INTERVIEW WITH DOUNIA
We sat down with Dounia, a Moroccan-American singer, songwriter, model, and activist before her set at BUKU Fest in New Orleans to talk about all things mental health, being an independent artist and what her art means to her.
ERIN(HIGHLARK): You’re currently signed with Empire records but in the past you’ve spoken about how you like to release music independently so how does this affect your music? Does it at all?
DOUNIA: I have a distribution deal with them. So I’m still pretty independent. I send the music I want to release and they release it. So I don’t have a label behind me that’s like curating anything or any of that kind of connotation that has. So I still consider myself independent.
ERIN: And how important is that to you?
DOUNIA: SO important. You should see the conversations that I’ve had. Now I have a solid management team, which is an amazing and a blessing. But you should see the back and forth we have, because I’m trying to be better at compromising and stuff, but I can’t because I’m like, it’s my music. I just can’t do it. It’s very important to me to have complete freedom in my art.
I’ll be in these industry settings and think y’all think you know what you’re talking about but it’s art, it’s subjective. So, it kind of annoys me when people speak so objectively about art. You don’t know what people are going to resonate with or respond to, and maybe I just fricking like the song.
ERIN: You just recently released a track called LOWKEY GRL. What was the inspiration behind that song?
DOUNIA: Yeah, It’s called low key girl. Its’s one of the more recent songs I’ve made, and it’s really fun to be releasing more recent work. I was just in a random studio session in Utah and this producer was there and he was like, do you want to link up? And I was like, yeah were in Utah. It was mad random.
He had this like crazy beat and I was thinking about how all of these boys be like, damn, she has over a thousand followers? she’s not cuffable, she’s not wife material. The connotation that comes with having a high social presence. So I was literally wrote the first line and everything else rolled off that. I was like, you want to Lowkey girl? No, you don’t. I was just putting together all these images of the conflicting messages.
ERIN: So how does having a lot of social media clout and followers affect your life and your journey?
DOUNIA: I feel like I’ve been in a general spotlight for a really long time. So now it’s become more casual. It’s second nature.
Now I’m concerned with my art. I’m like, okay, I just want it to get out. But there was definitely points in my life where I was like oh my God, all this pressure. But once you lift that mental pressure from yourself, you could just be like, Bro, I don’t care what these people think. Cause in reality nobody’s too concerned with you. At the end of the day, people are just living in their own world, and if they’re targeting you in negativity, that’s just projection.
I mean of course if you don’t know how to handle the clout and the attention, (laughs) …if you don’t know how to handle the clout, you will get lost. It’s true. So don’t get lost in the sauce. If you get the sauce, don’t get lost in it.
ERIN: Social media has a huge effect on mental health and you are very open with the topic of mental health. You talk pretty openly about it, which is quite different from most artists.
How do you balance mental health and work?
DOUNIA: I’ve gotten WAY better at it. A year ago I’d probably crumble under the pressure of it all, but now I’m more chill, because I got into meditation and wellness. I read the Power of Now, which was a life changing book for me. And I found things that make ME comfortable. I stopped doing things because other people were doing them to cope and just found out what worked for me.
Practice is perfect. Practicing existing in the real world and talking to people..all the stuff that might have scared me before. I’m definitely way better at balancing everything.
ERIN: Where does most of your inspiration for your music come from?
DOUNIA: It’s personal experiences, I hate to say it. I’m just like yeah I know this situation is dumb, but sometimes you can’t help it. But to be honest, that used to be more me much more beforehand. Now I’m trying to avoid turbulence in my life. I’m trying to just live peacefully. And I love writing from third perspectives. Even in low key girl.
I see stories play out all the time. Sometimes I don’t want to be involved, I just want to see them play out and write about them, but a lot of the time, but that passion comes from a personal experience and being pressed about something, even though I hate it every time I’m pressed about something. But you know, you write a song, you get over it. And it’s like those small things that relate to like the most random person. Sometimes I’m just like, damn, I didn’t think this line would even, resonate like that with people. But it does.
photos by @erinyasmeen and @sebtakespics
ERIN: You grew up in Morocco, how does that affect and change your world view?
DOUNIA: I grew up in Morocco until I was like eight. And then I went to Queens.
Honestly I think it’s really the catalyst for my entire musical existence. The whole backbone of my entire music is that fact because I came from Morocco literally not knowing how to speak English.
So not knowing how to speak English, not knowing how to communicate when obviously I’m a very expressive human being and I love talking to people. So not being able to connect with others was like really weird to me. And it felt like it motivated me super hard to get into books. I became a super bookworm, I got my first poem published when I was 12. I don’t think I would be as into writing as much I am now. I was on my nerd shit, and that really benefited me later in life. Thank God for being foreign, foreign game. (laughs)
ERIN: Do you think being foreign of hinders you at all in the music industry?
DOUNIA: No, not at all in these days and times, absolutely not. I think people crave to see new representation. I love seeing Moroccan girls killing it because of course I didn’t have that at all growing up. And I actually love being different. I think it’s an asset now more than ever. It definitely doesn’t hinder you unless you’re to weird spaces, which I don’t want to be in, regardless.
ERIN: Whats next for Dounia?
DOUNIA: I definitely have more music coming out, more visuals coming out. I have a new tape coming out, but I just don’t know if I want to release another song before that or.. you know I’m just going with the flow. I say as I plan out my next five years. (laughs)