28th November 2020
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Out of the Friendzone, Into A Business Partnership
Miilkiina’s founder Nadia Azmy in conversation with Moroccan singer/songwriter ABIR.
abir

If you have not gotten acquainted with Abir yet, you should get to it stat. The Moroccan singer and songwriter played a huge role in consolidating Miilkiina’s capabilities to create visually stimulating and culturally honest content aiming to flip the script. As Abir prepped to release her new project HEAT in full, dropping single after single, our founder, Nadia Azmy, rang her phone to catch up months after they stepped out of the friendzone and developed a business relationship. Throughout the lengthy Zoom call, the pair conversed about everything they have collaborated on, getting behind why Abir felt the need to rewire her image and align it with how she truly feels inside, rather than fitting into some obsolete standard. Nadia and Abir connected via their shared experience as Arab, Muslim women living in America, using their creative spirit to reconnect with their roots and serve a reformed idea of what their essence is like.

The Moroccan singer has a raspy voice when she’s not harmonizing. Her tone is dense. From the cadence of her words, you can sense how serious she is about her topics. She’s confident and knows how to get her point across. Her answers are rooted in strong beliefs and values and from a sturdy need to galvanize them. The partnership between Miilkiina and Abir started with a text at the beginning of 2019, a time seemingly so remote. “I need help with the vision,” Abir texted a baffled Nadia, who got caught off guard.

The singer was working on new music and was looking to finally break out of her shell and unveil her truest self to the world—an unapologetic, new millennium Arab woman. Nadia, on her side, didn’t really understand what Abir meant initially. How was she not embodying her real self already? What was the culprit behind this sudden epiphany? Just before she shot her shot with Nadia, Abir took time to reflect and look within herself, to question what her purpose was and what happiness meant for her personally. This new consciousness launched her on a soul-searching journey that led her through a month hiatus from everybody involved in her career, including her manager. She was determined to find the answers. Finally, she drew a conclusion. Abir was ready to reintroduce herself as the Arab woman she is with no holding back.

Any forthcoming project would ooze of her Moroccan roots shamelessly, she would be inspired by the role Islam plays in her life, and she was convinced to do so in the most radical way possible. To achieve this, she needed the people involved in the process to be on the same wavelength. To know what it meant to be a modern Arab, a Muslim woman living in a world with such monolithic and uninformed perception of what that means. A world that does not consider nuances, nor does it ever question what is presented to them as a dogma. Abir immediately felt like tapping into Nadia. Bringing her onto the journey would do the trick, as she loves the way she portrays womanhood through an unorthodox, stereotype-shattering lens. Never backing down from making her opinion known and asserting why she thinks what she thinks. Needless to say, this was a match made in heaven, and the material born out of this marriage is hard proof.

abir

The duality and ambivalence of both these women’s identity played a pivotal role in developing the new ‘Abir.’ The balance between East and West, the constant fight to stay true to the two sides of their personality, can be found throughout all of Abir’s music and relative visual body of work. Abir meant to infuse this ideology into her sound since the beginning of her musical pursuit; however, finding the right collaborators needed to materialize this fantasy was the missing link. The sound was the first foundational stone in building the house of the New Arab. If the sonic scape she would vocalize over wasn’t fitting the revolutionized harmonies she was looking to express herself with, then it would be hard to pull all of the rest in. Mick Schultz was the key to unlocking this new genre-bending, the Middle East inspired sonorities. “I was ready to go full force,” Abir states proudly.  “On my first EP Mint, it was still me being me but only showing one side of Abir,” she convened while explaining how the musical coming of age came about.

For the past six years, Abir had been trying to find the right beats to support the sounds that were playing in her head. One that would allow her to be herself in an authentic way, without compromise. Songwriting is the tool she used to seal this deal. “Musically, I took a 180 spin. When I listen back to the material produced, I tell myself this is the music I would play for myself, which is something I had never considered when creating before,” she says to describe how her craft evolved. HEAT is about self-discovery. Abir recorded it for herself, to isolate from the stereotypes affecting her surroundings and provide an alternative to that story. Surely, with the first single “Inferno,” Abir shook the table. The reaction has been phenomenal, to say the least. What had acted as the scapegoat for her radical endeavor proved to be an effective, refreshing narrative that people were thirsty for. Once all the pieces of the puzzle started coming together, and the artist saw the result of the creative, hard work that brought her back to Morocco and pushed her to seek the help of Miilkiina in the first place, she took a proud sigh of relief.

“When I introduce this New Arab, I don’t mean to say the Old Arab is bad. I just want to show that Arab identity is constantly evolving.” Abir reiterates her goal. “It’s important to add to the conversation. If you google Arab Woman, there’s one homogeneous image being pushed. I want to break that.” Her mission is to open people’s minds to the multiple facets of Arab womanhood. Abir was born in Fez, Morocco. “The best city in the world,” she laughs, where she lived up to 6 years old. Then her family relocated to the States, passing by DC and then settling in Arlington, Virginia. A big cultural and environmental shock. Leaving their home country, though, didn’t mean forgetting her heritage. Morocco was very prominent in her household, even thousands of miles away across the ocean in a predominantly white region. Food, music, tradition were a big part of her childhood and a way to stay connected to her birthplace, which despite the distance, never felt foreign to her, even while being absent for long periods of time.

Abir’s presence is crucial to the representation of third culture children consuming pop culture as their daily bread without having a role model that fits their background or social references in a contemporary manner. Her experience resonates with many, and it’s important and valid. Creating a community of similar peers and providing them with the opportunity to thrive creatively on all levels is an ambition close to Abir’s heart. She never had a role model to look up to herself. “The closest example I had of an Arab woman in music was Shakira,” she says, clearly exposing the ridiculousness of having a Colombian singer representing the Arab world in the mainstream, regardless of her Lebanese legacy. Abir is here to fill that gap, proving that Arab-American women can be much more than doctors, lawyers, scientists, and all of those career paths that are usually expected of them. Abir is the proof a successful creative path is also an option, and you can do it your way, refuting the norm.

abir

“It’s our responsibility to change it up,” she says as she lists the reasons why she felt so strongly about enlisting other Arab creatives to help her design this new space.  Miilkiina guided Abir through the unraveling of her spirit and helped her reach the peak. Vulnerability and relatability were the glue between the two realities, sort as if the two entities walked hand in hand, teaching each other how to live their truth loudly. Abir’s songs act as the journal she uses to remind herself about her unique background and see the characteristics she would once hide as a weapon for liberation. “If people listening to my music feel comforted, that’s great. But I want to go beyond that. To challenge people, to make them learn something new,” she says candidly. The intention set before the release of Abir’s new project was channeled throughout Inferno by injecting the record with symbol-heavy, powerful visuals, and aesthetics that would trigger an emotional reaction in the audience. This expectation was able to be met by putting Abir back in the natural habitat. Her birthplace. For days, she could be in touch with her family, subject them to her music, and absorb their response to the vibrant melodies she crafted.

The intense two week period filled with early risings and constant input was supported by the artist’s video commissioner, an Iranian-British woman who saw herself in the vision Abir was trying to bring to life. The anticipation for this homecoming trip was overshadowed by all the tasks that needed to be ticked off prior to departure, but once on the ground, Abir got hit by a reality check. She was back in her homeland, alone, at 25 years old, without her family for the first time. The impact was unprecedented and enhanced by the fact that this would be her last trip abroad for a while, given the imminence of a pandemic quickly spreading around the world. Every detail, from the traditional squat toilets foreign to the American lifestyle, to the interaction with local recipients, played a role in consolidating the experience and enhance the juxtaposition of old and new perpetuated by Abir’s persona. As she recalls those unforgettable moments, happiness seeps through her voice. She’s so excited about the result. Hearing the Arab melodies being mastered the way she always dreamed of was the best part of the journey she reveals and the making of the disruptive concept of Rebirth. The trailer that would set the tone for her future.

“Seeing the proof of concept coming to life the way it did and spending so much time on set, 14 hours in the making, was an awakening. It attested the fact that I can live my truth.” Nadia breaks the stream with a funny episode “Let’s not forget the photographer canceled on us the day of the shoot!” – the two erupt in laughter. HEAT taught Abir to always trust her gut. It pulled her back into her seat and made her crave the knowledge she was lacking. Deep research was needed in order to mold the sound she was after. Learning the history of Arab music and what instruments were required to authentically layer symphonies that would embody the clash between her edges gave way to a profound personal escapade. Resilience and patience were vital. Towards the end of the conversation, Abir spills the beans on a particular character that played an important role in shaping her new sound: Egyptian legendary singer Umm Kulthum.

Despite her music being so far from anything available in today’s musical landscape, Kulthum taught Abir you can be vulnerable and powerful on the same piece of writing. Sharing personal stories of what is usually portrayed as a female struggle, such as heartbreak under an empowering light, is at the base of Abir’s content. She claims, “Women are heartbreakers. We are not victims. We choose who we want to be serious with. I am not losing by saying that I don’t want to take the relationship further than where it is at the moment.” This specific predicament is the plot of the second single off of her latest EP, “Yallah.” Years of self-discovery and reconnection to her roots through music are the engine propelling Abir forward and her enthusiasm for the lubricating oil. As she checks out, Abir drops a bomb. She’s in Los Angeles working on her next project already. In the meantime, stream the HEAT EP on all major streaming platforms.

Out of the Friendzone, Into A Business Partnership
Miilkiina’s founder Nadia Azmy in conversation with Moroccan singer/songwriter ABIR.
abir

If you have not gotten acquainted with Abir yet, you should get to it stat. The Moroccan singer and songwriter played a huge role in consolidating Miilkiina’s capabilities to create visually stimulating and culturally honest content aiming to flip the script. As Abir prepped to release her new project HEAT in full, dropping single after single, our founder, Nadia Azmy, rang her phone to catch up months after they stepped out of the friendzone and developed a business relationship. Throughout the lengthy Zoom call, the pair conversed about everything they have collaborated on, getting behind why Abir felt the need to rewire her image and align it with how she truly feels inside, rather than fitting into some obsolete standard. Nadia and Abir connected via their shared experience as Arab, Muslim women living in America, using their creative spirit to reconnect with their roots and serve a reformed idea of what their essence is like.

The Moroccan singer has a raspy voice when she’s not harmonizing. Her tone is dense. From the cadence of her words, you can sense how serious she is about her topics. She’s confident and knows how to get her point across. Her answers are rooted in strong beliefs and values and from a sturdy need to galvanize them. The partnership between Miilkiina and Abir started with a text at the beginning of 2019, a time seemingly so remote. “I need help with the vision,” Abir texted a baffled Nadia, who got caught off guard.

The singer was working on new music and was looking to finally break out of her shell and unveil her truest self to the world—an unapologetic, new millennium Arab woman. Nadia, on her side, didn’t really understand what Abir meant initially. How was she not embodying her real self already? What was the culprit behind this sudden epiphany? Just before she shot her shot with Nadia, Abir took time to reflect and look within herself, to question what her purpose was and what happiness meant for her personally. This new consciousness launched her on a soul-searching journey that led her through a month hiatus from everybody involved in her career, including her manager. She was determined to find the answers. Finally, she drew a conclusion. Abir was ready to reintroduce herself as the Arab woman she is with no holding back.

Any forthcoming project would ooze of her Moroccan roots shamelessly, she would be inspired by the role Islam plays in her life, and she was convinced to do so in the most radical way possible. To achieve this, she needed the people involved in the process to be on the same wavelength. To know what it meant to be a modern Arab, a Muslim woman living in a world with such monolithic and uninformed perception of what that means. A world that does not consider nuances, nor does it ever question what is presented to them as a dogma. Abir immediately felt like tapping into Nadia. Bringing her onto the journey would do the trick, as she loves the way she portrays womanhood through an unorthodox, stereotype-shattering lens. Never backing down from making her opinion known and asserting why she thinks what she thinks. Needless to say, this was a match made in heaven, and the material born out of this marriage is hard proof.

abir

The duality and ambivalence of both these women’s identity played a pivotal role in developing the new ‘Abir.’ The balance between East and West, the constant fight to stay true to the two sides of their personality, can be found throughout all of Abir’s music and relative visual body of work. Abir meant to infuse this ideology into her sound since the beginning of her musical pursuit; however, finding the right collaborators needed to materialize this fantasy was the missing link. The sound was the first foundational stone in building the house of the New Arab. If the sonic scape she would vocalize over wasn’t fitting the revolutionized harmonies she was looking to express herself with, then it would be hard to pull all of the rest in. Mick Schultz was the key to unlocking this new genre-bending, the Middle East inspired sonorities. “I was ready to go full force,” Abir states proudly.  “On my first EP Mint, it was still me being me but only showing one side of Abir,” she convened while explaining how the musical coming of age came about.

For the past six years, Abir had been trying to find the right beats to support the sounds that were playing in her head. One that would allow her to be herself in an authentic way, without compromise. Songwriting is the tool she used to seal this deal. “Musically, I took a 180 spin. When I listen back to the material produced, I tell myself this is the music I would play for myself, which is something I had never considered when creating before,” she says to describe how her craft evolved. HEAT is about self-discovery. Abir recorded it for herself, to isolate from the stereotypes affecting her surroundings and provide an alternative to that story. Surely, with the first single “Inferno,” Abir shook the table. The reaction has been phenomenal, to say the least. What had acted as the scapegoat for her radical endeavor proved to be an effective, refreshing narrative that people were thirsty for. Once all the pieces of the puzzle started coming together, and the artist saw the result of the creative, hard work that brought her back to Morocco and pushed her to seek the help of Miilkiina in the first place, she took a proud sigh of relief.

“When I introduce this New Arab, I don’t mean to say the Old Arab is bad. I just want to show that Arab identity is constantly evolving.” Abir reiterates her goal. “It’s important to add to the conversation. If you google Arab Woman, there’s one homogeneous image being pushed. I want to break that.” Her mission is to open people’s minds to the multiple facets of Arab womanhood. Abir was born in Fez, Morocco. “The best city in the world,” she laughs, where she lived up to 6 years old. Then her family relocated to the States, passing by DC and then settling in Arlington, Virginia. A big cultural and environmental shock. Leaving their home country, though, didn’t mean forgetting her heritage. Morocco was very prominent in her household, even thousands of miles away across the ocean in a predominantly white region. Food, music, tradition were a big part of her childhood and a way to stay connected to her birthplace, which despite the distance, never felt foreign to her, even while being absent for long periods of time.

Abir’s presence is crucial to the representation of third culture children consuming pop culture as their daily bread without having a role model that fits their background or social references in a contemporary manner. Her experience resonates with many, and it’s important and valid. Creating a community of similar peers and providing them with the opportunity to thrive creatively on all levels is an ambition close to Abir’s heart. She never had a role model to look up to herself. “The closest example I had of an Arab woman in music was Shakira,” she says, clearly exposing the ridiculousness of having a Colombian singer representing the Arab world in the mainstream, regardless of her Lebanese legacy. Abir is here to fill that gap, proving that Arab-American women can be much more than doctors, lawyers, scientists, and all of those career paths that are usually expected of them. Abir is the proof a successful creative path is also an option, and you can do it your way, refuting the norm.

abir

“It’s our responsibility to change it up,” she says as she lists the reasons why she felt so strongly about enlisting other Arab creatives to help her design this new space.  Miilkiina guided Abir through the unraveling of her spirit and helped her reach the peak. Vulnerability and relatability were the glue between the two realities, sort as if the two entities walked hand in hand, teaching each other how to live their truth loudly. Abir’s songs act as the journal she uses to remind herself about her unique background and see the characteristics she would once hide as a weapon for liberation. “If people listening to my music feel comforted, that’s great. But I want to go beyond that. To challenge people, to make them learn something new,” she says candidly. The intention set before the release of Abir’s new project was channeled throughout Inferno by injecting the record with symbol-heavy, powerful visuals, and aesthetics that would trigger an emotional reaction in the audience. This expectation was able to be met by putting Abir back in the natural habitat. Her birthplace. For days, she could be in touch with her family, subject them to her music, and absorb their response to the vibrant melodies she crafted.

The intense two week period filled with early risings and constant input was supported by the artist’s video commissioner, an Iranian-British woman who saw herself in the vision Abir was trying to bring to life. The anticipation for this homecoming trip was overshadowed by all the tasks that needed to be ticked off prior to departure, but once on the ground, Abir got hit by a reality check. She was back in her homeland, alone, at 25 years old, without her family for the first time. The impact was unprecedented and enhanced by the fact that this would be her last trip abroad for a while, given the imminence of a pandemic quickly spreading around the world. Every detail, from the traditional squat toilets foreign to the American lifestyle, to the interaction with local recipients, played a role in consolidating the experience and enhance the juxtaposition of old and new perpetuated by Abir’s persona. As she recalls those unforgettable moments, happiness seeps through her voice. She’s so excited about the result. Hearing the Arab melodies being mastered the way she always dreamed of was the best part of the journey she reveals and the making of the disruptive concept of Rebirth. The trailer that would set the tone for her future.

“Seeing the proof of concept coming to life the way it did and spending so much time on set, 14 hours in the making, was an awakening. It attested the fact that I can live my truth.” Nadia breaks the stream with a funny episode “Let’s not forget the photographer canceled on us the day of the shoot!” – the two erupt in laughter. HEAT taught Abir to always trust her gut. It pulled her back into her seat and made her crave the knowledge she was lacking. Deep research was needed in order to mold the sound she was after. Learning the history of Arab music and what instruments were required to authentically layer symphonies that would embody the clash between her edges gave way to a profound personal escapade. Resilience and patience were vital. Towards the end of the conversation, Abir spills the beans on a particular character that played an important role in shaping her new sound: Egyptian legendary singer Umm Kulthum.

Despite her music being so far from anything available in today’s musical landscape, Kulthum taught Abir you can be vulnerable and powerful on the same piece of writing. Sharing personal stories of what is usually portrayed as a female struggle, such as heartbreak under an empowering light, is at the base of Abir’s content. She claims, “Women are heartbreakers. We are not victims. We choose who we want to be serious with. I am not losing by saying that I don’t want to take the relationship further than where it is at the moment.” This specific predicament is the plot of the second single off of her latest EP, “Yallah.” Years of self-discovery and reconnection to her roots through music are the engine propelling Abir forward and her enthusiasm for the lubricating oil. As she checks out, Abir drops a bomb. She’s in Los Angeles working on her next project already. In the meantime, stream the HEAT EP on all major streaming platforms.

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