When Australia-based, Iraqi-Syrian artist Wafia, first met Robby Hauldren from Louis The Child through her executive producer, the summer smash, “Better Not,” wasn’t even a thought. After then meeting Freddy Kennett (the other half of the Chicago-based DJ and production duo) it was only through the love of making music and casual conversation that the concept came about. “I had no idea what we'd make,” Wafia explained to AXS over the phone. “I don't think any of us walked away knowing what a special song we had created that day. It came together really naturally. It’s so nice to be able to be friends with somebody before you get into the room. It makes it so much easier.”
Now, as the singer sets out to tour with Louis The Child (playing alongside other artists such as Daya and NoMBe), shows are already beginning to sell out. Their Los Angeles stop in early December at the Shrine Expo Hall (Tickets) has already prompted the addition of a second performance.
AXS spoke with Wafia about all that and more during a recent interview.
AXS: Let’s start with the moment that first inspired you to explore music?
Wafia: I think music presented itself in a few very different ways. My parents were very nomadic so we jumped from place to place. The only way I knew how to connect with the kids in school was to listen to the radio, see what was playing and take that information back to school. Then, I would meet new friends by joining the school choir or the local choirs. By my second year of college, I was doing music actively to avoid responsibilities at school. Lastly, I was inspired because as the Internet became bigger, you saw people having a career path in music. That’s when it felt really tangible.
AXS: And you [studied] pre-med in college before you chose this career path?
Wafia: Yeah, I was actually on my way to my last exam. I was mustering up the courage the whole car ride to say something to my dad. And he took the words out of my mouth. He said, ‘I think you know what you're going to do after this. You're going to get into music. I'm happy to talk to mom about it and we're here to support you.’ That is a really big thing for my immigrant Muslim parents to support me wholeheartedly.
AXS: The two career paths you chose could not be more diverse. I think that diversity is also represented in your background. How do you think your culture and your upbringing influence your artistry?
Wafia: I think it does in ways I have yet to grasp. Growing up, there was always Arabic music playing in the house so sometimes I find my harmonies are geared a bit more towards that. And I love it! I love the scales that we use in our culture. I don't know if I'd use them in my music, but when I'm trying to come up with anything, that is definitely the tone that I hear in a contemporary way; the tone that I look for in most contemporary sound. I think the way that I approach music, especially with my image and everything, I always try to keep it like if my sisters came across it would they be proud. That's important to me. My culture, my family, and even my aunts and uncles, would they be proud of what I'm doing? Am I representing my family and my name well? That's what I ask myself at every turn.
AXS: I love what you did with “Bodies,” as a protest anthem for your family after Trump’s “Muslim Ban” threat.
Wafia: Thank you.
AXS: Would you say there's a universal message that you want to get across or something that you hope you can accomplish through what you do?
Wafia: I think sometimes the message is - just existing. The fact that I get to be this Arab Muslim artist in the Western world is in itself an act of rebellion against the world that I live in and also against the world that my parents come from. It’s like it's a complete clash of things. A political statement doesn't need to be said sometimes, it can just be. Like, young Arab girls are messaging me saying, I want to get into music now; asking, how do I do this? That to me is exciting because they have a point of reference. You know? It can be done. It’s cool that these girls can come to a show, look onstage, and feel represented. Or will open up a magazine and feel like they’re included; like they’re part of the discussion about music because they see a girl that looks like them. I think that says more than releasing a song. If all my songs were about [that] it would lose its meaning. As a person, I feel things just like everyone else. So why would the only thing I sing about just be political? I'm a bit more holistic in my approach to music and what I say. I feel like the best things sometimes aren't blatant and in your face. Just representation is important.
AXS: Absolutely. I completely agree. Let’s talk about working with Louis The Child now. What are you most looking forward to doing on this world tour?
Wafia: I’m excited to go to places that I really haven't been to, and meet crowds that I haven’t yet. I have never really supported an act in the U.S. so I'm excited to sort of gauge the feeling of that. I’m looking forward to hanging with NoMBe, and Louis The Child as well. It’ll be a really fun crew. I think it's going to be great. And, to play new songs is always, always exciting.
AXS: You've done such a good job with every artist you've collaborated with. They all have different vibes, too. Is there somebody else down the road you really want to work with?
Wafia: I'm always open to meeting people and getting a vibe from that. Everyone that I've worked with, and I think what is special about the songs, is that they're all my friends. To me, I approach collaborations like, let’s make a friend and see what happens from there. So I'm so open. It could be the most random person. Actually, the person that I want to collaborate with the most right now is Kacey Musgraves.
AXS: That would be awesome.
Wafia: I just love her last album. I showed [someone recently] my new music that I've been working on. They said that if I didn't have the production they would think it was a country song. That is the nicest thing someone could say to me because I'm such a songwriter. That meant everything. It would be awesome to have Kacey Musgraves collaborate on a song. I have the perfect song for her. Just tell her to call me. I got her.
AXS: I love that! Let's talk about your new stuff now. You recently released your single, "I'm Good." Tell me more about your upcoming project.
Wafia: I actually don't know what it is going to be right now. I don't want to call it the “A word” [album] just yet because then there's that expectation of it. So, I'm just working on a “project.” I didn’t ever know that I would venture into a song like, "I'm Good." I couldn't have imagined writing that a year ago or even six months ago. It didn’t exist six months ago because I wasn't in that headspace. Something changed one week in the studio where I wrote every possible song I could have in the headspace that I was in at that time. Everything just became more colorful, more vibrant and a lot more fun. The way I feel about those songs has not diminished since writing them. I'm still as excited about the songs that I've written as the day that I wrote them. I can't wait to see how that translates to people.