Layla Kardan: 'I wanted to use my voice to fight against the stereotypes that I have encountered’

The Dubai-based jazz singer talks to us about her new album and how it feels to be able to listen to her own music during a flight from Dubai

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Last year was a big year for Layla Kardan, and 2019 is already off to a strong start on the back of her debut album, Saved.

The album, which is a bold homage to the Middle Eastern woman, breaking down stereotypes that she has herself faced because of her Iranian heritage – has hit the in-air playlist on Emirates.  Who knows: her songs might be playing as your next flight is landing.

Your debut album is very much about female empowerment. Where did that inspiration come from?

AThere are a lot of misconceptions about Middle ­Eastern women around the world. I wanted this album to speak to that. I wanted to use my voice as a means of fighting those stereotypes that I've encountered over the years. I often meet people from the West on my travels who are surprised that my English is great, that I am liberal and opinionated and open and comfortable in my skin. The fact that we are perceived to be meek and submissive bothers me. I want this perception to change and I want the reality to change, too.

Why do you think it’s important for popular arts and culture to have a voice in these kinds of issues?

Music is a more palatable way for people to digest this kind of information. It’s storytelling with a melody, which hopefully makes it easy listening, which in turn means people listen to it and pay attention. I think music is very relatable, especially since my lyrics are in English. It’s a good touch point for the West into our society. 

You have an almost all-female team around you, from your producer to your director. Can you tell us more about that? 

I grew up in a household of women, I feel comfortable and safe around them, I trust they hear my journey and understand my pain and joy more than a man could, and so their vision would be more in line with my message. The video for Goddess was inspired by Botticelli's painting The Birth of Venus. The song celebrates the prowess as well as the vulnerabilities of being a woman, coming into your skin, walking tall and walking honest, but also being OK with imperfections and not forgetting the hardships we go through in womanhood.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the content of the album?

The inspiration comes from my personal stories and encounters. It's spiritual and poetic with jazzy melodies. I had a lot of time to go inward and reflect and think about the way I wanted to progress and develop in this life. The album reflects that. The journey of the album is that it starts cool and confident, the second chapter after the mantra about losing your ego is more fierce and angry, and after the mantra called Exhale, it's kind of a place where I accept and come into my skin.

How does it feel to be played on Emirates? 

It’s incredible, such a dream. I listened to my album on the flight from Dubai to Phuket last week, and I was just in awe of it all. I am grateful for their support. They have also picked up two of the songs for landing songs, and I have had so many friends message me from planes saying my voice was coming through the speakers. 

Your music also recently won the ‘Esquire ME’ award…. 

That was also incredible one year before, I was standing on the same stage performing and Teyana Taylor won the same category, so it's absolutely surreal and I am very humbled. I hope this transpires to bigger opportunities.

What’s next for 2019? 

This year the focus is on festivals outside of Dubai. I want to share my music with the world. I will be playing a lead role in a stage play, the first quarter of the year in Dubai, and I also plan finish my next album.


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