How family experience has helped drive Wafia in every way

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At 23 years young today (happy birthday!), WAFIA has an incredible voice with the song writing skills to match. With the the level of complexities and subtleties her recordings possess – she is offering us something much deeper on each step of her journey.

Wafia is set to release a collaborative EP with local legend Ta-ku. The latest track to be released is called ‘Love Somebody’, and is a beautiful sentimental catchy track. Between the soothing vocals and creative talent of the two combined, the song is a taste-tester for what’s to come from what is sure to be a phenomenal EP.

We caught up with Wafia backstage at this year’s Splendour In The Grass, before she packed out the Tiny Dancer stage and delivered one of the strongest sets of the festival. We dive into her heritage and family, and how her past affects her work. We also found out that she’s keen to marry James Blake (who isn’t though?).

Julia Insolia: So you’re originally from the Netherlands, when did you move here?

Wafia Al-Rikabi: To Australia? Oh my gosh, 2004 I think? We moved to South Australia and then we stayed there for a while and it wasn’t until I was in high school that we moved to Brisbane.

Cool, why did you move here?

It was safe. My parents are quite nomadic, so it was wherever my dad’s job took us and we ended up living in the Netherlands. Then a few things happened, we felt really uncomfortable there so we moved around. We lived in New Zealand for a while, and Canada and all these places and then my parents thought South Australia sounded good and just went there. We then realised South Australia wasn’t the right vibe so we moved to Brisbane.

So when is the Ta-ku collab EP being released and can you tell me more about it?

5th of August, so yeah just in a couple of weeks, it’s an amalgamation of two of us musically and personally. We tried to write it a while ago… well we were in discussion about it, but we really held of until we felt the timing was right. Then earlier this year it just sort of happened very very quickly and in the best way possible. It’s about our families – I went through certain things, and so did Ta-ku – it was at the right time and right place for us to write this.

We’re really excited about the people that collaborated, so the next single is ‘Love Somebody’ which is being released with the EP, we wrote it with the guy that I wrote ‘Heartburn’ with, his name is Ben Abraham and I’m so excited about having his vocals in the background as well and being part of the writing process.

Nice. So you received critical acclaim quite young in your career, how did you handle that? Because it happened quite fast.

Yeah I think so, I think the minute I started releasing original music it started happening, but I think I have a really great team of people around me that keep me grounded. I’ve come to learn that there’s a lot of noise from blogs and all these things, and they’re really wonderful and humbling, and on twitter the people that remark all these things… But it’s not conducive to my creative process to sit there and read about myself all the time, so I try and stay away from it as much as I can. I’ve only ever seen it hinder my friends that are musicians and it goes to their heads, so I try and keep as much as far away from it as possible.

What or who inspires you?

Currently my family. Recently I just think the biggest sacrifice they ever did was that they migrated. My parents are from the middle east and they took a chance like 25 years ago to leave, they saw that there wouldn’t be a future for their children there and moved. My father is part Dutch so it made it easy for him to move to the Netherlands and take my mother with him, but I can’t imagine being in their position. And you know [there was] no internet no phones, like it was a totally different time, and moving to a country where your wife doesn’t know the language… They just just had this sense of belief that everything will be okay, and I think that sacrifice pushes me every day.

That’s so sweet. So we’re going to play kiss one, marry one, kill one – James Blake, Sticky Fingers and Motez.

Can I kiss and marry James Blake? Okay so I’ll marry James Blake… I don’t want to do kill that’s awful. This is…I don’t know let’s skip this one.

Okay so, how did you first get into music?

I was singing from such a young age, I always sang in choirs, but I had a few bad experiences that knocked me back, so I didn’t sing for a little while until I began songwriting in around 2011. Even then I knew that I had to do a lot of work to get to where I wanted to go. I released a demo EP, but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, it was very acoustic and was just mainly about the songs, and I put that online and soon after took it offline and re-evaluated my situation. It took me a while to figure out who I am – it sounds so cliché – but who I am as a person to then work out who I am as an artist. I got there in the end.

So that’s how I sort of got into it, I was doing pre-med at university, and I finished my degree, but I just… by the second or third year I started writing music and I fell out of love with… Actually no that’s a strong word, I wouldn’t say I fell out of love with science, I mean I still incorporate it in my music, but it was just like now is the time to do music if at all, I just gotta do it – so I took that leap of faith that my parents taught me to take and everything felt right.

Do you have a pre-show ritual?

It’s just as simple as making a space for myself in the green room and just walking through, steaming my clothes, laying out my make up, putting on my make up, you know just that sort of thing. I’ve only just started warming up my voice, because I realised I sort of need this to last for a long time I hope, so I do that. Sometimes I listen to some Brian Eno, that helps.

What did you want to be when you were little?

A little ballerina, the one in the jewelry boxes. I wanted to be that, I remember I had so many of them and I’d wind them up at the same time. I used to do ballet and all sorts of dance so yeah… Or I really like the idea of, I was a silly child so I don’t know, I always wanted to be a concierge because I really liked pressing buttons in the elevators.

What does home mean to you?

Family, just the comfort. I have two younger sisters, so being around them, as annoying as they can be sometimes, is so great. They just love me and I love them, so yeah.

You’ve got that mutual appreciation for one another. Where’s your favourite place in the world?

There’s a place on the Mornington Peninsula where I wrote my record. It’s separate from the studio, but it’s my friends home, they let me stay there for a little while when I was recording. I had the happiest day of my life there and it was just as simple as riding a bike, I just think that would be my favourite place, because it’s the only place where I feel like I don’t have to do anything. I don’t get to visit it too often either, so it’s retained it’s special place in my mind, it’s sort of untainted for now.

Who would your dream collaboration be?

Well, there’s this song writer called The Dream. He does writing with Rihanna and Beyonce and all those guys, he’s actually on the new Kanye West album too, and I’ve always loved his stuff. Actually I like his solo material particularly and I’d just love to work with him. Also Brian Eno or even Ne-yo or Usher, I just love those guys… Even in terms songwriting I really like what they do.

Whats the best live act you’ve ever seen?

I feel obliged to say Beyonce, because as a vocalist I look at this woman doing all these incredible things on stage, being able to transform into every single woman. Watching her I feel like she embodies everyone, she makes herself so accessible that way, so I really admire that.

I’d also have to say my co-writer Ben Abraham, I’ve seen him do sets on his own and seen him with a band and he always wows me, his voice and his songwriting, I cry every single time… Yep I can easily pinpoint a time at the Gasometer a couple of days after we met I saw him play and I was in tears the whole night.

Favourite pizza?

A woodfire… a good simple margherita. I feel like toppings I just get so bored of them and then they always make the pizza heavy, but a margherita takes its shape, something with like buffalo cheese or mozzarella.

Yum, what’s the best show you’ve ever played?

On my own it would have been my first melbourne show on the first headline tour, that felt almost out of body, that was a really wonderful experience, and then maybe Berlin and London just the other week with Ta-ku, those are the highlights.

And finally, besides the EP with Ta-ku do you have any unreleased music we should be looking out for?

Yeah I’m just currently working on my own stuff, I’m hoping to release another EP after the Ta-ku one and then an album, so I’m actually working on them simultaneously, so lots of songwriting at the moment but I’m just excited to have stuff out.

The (m)edian EP is out August 5 via Future Classic.

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ARTISTS TO WATCH IN 2016: WAFIA

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A young music enthusiast that’s too awkward to say hi in person, but will happily eat three dinners in front of you. Loves open spaces and dark nightclubs, and is at her best when intoxicated.