Rock with Rasha Nahas: The Dynamic New Voice Combining Theatrical Rock With Poetic Elegance
Photography & Interview by: Bethany Burgoyne
Melodic guitar playing, impassioned poetry and foot stomping rock vibes are a few elements which you can expect from up and coming artist Rasha Nahas. This young performer displays vast musical knowledge, evident in her song writing, whilst being evocative in her emotional delivery and dynamic stage presence. Grungy guitar riffs and vigorous vocals send you on a journey of extremities, from loud and intense to quiet and vulnerable. This essence of raw talent is made even sweeter by the humility and integrity that Rasha seems to present both off and on stage.
Describing her music as “rock that can be very theatrical yet sincere and intimate”, 23-year-old Rasha can be contextualised a little more by the references she cites as sources of inspiration. Growing up listening to her Dad’s John Lennon CDs, “that's a lot of rock and roll and controversial lyrics”, David Bowie and a more recent acquaintance with Joni Mitchell, these musicians’ sounds can be heard influencing her own intensely thrilling performances. However, it was as a young Palestinian girl, growing up in the 48 (meaning she carries the Israeli ID), that Rasha first had her taste of music when picking up her sister’s abandoned guitar.
“It was always clear for me that I’m a guitarist. When I hold a guitar, it makes sense, it becomes part of my body. I started studying classical guitar at the age of nine and it was very hard, demanding many hours of practise but it was the best thing I’ve done, it’s given me so much musical freedom now.”
Once Rasha graduated from High School, she recorded her first EP and steadily committed to performing in her home town of Haifa as well as around the world. It was at this stage that she turned her attention to developing her vocal sound; a hypnotic mix of spoken word and powerful melodies. “I was more confident in my guitar playing than my singing but focusing on how to breathe, to use my voice, to put emotions into the sounds you produce from your body was one of the most amazing experiences.”
Rasha took lessons from three different teachers, all working with varying and alternative styles. “One was focusing on technique, one had a background in theatre and another, a good friend of mine, focused on extreme vocal coaching – screaming and such like.” The gentle and softly spoken voice Rasha uses when talking seems miles away from the bold, melodramatic and creative vocals she expresses on stage and in her recordings. The ability to move between dramatically different styles makes her stand out. “When I perform, I try as much as possible to fall into the song; the more organic and effortless, the more I can relate to it and I think that makes it more accessible to others. I hear a lot of music when everything sounds the same, so I think why not have fun.” The result is one which is refreshingly contemporary especially when playing with her band (a set up of bass guitar, drums and Shaden Nahra on the violin); an ode to classic rock, with elements of punk, folk and cabaret, this fusion of sounds is a style wholly unlike others.
Having moved to Berlin from Haifa a few years ago, a decision which she recognises to have made her stronger and more independent, Rasha embedded herself into a more international scene. Alongside numerous other projects with, amongst others, Kallemi, a four-piece international band with Maysa Daw from DAM, Rasha has recently recorded her first album with her band members due to be released at the end of the year/early 2020.
“In my new album there are many personalities coming out – different approaches to using my voice, to production and sound. The songs switch between moods and I feel there’s a lot of attitude coming from a very deep place.” This mention of attitude is what seeps into Rasha’s performances; a dynamic stage presence that’s been influenced by working in theatre, cabaret and the performing arts. “There’s drama, the use of body language and hands; I never meant for it to be theatrical but I feel it creates some kind of protection, it gives you freedom, strength and comfort”.
Parallel to the ways Rasha presents herself on stage, doing whatever feels right in the moment, is a wish to separate herself from any gender stereotype. “I’m just a body, a somebody, on stage. I don’t think about man or woman or whatever you want to call me - as long as I feel I’m bringing myself in an honest way”. This trait of confidence in Rasha’s identity seems to be ever evolving, particularly through the process of song writing which, until recently, has predominantly been in English rather than Arabic.
“I broke a lot of my own barriers in writing this album, to keep pushing the limits of myself – what do I want to say, and not say, if I don’t want to say it, then why? I feel English is easier in that sense. It’s harder to write in your mother tongue, there’s less distance from what you’re saying. It makes you more vulnerable.” This conversation around the role language plays is one which Rasha ponders on for a while; consciously reflecting on her artistic decisions and recognising what has changed since recording her first album, “I could see the work from a different perspective. I started asking a lot of questions about who I am, what makes me who I am, how does language and my Arabic identity come in and I think the content of my music very much deals with that.” Using lyrics as a tool to discuss heartfelt emotions such as love, life’s challenges, conflict and identity, it is Rasha’s use of illustrative vocabulary that draws a listening into these narratives.
Processing information more deeply and recognising her own trait of sensitivity, Rasha uses this emotional awareness to feed her work. “I feel that if you’re intimate with pain or challenges that life brings, then from this intimacy, by digging the cave and coming out from the other side, strength arrives.
To have this view reflects Rasha’s nature – her steady and mature sense of responsibility which, with time, will hopefully evolve in the way she plans. “I feel there’s a lot to say about this world and my next challenge is to be able to say things that help people feel liberated, for people to move and smile to. Putting in the effort to make this place better, however kitsch that sounds, I think is very necessary. I ask what are my responsibilities to other people, to myself, what’s my responsibility to my privilege, my non privilege.”
Rotating around the idea of how to use her art for the benefit of others, Rasha seems thoughtful when saying “I want to use my art to get to a place to have a voice to give something. As much as being an artist is fulfilling and beautiful, it's also selfish and self-centred. You need that self-focus to protect yourself as it’s a tough lifestyle. But I want to combine that with something which is generous and not so self-centred, to give something. My most comforting moments have been when listening to a song that understands me. I get a lot of comfort from artists I love, as a listener, as a lover of music and art. It’s a dialogue and one of my main goals as an artist is to do that too.”
Follow Rasha Nahas on Instagram @rasha_nahas
Photography & Interview by: Bethany Burgoyne