She was born in Haifa, played at Glastonbury and lives in Berlin. Rasha Nahas has had a life as adventurous as her music.
Over the past four years, the Palestinian singer-songwriter has steadily created a buzz in both regional and international indie music circles with a sound that packs as much beauty as brawn.
And with her latest track, Tea Song, featured in the popular Fresh Finds playlist on Spotify, a whole new legion of music lovers are set to discover her talent.
At five minutes or so, Tea Song is a sprawling meditative reflection on the effects of resettlement, with all its opportunities and doubts.
Over shimmering guitar notes and mournful cello, her gloomy vocals wonder in the song’s key refrain: "Where will I go from here?"
Nahas, 23, says it is a question that has plagued both her creative and personal life.
“I do have a clear memory of writing that song. It was about three summers ago on a beautiful morning in July,” she tells The National.
“I had just moved to Berlin and the song talks about the meaning of home and how we can feel that we have arrived there, but at the same time feel far away.”
While Nahas is settled in Berlin, that feeling of dislocation has been triggered again by the global pandemic. As part of Germany’s public safety measures, Berlin’s vibrant music scene is presently a shadow of its former self, with all major performances having been cancelled.
“With what is going on now with the pandemic, everything here feels completely different and uncertain. In a way, it is the same emotions I felt when I first arrived in Berlin,” Nahas says.
“But it also made me think about how life is always about resettling. Change always happens and new people come into our lives and sometimes we move on. It is from these encounters that we grow.”
It’s all about authenticity
It is a thoughtful observation that can also be used to describe Nahas’s vibrant approach to songwriting. Her tracks are full of eclectic sounds and styles.
A great example of this is Nahas’s track The Clown, released last year. It begins with a heavy blues riff before evolving to include gypsy folk-style cellos and orchestral flourishes.
All the while, Nahas’s elastic vocals move from angst to whimsical spoken word as she describes “walls that are melting and dripping from heat".
“It is a post-apocalyptic anthem,” Nahas says, with a chuckle. “I had a lot of fun recording it. I made my band sing in a choir and jump like crazy in a studio.”
Nahas says there is a method to her songwriting, a process she describes as instinctual.
“Everything I do makes sense,” she says. “What I care about is the process has to be authentic. It is about that balance of allowing myself to go naturally where the song needs to go, while at the same time projecting myself and saying what I want to say within that song.”
The rolling fields of Glastonbury Festival
It also helps when you have a decade of solid musical training behind you.
Nahas was born in Haifa. Encouraged by her music loving family, she enrolled into a local music conservatory when she was eight years old.
Talking about her family's taste in music and what she listened growing up, she says: “We heard everything from Umm Kulthum to Led Zeppelin.”
A decade later, Nahas emerged as a classically trained guitarist. While encouraged by the teaching institution to explore more complex musical works, Nahas's heartbeat is "pure rock 'n' roll".
This meant listening to Bach at the conservatory and The Beatles at home.
After she graduated from the school, she began performing the original songs she had been writing since the age of 15 to the crowds growing with Haifa’s music scene.
Nahas's career went international, thanks to her critically acclaimed 2016 debut EP, Am I. She was invited to perform at the mammoth Glastonbury Festival in the UK the following year.
Even though she was placed way down in the pecking order of artists, Nahas recalls the enormity of that experience.
“One thing you realise is how big it is,” she says. “I was basically playing in a field of people that was as big as Haifa.”
While the notion of any other festival performance seems distant for her now, Nahas says she has been using her time away from the stage wisely. If Glastonbury ever knocks on her door again, the singer says she will go armed with a stack of new tunes.
Tea Song and The Clown are the opening gambits of Nahas's first full-length album, which will be released this year.
While she is disappointed that she will not be able to present the record with another tour, Nahas has come to a somewhat begrudging acceptance of the power of the internet in spreading her work.
“While streaming does make things easier, it also raises the question of what does it really mean to have all the music in the world for a few dollars a month?” she says.
“Then again, I do appreciate that these platforms can now reach as many people around the world in a way that is as organic as algorithms allow them to be.”