These are dark times in the world of music, where Bieber fever and other such pandemics are killing global inspiration and turning the masses gaga. Consequently, it’s the indie scene that offers the most original voices. Such a voice is Rouba Zeidan’s, the Abu Dhabi-based Lebanese singer, who’s released her first single with producer Joe Kennedy (who’s worked with Macy Gray). Rouba’s jazzy style is reminiscent of Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige. It may not appeal to all tastes, but few can argue that the woman has soul and a fantastic voice. She also has a fascinating story. We caught up with the mother of two to find out about her upcoming album and the journey which led her to the precipice of a musical career at the age of 37.
What would you say got you into music when you were younger?
I was born in the ’70s – the best musical era of our time, in my opinion. I was seven when I started recording myself singing. I think ultimately it was my mother and father’s influence – they just loved music. We always had LPs playing at home and I remember they had hundreds of them featuring some of the most amazing musicians of our time.
Do you write all your own music and lyrics?
I have been writing songs since I was in my teens. I would write the lyrics and then create the melody, without any instruments of course – my voice has always been my instrument. A few years ago a good friend, Rayan Raad, called my bluff and said I was all talk as far as my music was concerned. I was doing gigs at the time but singing covers, mostly. Days later he returned with a notebook in hand and spent the entire summer writing songs with me. That’s when we wrote my album.
You did a great deal of singing in your youth but abandoned the dream for a spell. Why?
Even though my parents genuinely encouraged me to pursue music, I got to a point when my self doubt got the best of me. The reality was that I wasn’t serious enough about my music. After embarking on a career in communications that lasted more than 15 years, I found I was asking myself existential questions all over again. It took a good four years for me to finally get it: music was my calling all along. I’m no longer afraid of pursuing my childhood dream.
You used to perform with Ziad Rahbani (Lebanese composer, singer, pianist and son of the legendary Fairouz), was it intense working with him?
Wow, Ziad. That was a very interesting phase of my life. I spent about four years singing with him and I tell you he is an education as far as music is concerned. I learnt so much from him. What’s more, he’s also a perfectionist and so you are required to have a great deal of patience to truly understand him and his profound passion for music. I have never in my life met anyone even remotely like him. He is so genuine, real and raw. Difficult yes, but so worth the effort. One note on the piano and all would be forgotten! He has a way of sensing people and was the first person to gauge that I was about to abandon music for many years.
I remember after a concert where he was praising my performance to my mother and then he told her he believed I was not going to continue doing it. He was right.
How did you start working with Joe Kennedy?
They say that when you make a wish, the universe conspires to make it come true. Once I decided to pursue my music, things just started falling into place. I met a friend here in Abu Dhabi who had toured with Joe for many years and was convinced that the album I was working on would sound so much better if Joe took a shot at mixing it, given his extensive musical background. So I sent him a raw vocal track of one of my songs, like I had done with other producers in the region. What came back blew us away! He had captured my voice and just elevated it. That’s when I realised I had found my producer.
The title of your upcoming album is ‘Mama’s Back’. Is this significant to your return to the music scene?
Mama is my nickname amongst close friends and I believe it comes from my passion for cooking and my tendency to nurture the people I love. Also, when I sing, it’s as though I am singing my baby to sleep. So the
term is very much me. When debating the name of the album, several people questioned the ‘back’ element for a debut album and they couldn’t make sense of it. However, in light of the way my life has progressed and the major detour I took away from music before coming back to it, I felt extremely comfortable with the term and found that it truly reflected my story.
Rouba’s single ‘Don’t Go Home’ is available for download on all online music stores including Amazon and iTunes. Her album ‘Mama’s Back’ is released in November.