Nadine El Roubi: Coalescing Sounds

"I'm just trying to find myself through my music."

Nadine El Roubi: Coalescing Sounds
Omaia Jallad

Nadine El Roubi (Instagram) is a Sudanese artist of Iranian and Egyptian ancestry who blends neo-soul, RnB, and hip-hop to create a unique, fresh sound.

Who is your dream artist to collaborate with and why?

When I think about collaboration I think, who can bring out a different side of me? Who can I learn from? Abyusif is someone I’d love to make a song with. I feel like writing-wise, he would challenge and push me to rap my best. His word play is so clever. And I’m insanely curious what we would sound like together on a track. Working with Kendrick Lamar would be a dream come true as well. He is someone who really extends the boundaries of hip-hop in how he conflates it with neighbouring genres like jazz, and his approach to thematic writing is what I aspire to. SZA, of course. Her writing style is so free-flowing, a stream of consciousness. I feel like she’d push me into a really vulnerable and honest place.

How have your different cultural backgrounds influenced your musical style?

In all honesty, I’m only really exploring that influence now. Working with Kubbara, an Egyptian producer who produced my last EP, Triplicity, really awakened that desire in me to bring my roots closer to my music through the sounds we choose. On Gravity he added a crazy mahraganat vibe in the drums and that rhythm added an entirely new dimension to what was originally a very bossanova sounding song. I started writing a track called Culture and it had such a club vibe to it and I thought to myself, how can we make it more Arab? I sent it to a Syrian producer named Thanks Joey who’s worked a lot with Narcy and he killed it. So I’m excited to continue to explore the bridge between hip hop and Arab influences.

With music being your creative vessel, what message are you trying to convey?

The message changes with each song. Ultimately, I’m just trying to find myself through my music. It’s also a little game I’m playing with myself. How good can I get? How deep can I dig? It’s thrilling every time I sit down and write, because I never really know what will come out.

What is your dream venue, or destination to perform at? 

I’d love to play the Jazz Cafe in London with a live band. A proper 1-1.5 hour set dedicated to re-imagining my entire catalogue with live instruments. That’s in the future though. Tiny Desk would also be insane.

Talk us through your rituals before a performance, what do you do to get yourself into the mood?

I’m still working on those! Now having done a few shows back to back, I’m realizing I need to figure out a better routine for myself and a set ritual that gets me in the right headspace before a show. It’s been a little chaotic and I’m trying to figure out a way where I can return to my centre before going on stage. Otherwise I literally black out when I’m up there and it’s not a fun feeling to not really understand how the show went after it’s done because I was too spaced out to be present in the moment.

Behind the music, who are you?

Just someone trying to figure themselves out and get their shit together. There’s so much I don’t know about the world. And a lot I don’t know about myself.

What brands do you wear and support when on stage? 

The shoot for this feature actually happened because I was looking for a stylist for my Utrecht show and an incredible designer named Tessa reached out to me. Her brand is called ‘Eeden’ and it’s just a collection of some of the most gorgeous pieces I’ve ever seen. They scream femininity and grace – unapologetic power. I’m so excited to wear her work on stage because I know I’m going to feel great in it. On top of that, she’s such an incredible person.

For my last London show, the mini-tour finale, I’m going to be wearing Hadiyah Hussain. Her cuts are gorgeous and the patterns are so bold and vivid. And we absolutely love brown women designers! I’m so excited to meet her.

What do you do to get inspired to create music? 

I honestly just live. And one day I’ll sit down and it’ll just pour out. But to set the mood sometimes I do love dim lighting, a candle lit, maybe some incense. Always some smokes! It’s not a must, but it definitely helps.

You’re driving home after a long day of work, what song is on the radio? 

Street Dreams by Kamaal Williams.

What challenges have you faced while creating relevant music?

There seems to be a misconception that I hate men because I sometimes write about how much they/the patriarchy sucks. It’s not really a challenge, more funny, because it couldn’t be further from the truth. And it’s always the men who have some sort of problem with themselves that seem to have a problem with those types of songs. One actual challenge behind creating music that’s seen as relevant to the times is being labelled as an ‘activist artist’. Even worse is when people think you’re exploiting a cause for personal gain or traction. There are often many situations that I want to write about and I don’t because I don’t want it to seem self-serving. It can be frustrating, because I think music is one of the most powerful mediums to draw attention to something. Whether it’s politics, society, or a feeling.

If you could go back in time, what advice or tip would you give your young self?

Stop looking for validation anywhere outside of yourself. And get your shit together and focus! And I tell myself this, to this day. Will I ever learn?

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