“My culture is just being human”

Naaz is the singing poet and poetic singer you need.

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In the past two weeks, Napapijri and Glamcult have been busy exposing you to the Dutch voices that are shaping a thriving creative scene—from the rise of rap sensation Leafs to fashion babe Ruben Pol steadily entering the music industry. To round up our series, we introduce you to none other than the ultimate go-to when it comes to heartfelt beats with an authentic message of love and acceptance: Naaz.

Since the release of her first EP, Bits of Naaz, earlier this year, the artist has seen both critical and popular acclaim that has, quite literally, taken her from her bedroom—where the project was produced—to the world’s stages in the blink of an eye. Not a surprise to us, however, Naaz is simultaneously humble and self-assured, and she’s someone who truly lets her heart bleed melodic poetry. Hear for yourself.

Naaz, why music of all things?

With me, it all started with writing a lot. As a small kid I talked so much that people got annoyed. Thus, instead of talking, I started writing it down—just little stories and poems. Eventually, I got a little lazy and my stories started becoming shorter and shorter, until suddenly I realized that the way I was speaking and writing had a melody to it. I thought, Maybe I can sing my poems. Then I did it and I felt that the result wasn’t so terrible after all. That’s kind of how it happened—I guess I always felt like a writer who also sings what they write.

But you didn’t simply sing, you also produced your own projects. How did you learn? Entirely by yourself or was it YouTube tutorials, lessons from someone?

When you’re really young and you have nobody around you that’s directly involved with the music industry, you kind of have to find a way to execute the sound in your head beyond the song writing part. First, I started out Googling beats, but then I considered what I had found to not really sound like me. I realized that the only way to make the sound that I hear in my mind come to life is to learn how to produce myself—in that way, I can put my own thoughts into reality. So, my brothers bought me a MIDI keyboard when I was 15, and then they downloaded FruityLoops on my laptop; I basically just started trying out a lot of things. I hardly ever used YouTube—I’ve done it two or three times perhaps, but I’ve always been too lazy for the full tutorials. I did check out enough of them however, so that I know what to do in general terms. And, I mean, technically I’m not the best producer, but I just really know what I want on an emotional level. I feel like this can make a song sound truly like you and you only.

And why did you choose to sing in English?           

English has actually always been one of the main languages in my life. For me, it glues everything together. My family is scattered all over the world, and in Kurdish—I’m Kurdish—there are a lot of different dialects. Every dialect is very different than the other, each sounds almost like its own language. So, when we would visit my family in, let’s say, Sweden, we would speak English to each other; this has been the case since as long as I can remember—simply because we all spoke a different dialect of Kurdish and we didn’t fully understand each other.

You just said you’re Kurdish, even though you were born here, in the Netherlands.

Yes.

Have you struggled with the way you define yourself culturally? Or has it always been Kurdish instead of Dutch?

To be honest, I kind of feel like neither. It’s tough, because you grow up in a household where everything is Kurdish. Yet, you go outside and everything around you is Dutch. It’s all so contradictory that you just don’t know what’s right for you. Because at home, you’re told you should comply with what’s Kurdish. And then at school, everyone does things entirely differently. I feel like I’ve come to a point where I don’t identify as someone from a certain culture anymore—I’m just someone living. Plus, I’m all over the place constantly, be it in a different country or city. I’ve let go of having one culture. My culture is just being human.

You’re just Naaz.

Totally.

Have your Kurdish roots inspired your sound and style nevertheless?

Definitely—both in a restrictive and in a productive way! Take my EP Bits of Naaz, for instance—it has a bedroom-made sound because it was literally made in my bedroom. The reason for this is that my Kurdish background translated in me not having the freedom to just go out there and produce an album. But what I like about being Kurdish is that from a very young age you have this weird sense of survival and identity, because your identity is always taken away from you, people constantly tell you that you don’t have a country. You’re forced to live between cultures, and you need to work really hard to be seen as successful and Kurdish at the same time.

So, this motivated you to keep producing and learning until you got the best result?

Yes, to really have the vision and the will power. I feel like Kurdish people a lot of those two.

I also really like the retro vibes in your videos. Do you have an interest in nostalgia and in things past?

The retro vibe in the videos is a result of everything being filmed analog. But also, when it comes to music, I feel like it shouldn’t sound like it has a glittery shine over it. It should sound—and look—as if it has dust over it. I think analog has that dusty look, and perhaps that makes it seem so retro.

There’s also so much human diversity on all kinds of levels in the visuals you’ve put out.  

That’s right. My first EP is very much about the way I look up to people and the way they inspire me. It’s about the feelings I want to feel and about what I aspire to become. And in my everyday life, people and inspiration from all paths and cultures mix together.

This makes me think of the personal character of each song too. How do you feel about performing them live? Do you prefer an intimate crowd over a huge stadium?

I love intimate crowds. But, I must say, I want to be the type of artist that evolves with every new project. I want to do something completely different each time I put a song or album out. This EP was made in a bedroom and it sounds like that too—it just wouldn’t feel right for it to be heard in a stadium. But my new music would maybe fit bigger crowds more. Not that it’s going to be commercial—on the contrary, it’s actually even more niche—but it’ll just feel and sound different in energy.

Sounds like exciting things are on their way. But as each new creative expression brings more and more attention on you, how do you escape the trap of validating yourself and your success through likes and streams?

Well actually, I have this thing that blocks all my phone apps from 22:00 until 09:00. That helps a lot, because I feel like it’s so unhealthy to focus on online space so much. And I know everyone feels like that and knows it for a fact, but we still do it. It’s a bit like high school—you want everyone to like you. Except that now, high school is brought to a platform for all ages and it’s there at all times, everyday. If in high school you could just go back home and escape, now you hardly can. Peer pressure has brought itself onto the everyday life of absolutely everyone. I wish I didn’t have to use social media—I hope I can become a very established artist and then just be able to leave online space and come back at my own liking. But if you aren’t yet that big in the industry, you simply have to be on Instagram, Spotify and so on…

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finally got a mustache!!

A post shared by NAAZ (@bitsofnaaz) on

It’s also kind of like a system that makes sure people are perpetually obsessed. The algorithm shows you what you already like to keep you in an infatuating loop.

Yes, and you’re being fed to become who you are.

This makes me think of our OBSESSION issue. What are you obsessed with right now?

New experiences! I feel like my teenage years started when I turned twenty. Before that time, I did what my family said I had to do. Now that I’ve gained their trust, I have so much freedom.

At last, if all songs in the world disappeared and you had to pick one to listen to for eternity, which one would it be?

Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People. It just make me feel so much.

Words by Valkan Dechev

Photography: Maxime Cardol

Styling: Leendert Sonnevelt

Hair and make-up: David Koppelaar—House of Orange

All clothes by Napapijri

 

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