When you come from IRAQ you don’t get to tell your parents that you want to be a musician.
PHOTOS GEOFF ONG/ YASAMIN WORDS YASAMIN
Don’t get me wrong – despite its portrayal in recent times, Iraq is a country that has a long and rich history of celebrating music and performing arts. You just don’t get to say it, because when your parents leave everything they know to give you a brighter future, you had better have a more solid life plan.
I stumbled across the solid version of a life plan at the University of Auckland. Like most 17-year-olds, I had no idea what I was doing. I went through the motions of completing tasks and assignments and somehow graduated with a Master’s Degree in Pharmacology five years later.
My dad bought me my first guitar for $50 from The Warehouse when I was 13. I had been obsessing about the idea of owning one for about a year after I saw my teacher playing. I vividly remember the day; it was the late nineties and I had recently arrived at my new New Zealand school without a word of English. Miss George was strumming her guitar, and a classroom full of kids who looked nothing like me started singing in a language that meant nothing to me, yet none of it felt the least bit foreign. I was infatuated by the whole experience. After that, music was the one subject I didn’t need an English-Arabic dictionary for.
But while I was at university I didn’t touch that guitar I’d been obsessively strumming all those years, and I didn’t write any songs. I tried to be rational, dismissing music as a hobby and concentrated on passing exams. My insides knew differently though. So, the day I sat my last exam was the day I decided I needed to go to music school, to at least acknowledge this feeling that I had been steadfastly ignoring for the last five years.
At the Nelson School of Music, I wasn’t a standout student, being shy, timid and terrified of being on stage. To this day I think the reason I went was to see if there were others who were just as obsessed with the idea of being a musician as I was. It was an expensive way to reassure myself that I wasn’t crazy.
When the year was over, I moved back to Auckland and got back down to the solid life plan, finding a job in clinical research and playing music on the side. I was applying the concepts I had learnt at music school and slowly getting more confident. I decided to give recording a go as I now had the pay cheque to fund it. In 2013 I recorded my first EP Chasing Melodies. It was a time of musical exploration for me; it was fun and childlike. I made a couple of music videos and started playing small gigs. I even completed a North Island tour with some of my musician friends. I was building a very small but supportive following and things were good!
As the year progressed, however, things started to change for me. I couldn’t keep up with the workload of doing my day job, then rushing through traffic to get to rehearsals. I was spending too much time promoting my music, which left me little energy to write anything new. I felt exhausted from having to justify the point of doing music and started to feel discouraged from the lack of immediate results. I began to attach too much self-worth to my art. Instead of seeing each stage of my musical journey as a precursor to the next bigger and better thing, I started basing my happiness on how many people came to the shows and how many CDs I was able to sell. I was focusing too much on what people might think of the music I was creating, rather than enjoying the fact that I was finally creating it!
As a result I never followed my EP through to see its potential. I stopped gigging, and although I had a music video feature on C4 and a couple of songs played on small local stations in Auckland, I had lost the spark that made me fall in love with music in the first place. It was replaced with anxiety and crippling self-doubt.
So I took a year off to compose myself and committed to slowing down and reflecting. I moved to The Mount to stay with my sister, and was lucky enough to be able to keep my day job and work remotely when I didn’t need to be in hospitals. I am grateful for being able to have done that. The Mount gave me the luxury of time, something I struggled to cultivate in the Big Smoke. Everything here is simpler, closer, and more beautiful. I used this time wisely. I read a lot about creativity. I learned how sensitive and precious artists can be about their art. I learned about the internal resistance that keeps us from moving forward towards our goals and how vicious our inner critic can be.
Most interesting is fear – the kind that stops so many of us from following the things we are truly passionate about. The fear that makes us settle for a life plan that is safer but less colourful. I wanted to dissect it and understand it in order to overcome it. Fear told me that I wasn’t original, it told me that my work wasn’t good enough and, even as I write this, fear is sitting next to me telling me that this article is whiny and selfindulgent. I hear you, fear, but I have learned to stop listening.
The more I talked to other creatives about this, the more I realised that I wasn’t alone in this way of thinking. It takes a certain type of mental conditioning, especially when you are starting out, to get past fear and move into the doing.
COMING ROUND AGAIN
With this information, I went back to the doing. I knew I had to make some changes to avoid another burnout, so I found a part-time job in my field which allowed me to invest even more time into my music. I learned to take my own promo photos and design my own website. I was back into enjoying the process of building a song from scratch and learning not to fixate on the outcome.
I now have a new single called London (the title of which is another story for another day) and have finished collaborating with a great filmmaker on the music video. I am also working on finishing my full-length album with my friend and producer Ong, ready for an early 2017 release.
Sometimes life takes you down one path, but then calls you back towards another: the path you are meant to be on. I will always be grateful for my science background. It gave me the solid life plan my parents moved us to New Zealand for. But creativity gives me selfexpression. It gives me purpose, inspiration and a real reason to jump out of bed in the morning.
You can read more about creativity on my blog and listen to my new single at: