Iraqi-Syrian culture. European upbringing. Queer identity. It’s elements such as these that Wafia Al-Rikabi, known professionally as Wafia, channels into her music.
The Dutch-born, Australia-based artist’s soulful vocals intertwine with electropop beats. Behind her releases lie hidden political and social commentary. Artists such as Pharrell Williams praised her debute 2015 EP, XXIX.
The Daily Texan spoke with Wafia before her slated performances for the SXSW Neon Gold, DAY PARTY Next Level Apparel and Mahogany Sessions showcases on March 13 and 14.
Daily Texan: How did moving so much in your childhood impact you as an artist?
Wafia: I think I have a lot of sources of inspiration. But then, I think (moving so much) prepared me for a lifestyle of a touring artist, if anything, which has been a big help. I don’t really get attached to places. I get attached to people, which I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m really able to just switch off a place and just focus on the people. That’s what makes it home for me.
DT: Before pursuing music, you were studying biomedicine. At what point did you realize you wanted to become an artist?
W: When I just stopped prioritizing college. I was always showing up and doing all the work, of course, but I would blow it off to go see a gig. Not even to party, more so like I want to go analyze these musicians or I want to go see how close to the music I could get. And there was just this constant pull toward music and purely just music. It was never like the partying, the drugs, drinking or anything. And then it came to the end of my degree and I thought, “I don’t think I want to go through (medical school). I don’t see myself being happy and fulfilled.” I literally made that decision while I was driving to university for my last exam. There was no coming back from it.
DT: Do you feel that your music is a means for making political statements?
W: It’s by me existing and being this brown, Muslim, Arab woman — that in itself is a political statement. (A brown woman) who makes music on top of that? And (being) queer as well, just to add (that) into it. No matter what I do, it’s going to be considered a political statement. A song in particular where I really brought that in was a song called “Bodies.” I talked about the Syrian refugee crisis because my mother is Syrian and I saw her family go through that. But also my dad’s family’s Iraqi. Before the Syrian conflict, there was the Iraq War and … my family continues to live through (that) to this day. I have to talk about those issues because they impact me on a daily basis. How could I be singing about all these other things and not be singing about that?
DT: What advice would you give to college students who feel that college isn’t for them?
W: Whatever degree you’re in, for the most part, it can wait. If you feel like there’s something in the odds for you that you got to do right now, then you just gotta do that. It helps me to have a father who wanted to get into acting really young. His parents said ‘no,’ told him he had to continue to go to university and he didn’t love it. And he lives with that regret his whole life. Seeing him go through that is what propelled me to (say), ‘OK, I have to do this now.’