In a custom Ninamounah power suit and clutching a provocative gun-shaped microphone, Sevdaliza takes to the stage. Last night, for her only show of 2020, the Iranian-Dutch artist performed a global live-stream at The Hague’s Koninklijke Schouwburg (Royal Theatre) to a virtual cheering crowd of thousands.
With expressive dance movements created with the help of her regular choreographer Julie Magneville, she was backed by a band that’s almost a mini-orchestra. It was, in every sense, a performance.
The concert marks Sevdaliza’s second album release, Shabrang – an emotive and heartfelt record showcasing the 33-year-old’s deep and resonant vocals and atmospheric electro-pop production.
Exploring the subjects of self-care and healing, for the follow-up to 2017’s Ison Sevdaliza has taken a more “philosophical and existential” approach to her songwriting.
“With this record I felt a lot more centred and more comfortable with the artist that I am,” she explains. “I think there was a lot more space for interpretation and exploration of that.”
Shabrang, on which the multi-linguist sings in a mixture of English and Farsi, was two and a half years in the making. Following on from the critically acclaimed Ison, Rotterdam-based Sevdaliza locked herself away in the studio, teaming again with Dutch producer Mucky. The way she tells it, the process demanded everything of her.
“I don’t have a lot of personal space when I am making a record. When it’s the most intense month of making the record, I’m so consumed with my own process and constantly drained because it takes all the energy that I have.”
Little wonder, perhaps, when this defiantly independent artist is taking the visual reigns, too, directing the video for her latest track, Habibi.
The video is austere, black and white, Prada-styled and rich with abstract symbolism. Working alongside visionary Russian filmmaker Anastasia Konovalova, the pair have formed sevda+ana, a visual creative team that will continue to flex its film muscles on further projects.
It’s Sevdaliza’s direct approach to discussing mental health that wins her adoration from so many fans. Renowned – and loved – for speaking candidly on social media, the musician consistently receives a “tonne of messages” from people connecting with her music on an emotional and visceral level. As she says: “I feel a lot of things when I make a record, [so] I can only imagine that people would feel the same.”
How does it feel to have Shabrang out in the world after spending so long making it?
For me it’s refreshing. It’s definitely a relief! A lot of people need some materialistic proof to understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. In my case, I get more understanding than when I’m isolating myself in a studio for six months and nobody knows why.
I feel like when you release music out in the world, it suddenly all makes more sense. It’s like a mission that’s come to completion. It makes myself empty again for something new to start.
What is the meaning behind the title?
“Shabrang” literally translates from Farsi to “palette of the night”. It’s hard to find an accurate description for it in English. I chose this title because it incorporates a lot of subconscious elements. It relates to my Persian roots, but it is poetic in nature and I always find meaning and interpretation in words.
Shabrang is a major progression from Ison. What influenced that change?
Mainly experience and time. During the first record I was still trying to understand how everything works. From the writing process and learning how to compose and produce, I was taking on different roles. There is also this whole layer that you have to present to the outside world as an artist. Of course I’m also very interested in the visual and the business side.
I have a small team that I work with. Everybody is just way more in tune and that genuinely takes away the weight. It also leaves more freedom to create. Before I was really doing a lot on my own. Now I am daring to take more creative risks.
You work independently and on your own label (Twisted Elegance). Was that a conscious decision from the beginning?
It was conscious at the beginning, but I didn’t know that it would grow on me so much. I think in the beginning it was more an act of rebellion. I really didn’t want to work for a boss – I wanted to be my own boss. When the project started to grow, I realised how much it actually suits me to be independent. The more I worked, the more I realised I could never go back.
What has being an independent businesswoman taught you?
How to handle a million different things at the same time and how to protect my own boundaries. It taught me how the world inflicts different treatments on different people. Women are being taught differently as to men. Then we have race, which is an important factor, and societal standards and economic differences. Being an Iranian woman, trying to run this project with my heart and my soul, I definitely learnt to deal with a lot of hardship that I was very well aware wouldn’t cross my path if I was sitting in with suited men.
What was it like making your directorial debut with Habibi?
I was very tense that entire process because I knew that this was something I had inflicted on myself. I wanted to prove it to myself more so than ever and so I found an amazing partner [in] Anastasia. That lifted a lot of the weight off. It made the process of directing for the first time a lot less intense and a lot more fun because we both have the same artistic values and I think we’re at a similar point in our lives.
What themes does the video explore?
It was about self-love and the cycle of getting to know yourself. Reaching the point of being at peace with who you are. It touches on the subject of mental illness. I think it’s very hard for people to navigate when they have tendencies to feel depressed or [have] bi-polarities. These layers inflict a lot of self-harm. Habibi is about healing and stopping that cycle.
How do you want listeners to engage with Shabrang?
I try to sometimes remove myself from [fans’ messages], but also I want to read them because there are so many brilliant and beautiful people that write to me..
That is a benefit of only being fully responsible for doing what you do – the energy is just not divided. It’s not diluted over 20 producers or songwriters trying to capture an essence, it is the essence. That’s why people experience it so intensely.