ve been through so many phases when it comes to music. It’s my way of working on my artistry, finding my sound, my message, and myself as a songwriter. My path is very complicated, and the past few years have been really important to my career, I’ve crossed so many milestones, but the biggest and most life changing one for me is when I suddenly decided to not release the album that I had been working on since 2020. The reason behind that is because I wasn’t convinced that I had reached my full potential, I was ready for something different, and I felt like I wasn’t making the space for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the music I’ve released, but I had a strong gut feeling I needed to do something else. It was a very cosmic moment. So after taking some time to myself, I started approaching songwriting differently, stripped it down and just played my guitar for fun, wrote music without the pressure of releasing it, started to answer some really difficult questions about the direction I’m taking, and then I found myself self-producing my very first song, which turned into two, which turned into a whole project and that’s when I knew that I did the right choice by giving myself the time to create the art I’ve been wanting to create for so long. It felt right.

Short answer? I still haven’t released my favorite songs yet.

You went from singing in competitions and your YouTube channel as a hobby to releasing your own music with The Alter Ego EP, what was that transition like for you and how did you feel releasing your own music for the first time?

I don’t think that transition really appeared as one back then. It just happened slowly and gradually. I love to challenge myself, and I knew that open mic nights and YouTube covers weren’t going to be the end of the road for me. But even before that, I also had to challenge myself to start a YouTube channel and commit to posting a cover weekly.

Evolving as a human being and as an artist is so important to me, I’m comfortable telling myself that there’s still a lot more that I can learn and do. I know that I’m capable of so much more, so why not give it my best? Fast forward to now, I guess I wasn’t wrong. And I’m beyond excited for what I have in store, I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

Being that you are a certified song writer, what are your thoughts on the infrastructure of the music business in the MENA region, is it easy for you to be able to implement your skills at a consistent level?

The exponential growth our region is experiencing is undeniable, I’ve witnessed it first-hand. It’s truly unlike any other we’ve ever seen. But if we’re talking infrastructure and music business, there’s still a lot of foundational work that needs to be implemented. We have the talent, the hard work, the determination and the vision, but our foundation isn’t as stable. Artists and songwriters need more support, more safety, rights, and an ecosystem that gives us the opportunity to do better for ourselves.

Regarding your situation as an artist, are you signed or independent? And what are the benefits of being in the situation you chose?

I’m an independent artist. I don’t think of it as pros vs cons. I think it’s simple, until I find a team that has the same vision, goals and passion as I do, and has my best interest at heart, I’m capable of doing everything myself. We live in a world where you can shine and build an empire through your own connections and social media platforms. That’s huge. Everything is a lot more accessible than it used to be. So, artists have become more aware of who they are, the power they possess, and what they need if they were to ever be signed. The ball is in our court.

Looking at your music videos and Instagram page, it is clear that you have a unique style and perspective, how did you come to develop that and what are the inspirations to your aesthetic?

Thank you! It’s been a long time coming, I haven’t released any of the music that I’ve been teasing on my pages. But my approach right now is somewhere between theatrical, dramatic, very musical-like but with a twist of pop. So, what you’re seeing on my page is inspiration from my next project, which is heavily influenced from my childhood and teen years. I had the weirdest taste in music. I listened to emo music, rock, pop punk, and obsessed over musicals and animated Disney movies. So, I took all of that and brought it to life through my music. It’ll all make sense soon!

Being that you come from a background rich in culture and music, do you see yourself incorporating elements from Arabic/Iraqi music in your work?

Let’s wait and see. So many releases coming up.

Which of your performances means the most to you and why?

They all mean so much to me. Especially opening up for big artists! But the last one I did in Dubai before I relocated to Toronto was a special one. I performed a set of all new and unreleased songs that I’ve written, self-produced and worked on all year long, and I noticed the impact it had on the crowd was very different. I’m not sure why, but the energy we all brought to the room was unlike any other. It was real, emotional and bittersweet.

What does music mean to you?

Simply put, I would keep making music even if I wasn’t releasing anything or putting myself out there. The art of songwriting and making music is what does it for me. That moment when you realize you fully expressed an emotion through melody and words. It’s really special. It’s euphoric. It’s my creative outlet and the only way I know how to share my story.

Who are 5 people you can dream of collaborating with?

James Blake, Julia Michaels, Jon Bellion, Pharrell Williams, Fletcher.

From the time you started until now, what are the 3 most important things you’ve learned?

To never compare yourself, your progress or art to anyone else’s. Be proud of how far you’ve come and keep your focus on yourself, don’t waste it watching other people do their thing.

To ask yourself difficult questions and to answer them truthfully. What is your message as an artist? Who are you? People want to see the real you. Show them your story. It’s your key to success.

To ignore the naysayers, you can’t please everyone. Some will stick around, and others won’t, it doesn’t matter why, so do it for the ones that understand your vision. Do it for yourself. And sometimes, it’s okay to be different, to feel like an outcast. That might be your superpower.

To not listen to unsolicited advice. 9 times out of 10 its insecurities being projected onto you.

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