- 25 May 17
Ahead of the launch of her new album, Beauty Spots, Palestinian singer/songwriter Ruba Shamshoum discusses her unique array of musical influences, the effects of singing in Arabic and English, and moving from the Middle East to Ireland.
“I moved here about five years ago,” says Ruba, explaining her relocation to the Emerald Isle. “My husband found a job here while I was studying music in Nazareth. Then I moved with him and continued studying jazz performance at the New Park Music Centre. I graduated two years ago and I’ve been performing ever since in Dublin, the UK and the Middle East.”
I ask Ruba to forgive me for my ignorance before admitting that my knowledge of Middle Eastern music is hazy at best…
“That’s understandable!” she laughs. “Middle Eastern music hasn’t exactly gone global. But personally, my music comes from a lot of different directions. Obviously the Arabic music that I’ve listened to since my childhood is there in my brain, so when I compose, it’s a major influence. But in addition to that, I’m an MTV child. I listened to rock music most of my life and so did my friends. After that, there’s the jazz music I studied in college and Brazilian music that I’d listen to now. So in a sense, although my music might have its origins in the Arabic strains, it comes more naturally to me to compose western music.”
Does this also mean that Ruba finds it easier to write in English?
“Yes, I think so,” she says. “The English language and western styles of music have more currency among the younger generation. But then, there’s a clash between the older generation and the new world generation emerging in my home country. The older generation, who have been through conflict and decades of war, see it as important to hold onto their more traditional styles of music. I sing in both Arabic and English because I have deep respect for the old tradition and because I want to show the beauty of the Arabic language – a language which many people are made to feel ashamed to speak – but I also know that it’s important not to drift into nostalgia with art. We need to be innovative and not be replicas of what came before.”
Ruba recently gave a TED Talk on the issue of nostalgia, identity and innovation in art. Noting that songs she’s written - like ‘Fuqaati (My Bubble)’ - deal with exile and finding one’s place in the world, I ask how much of a factor identity is for Ruba.
“For me, identity is not just being Palestinian, or living in Israel or living in Ireland,” she says. “Growing up in the complexity of the Israel-Palestine situation means that a lot of people forge their own path in terms of who they are, and they make it less about where they’re from. You try to define yourself more by what you like than by the person that you’re told you are. I always try to be as true to myself as possible when I make music. It’s the only place where I can express myself and where I don’t have to apologise to anyone for what I write.”
Ruba’s strident forging of her own path saw her head to the studio recently to produce her debut album, Beauty Spots. It’s an album which brings together a series of new and old songs, written by Ruba and produced with the help of Dublin’s jazz scene elite. Indeed, many of Ruba’s songs merge jazz with her unique Arabic slant, giving the album a highly distinctive feel. Quite simply, it’s one of the most brilliantly adventurous records you’ll hear this year – so make sure and get in on the ground floor as Ruba’s rise commences...
Ruba launches Beauty Spots at Whelan’s, Dublin on May 25.