Keen observers of the current Australian music scene will notice there is a growing trend within the industry – self-made and seductive starlets – on the rise because of their nuanced vocal stylings entering into musical couplings with moderate to well-known ‘bedroom’ type producers. These ‘collabs’ are tending to result in dance floor anthems, fueled by breathy vocals and heartstring tugging layers of sound. Brisbane’s Airling, for instance, wove her signature vocals into, Triple J’s 2014 Unearthed High winner, Japanese Wallpaper’s ethereal beats to produce stellar track ‘Forces’ and, following quickly in the footsteps of her Brisbane counterpart, the super voiced Wafia has managed to do the same via her collaboration with Perth-based producer Ta-ku.
Prior to this year, Wafia Al-Rikabi was relatively unknown but, thanks in part to a chance encounter with one of Australia’s hottest DJ exports, she now finds herself travelling the globe and pursuing her passion, creating music. Speaking to Cyclic from her recent whirlwind interstate trip (Brisbane, Perth and Sydney in 24 hours) the 22-year-old, pre-med graduate spoke candidly about Ta-ku’s entry into her life.
“With Ta-ku, I actually met him while I was doing a photo shoot. I was doing this shoot and the guy behind me was on his skateboard hanging around watching. I remember saying to the photographer, ‘Who is this loser who thinks he’s Ta-ku?’ I didn’t think he heard me.”
Thankfully or not, Ta-ku was unaware of Wafia’s comments, and it made no difference because by the time she had returned from her shoot he’d plastered his requests to work together all over her social media. No one could have predicted what has unfolded. Ta-ku and Wafia worked together on ‘Heartburn’, a catchy modern ballad penned by Wafia and energised by Ta-ku’s production elements, and it’s helping the pair to garner notoriety.
“We played LA and New York.” Wafia recalls. “The New York show at MOMA was two days after ‘Heartburn’ came out, so people knew the lyrics. They knew the song, they knew the lyrics, and I was like – obviously Ta-ku had shared it on his social media, and he produced Heartburn – so they had a reason to know it. That was very surreal and I was very accepted by his community and friends.”
With her US trip behind her, Wafia has been focused on the release of her current EP XXIX, named for the elemental breakdown for Copper, and the transformation associated with publishing her own body of work has, it turns out, included a significant learning curve for the self-confessed introverted and shy millennial.
“I never really shared a lot. I’m not a very prolific writer either, so I had to wait for inspiration and writing came to me in waves. But I really enjoyed it. I’ve been doing this for a while now, it may not seem that way. I’ve been working really hard at making sure my sound – everything I mix and that I put out – has purpose and reason.”
The five-track arrangement is underpinned by her recognition that change and evolution is part of realising your truest self and that in order to feel confident within herself she needed to fully explore her ethnicity and heritage.
“So many little things were because of the decisions I made, or the decisions I didn’t make, and all the people that I met or the people who afterward I chose to stay away from, and I feel like change is a really important aspect of what I do and I wanted to represent that with this EP. ‘Copper’ and those songs on it, are a tribute to those people who have been there from the beginning and who have seen me evolve over however many years I’ve been doing this for now.“
Due to her parents nomadic lifestyle, Wafia, a muslim girl of Middle Eastern descent who found herself living in predominantly western cultures, admits to being reluctant to reveal her ethnicity out of fear of being judged for looking different.
“I realised to figure that out, I’d have to be completely at peace with myself, and my ethnicity. And I say this, the day that I did that was the day I made better music and knew where I stood in this world and this industry.”
The success of single ‘Heartburn’ assured a song which has streamed more than 700,000 times since its release and peaked at number one on the Hype Machine viral chart, posing the question – what’s next for the Brisbaneite?
“I think I’m doing a bit of touring, playing some shows around the place and overseas as well. I’m going to continue to write, currently working on my album, just thinking about my body of work and how I want to be perceived and what exactly I want to say. So I’m in the midst of researching all of that and I already have a large body of work. I already have so much over the last few months that has inspired me. I’m excited to see what else I can write about in these next few months.”
Wafia’s EP XXIX is available now through Future Classic