BEIRUT: “When we love, we love like fire,” Moroccan pop artist Abir Haronni passionately proclaims. The singer is talking about Arab women, a subject that’s extremely important to her.
Aside from her compelling voice and dedication to showcasing her cultural heritage through the range of pop music that she creates, the 26-year-old singer is noted for challenging the way that Arab women are perceived throughout the world.
“When people anywhere hear the words ‘Arab woman,’ they have one idea in their minds — you can Google it and you’ll see what that image is,” she says with a laugh, although she is clearly not amused. “I’ve never felt represented in that. Arab women are multifaceted, we come in variety, we come from different faiths, we’re a diverse group of human beings.
“We have different experiences, perspectives... we are also evolving. We have to feel represented, we have to change that image, to have a different picture popping up on Google,” she adds, with another laugh — this one a little more lighthearted.
“We have to start sharing our unique experiences. That’s what I’m trying to do with my music: it’s all about being able to live in my truth, so that other women can hopefully live in theirs.”
And when it comes to her music, Abir is just as uncompromising in her desire to “brag about” where she is from.
“I want to use my platform to highlight my culture and identity,” she says. “I don’t think that there has been a mainstream pop artist talking loudly and proudly about being Arab and Muslim. Growing up, I would have loved to have a figure like that to look up to,” Abir explains. “So, I would love to be that person, who truly provides representation for people that come from where I come from.”
The singer was born in Fez, Morocco, and even though her family moved to Arlington, Virginia in the US when she was six, “we never left Morocco behind. I was always connected. We didn’t move to the States to forget who we were.”
It was around the same time that music started to become a permanent fixture in her life. “I always say I owe it to my dad, and his huge collection of music. He’d play it for me in the car when picking me up from school or my friends’ houses. On the weekends, we’d be listening to everything from jazz and soul to Arabic music.
“I just became so attached to the idea of singing, and I’d mimic the people that I was listening to until I eventually found my own voice,” Abir says.
“Throughout high school and college, I was doing everything I could to get on stage — talent shows, county fairs, bars, open mics... and once I graduated, I was interning in a music studio in (Washington) D.C. when I realized that there would be no way that I was going to live my life without music.”
Indeed, ever since her first release in 2013, and up to her brand new EP “Heat,” Abir has been crafting a unique identity for herself as an artist. In “Inferno,” one of the singles off the latest release, she challenges the notion that “women often take the role of the heartbroken ones in a relationship. That’s nonsense! Because all the women I know are heartbreakers.”
“I wanted to portray the woman and her love as a fire. When we love, we love very hard, but we can also be strong in our wrath when we’re angry. It’s like everything that encompasses a woman’s love is an inferno,” she says.
Everything on the seven-track Heat is a powerful reminder of Abir’s proclivity for honoring her roots — from the seamless fusion of string arrangements and distinctive vocal melodies with earworm pop and western beats to her effortless leaps from English to Arabic and even French lyrics. “That bit of self-celebration is owning who you are despite it being different than other people; not even with my binaries, but who I am as a person, my views, my lens. The things I care about and live for. On this project, I’m speaking about how I love, and not just in relationships. No. It’s how I love life. When you love something, you care for it,” she declares.
“Heat” is Abir’s second EP released by Atlantic Records. “I find working with them so great. When they signed me, I made sure to share my long-term vision. That’s so important — they let me do me. They introduced me to Mick (Schultz, the producer of “Heat”), the guy who’s integral to the sound of the EP — so I’m forever grateful,” she says enthusiastically.
“I may have my cultural heritage, but I am by no means an expert on the music. I needed to learn — about what thoughts and emotions certain instruments evoke, what melodies and rhythms and scales are being used in order to get this type of feeling. Bringing Arabic music to American music requires experience and experimentation. So, I was teaching Mick things he didn’t know, and he was teaching me things that he’d learned. It was all very inspiring,” Abir continues. “Mick is incredible.”
Ultimately, Abir stresses that her new release “is about marginalized people. It’s almost like me saying ‘Yallah’ (the title of another single off “Heat”), be who you want to be and let’s ride it out till the end.”
She is looking forward to where that journey will take her next. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting global moratorium on live performances have not dampened her enthusiasm. “I’ll be going live on Instagram and doing as many private shows on Zoom as possible. With these tools, you’re not limited to one place — you’re in the Middle East, you’re in Michigan, all at the same time. You can be anywhere you want.
“At the end of the day, I’m grateful and happy to connect with the Middle East and North Africa, whether through this interview or my music” she concludes. “The mission is to have Arab voices heard. To add to the global conversation. To be part of the story.”