One listen of ABIR’s music, and you’re instantly swooned in love. The singer-songwriter uses her buttery voice to shatter stereotypes, while representing for the modern Arab Muslim woman. Reeling in instrumentation and melodies from her native country, she finds her own niche somewhere in the landscape of R&B and pop, pulling from her Moroccan roots any chance she can.
Exploding onto the scene with her standout feature on Cash Cash’s “Finest Hour,” which has since been certified Gold in the United States, ABIR has been putting in the necessary work to get to the big leagues. Exuding both inner and outer beauty, ABIR speaks her truth with an unwavering passion for singing and the art of creating music. Since she was a little girl, she’s always wanted to be a pop icon — and there’s never been a plan B.
Most recently unleashing her bold HEAT EP, ABIR unveiled seven new tracks for her growing fanbase. With songs like “Inferno” and “Yallah,” ABIR flexes her infectious vocal range all while embracing her heritage and speaking from the heart. Flaunt caught up with ABIR virtually to discuss favorite tracks off HEAT, shooting “Inferno” in Morocco, how music is a coping mechanism, her adorable ABIR doll, goals, and more!
What’s been up since the last time we spoke?
Oh man, I’ve been working. I dropped a new project in August. Honestly back from when you saw me at Coachella to this past August, I was working on the project.
Let’s talk about HEAT! You said you’ve been working on this for a minute, did quarantine affect at all?
Honestly no, only because I had it all squared away before quarantine came and hit. I was shooting the videos in Morocco when Covid had taken its place in the world in March, so I rushed back home from Morocco after we shot all the videos. “Oh shit, I don’t want to get stuck here. The project was done in January. I came to LA this summer to work on some new tunes, I finished up a couple records. There’s something weird about having the music drop during quarantine because you can’t do shit for it. You can’t tour or promote it the way you usually would, it’s been an adjustment.
You shot a lot in Morocco, how does this project represent you as an Arab American woman today?
Originally thinking about this project, I really wanted to find a world for me to be fully seen and represented in my music. A lot of what I was writing before was one part of me. Now by including a bit of who I am, where I come from, my background, what I grew up on, I’m 100% me. I’m incorporating everything I am into my music and hoping it can bring a unique perspective. Being an Arab woman in 2020 living in the States, is way different than people think. People have this one image of the Arab woman being this oppressed being: not allowed to wear what she wants, not allowed to talk how she wants, not allowed to live her dream. My perspective is one that isn’t shared. A lot of Arab and Muslim women out here in the States and worldwide are living their dream, the only thing — the same boring narrative we hear is that we cover-up. We’re oppressed, we’re not allowed to do what we want. It’s adding to the conversation.
How’d it feel to have the “Inferno” video hit over one million views?
Honestly, it feels so great. I love that video so much mostly because I worked with an all-Arab team from start to finish. I had to pinch myself, I didn’t think we’d ever be able to do music videos in Morocco. Something I think about “ah cool, maybe one day when I’m Beyoncé level.” To know I can go back to my country to do a visual for a song that means so much to me, it hits on so many different levels.
Do you have family back there?
All my family’s there. It’s my immediate family in the States: my mom, my dad, my sisters. I saw everyone, it’s cool being back as a singer. Being there for a project, not to visit. Which is nice too but it’s a whole different ball game when you’re like “I’m here for work. I’m here shooting a music video.”
The desert, the whole shot was lit. What was your best memory?
All of it was amazing, all of it is a blur too. Best memory from the trip itself was seeing my grandma who recently passed. We had 12 hours left before my flight. I changed my flight, they’re talking about closing the borders. I had to see my grandma. Now, I hold it so dear to me because she passed. Being in a desert, we’re driving in at 6am and it was so, so beautiful.
How does music help you cope when life happens?
I share my experiences, it’s the only thing I can get everything out then move on. Once it’s in a song, okay cool made it through. I can make it through anything. It’s in the song, I’ve talked about it. Artists are so vulnerable and so fragile that when you put your emotions and thoughts into it, put it out for people to hear, you have to have tough skin because those are your most vulnerable moments. Music keeps you company in the craziest times. Whether it be COVID, whether it be dealing with a death, whether it be heartbreak, it’s the company that exists and wraps you like a nice little hug.
What inspired your looks, fashion-wise?
I really wanted to bring high-end outfits and designers to the desert, to bring that modernist to it. It’s so beautiful as is, I can stand there naked and the desert would do its job. Adding that bit of personality in my style and focusing on texture, a lot of ruffles, a lot of latex, a lot of sheer outfits I wore towards the end of the video, all sand-colored pallets almost so that I blended in with the desert. Super epic. It wasn’t Balenciaga, more these up-and-coming designers working on high end shit and it looked so epic.
What songs mean the most to you on the project and why?
All have a little sweet spot in my heart. “Yacht“ is really my favorite because every time I go through something, heartbreak or something sad, I never like to dwell in it. I like to see what the lesson is from it. Why did God put this in my life? What can I take away from this moment? “Yacht” is a perfect example: my heart’s crying but “if the tears come out, hope they cry me a river that leads to an ocean I can sail in a yacht.” I’m heartbroken, but these tears will lead to my success. Being able to overcome heartbreak and cathartic experiences in a way that you end up at the top.
You experienced some “religious” shaming on social media when you posted a bathing suit photo, talk about that whole experience.
Oh man, I’m such an advocate of being comfortable in your skin. Being who you are, not letting anyone else try to knock you off your throne or confidence. The way my parents raised me, the way they taught me about religion is my own unique experience. My relationship with God is so strong. Everyone’s going to have something to say. Whether you’re doing something good or bad, someone’s always saying something. For me, it was comical. This is so funny this can happen in 2020, where people feel the need to police what women wear. In this day and age is crazy. Arab women have always being policed about what they wear, Muslim women too. Taking that authority to say “I’m going to the beach, I’m wearing a cute little bathing suit and you’ll have to rot in your little home. Watching me in my fucking bathing suit, okay?”
The little ABIR doll is so cute! I wish I had a doll version.
Shit up until a month ago, me too. Doug works at the label, he’s so amazing. I have this photo I took in Morocco. Every time we reference this photo, we say “oh should we use the Arab Barbie photo? Oh, the Arab Barbie? Okay cool, the Arab Barbie photo? Dope” Eventually it became “should we do a Barbie? In this outfit?” I needed the representation. I’m Arab. I have long brown hair, dark features. Being able to make a doll that resembles a bit of me was super fun. Fans have the chance to enter to win the ABIR doll by December 20th at midnight (EST).
For a chance to win the contest you can enter here.
How often are you belly dancing?
Recently, I’ve been doing it for fun. Once it’s in your body, I’ll even be posing and all of a sudden I’ll find myself doing the belly dancing pose instead of the normal [pose]. I’m doing it often, it’s so fun. Not even to Arabic music, I’m listening to all types of music and having fun around the house.
One thing you want fans to get from the EP?
How fucking fire Arab pop can be. That Arab fusion, Arab music, instruments in the Arab world, rhythms are tasteful. If they’re given a chance for people to listen to, they’ll make your body move. From a concept and lyrical standpoint, I hope people can connect with being able to continue to be resilient and reverent. Not letting anyone try to knock you off what you’re doing, to be you. Be yourself: comfortable with who you’re with, where you come from.
Three things you need in the studio?
I need an espresso, [laughs] that’s one. I always need some comfy socks and some comfy shoes, because I’m not with the dress-up. I don’t really need much. Some food, some cozy socks, and an espresso. That’ll do me.
How much do you miss performing?
A ton honestly. I got so excited creating this project, I was really looking forward to performing it live because there’s so much movement in the music. I haven’t really had that before. I want to be up on the stage dancing, doing the damn thing connecting with fans. I miss it a ton, but I have found small ways during this pandemic to connect with fans and to still perform. I’m making it do.
Goals for yourself at this point in your career?
I’m really looking forward to continuing to progress my sound. I really found something that speaks to me, speaks to who I am. I honestly feel the most confident in singing this music. I want to show more vocals. I want to get up there, sing on stages and actually dance. A really huge goal for me to be able to move on stage and do my thing. Continue pushing the fucking limit on these videos, I want to get even more creative and challenge myself to do things that are bit out of the realm of what I’m used to. I want to act a little bit.
Anything else that you want to let the people know?
Listen to the music, that’s really it. The director’s so amazing, Sharif Abdel Mawla he’s an Egyptian-born Amsterdam-based director who I’m legit going to have do most of my videos because he’s so epic. The creative director for the project was a good friend of mine, her name is Nadia Azmy. She’s so cool. So great to be able to work with other Arabs because they’re so eager to have a good representation of them, not some lackluster white-washed view of the Arab. To have them in their expertise made it feel so much more comfortable, I wasn’t worried about shit I’d normally be worried about.