SHAHIN IS CALM, COLLECTED, ARTICULATE and mysterious – and this is just on the phone, even though she’s clearly busy. “I’m just preparing for everything,” she says, “I’m running around and packing things up, getting ready for rehearsals tomorrow.”
Manchester Gossip Music Interview with Shahin Badar
Singer/songwriter Shahin Badar is currently teaming up with Noise Control, a Dublin band who is just a little different from her own lush, striking sound. The new single ‘Take It’ borrows from different genres: “It has a little bit of rock and electronica. But it’s got very dark elements,” she says, explaining that “the boys and their music are very much more in-your-face.”
Or maybe, a cooler, more dynamic, faster, less obviously-whitey-boy Nine Inch Nails?
“My track is the subtlest out of all of them!”
Shahin is no stranger to collaboration and mixing everything up, and loves the idea of music genres being constantly in flux. “It’s about the vibe. With each production I can hear something different. I love anything that’s different – the music I write and work with can be from all the worlds: of dance, electronica, to fusion and hip hop.”
“I like to deliver…individuality. My own music I would say is more from world, fusion, and pop because of my own influences,” she says.
“I’m very open minded with music, thank god – I love this, I am quite versatile I can switch from indie to dance, even opera. When I first went in to dance – people were like, ‘take her chant’ – yet I was so much more than a chant! People were simply not able to put me in to a bracket. Even now people have that problem. Record companies can’t pin me down! Warner Bros. were like, ‘we can’t take a genre from you!’ I seem to confuse!
“But it’s also my approach in life: it’s so vast. And that’s music too. Music is a passion.”
Shahin’s inimitable voice – and her Alaap chant – is most prevalent – and probably most famous on The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ from their third LP, Fat of The Land.
Shahin Badar loves The Prodigy
“I love The Prodigy. My mainstream hit was with The Prodigy. But what I love about them, regardless of me working with them, is because of how we got started – it was really weird for me!”
Before the heady dance days of the world’s biggest electronica band, Shahin’s life was panning out another way.
“You won’t believe this…I was working as a customs officer! My one and only main job. I kind of had to leave, my health wasn’t very good so I took it easy. I was very shy and I had a big passion for music. I never thought it would turn into a full-time career.”
Shahin was making progress in the Asian market and already had a manager, but nothing had quite cracked for her in terms of the mainstream. But unbeknown to her at the time, The Prodigy were already aware of her music. And the story of how they met is almost of divine, um, televisual providence…
“One day I was sitting with my mum, plates of food, watching Top of the Pops, and suddenly there they were, these guys on the screen. I stopped and I said to mum, these are the kind of guys I want to work with.
“My mother had no idea why, and she said ‘I don’t understand this music! Why?’”
It was shocking because the music Shahin was brought up with in Kuwait was the Arabic sound: much more percussion and orchestral-based. Her mother was classically trained and Shahin sang hymns as a young girl.
“And I told her, ‘because they’re MAD!’ I changed a lot at that time,” Shahin says, more seriously. “My mind and thoughts were far beyond.”
Talking to her Mum About Music Is Important To Shain Badar
A week after sitting with her mum about her new musical epiphany, Shahin got a very important phone call.
“There was a ‘Hey, we’ve had this call from a company guy they’re called The Prodigy’ Of course, I had no idea.
Then I went in the studio and I went to meet Liam (Flynt, Prodigy). That was when I knew! I was like, oh my good lord!”
“My record manager at the time basically said what if a man approaches you and takes you away from me in big white coat? That’s exactly how it was – the dance scene!” she laughs.
“So mad. It was so mad!”
In times of great success, decadence and constant touring, it’s only natural for pop stars and their brethren to get involved in some serious pre-stage and off-stage rituals. I ask Shahin if she has any of her own.
“I am a very spiritual person and I say prayers to God every moment of my life.
“There is one thing I don’t do. I don’t like talking alot, I like my space before I go on stage. I like hiding, and I go and drink a lot of tea and water, keeping away from distractions during rehearsals… I like a power packed performance, so I usually take percussion with me on stage.”
Percussion is a strong element in Shahin own music, and the dark-toned beats are very prominent on her album. ‘Yeh Rog’ is beautiful and fully exploits all the skins.
“Being brought up in Kuwait I listened to the Arabic sound – it’s much more percussion based and even orchestral. It’s about the vibe.”
…but with pop and Western influences. Shahin says: “I listened to Michael Jackson: adore him, I still even listen to Snap form the 80s! (Rhythm is a Dancer.)
“I found that I had more disco influences but I think after nineties, the bass was much heavier. The sound of everything became different and I am a big fan of dance music! Oh and I love people with big voices, I really admire them – Aretha Franklin.”
But of course, like most of us, she still listens to The Prodigy. I tell her how amazing it is that you can pick up any of their records and it will still sound fresh, offensive as ever to the Daily Mail masses, and it will sound like it was only released a week ago.
“Fat of the Land is the one and only… it’s explosive. Dynamite!” she hollers.
“It’s the fastest selling album ever, it is just so amazing. I still listen, I love the way Liam put the whole thing together.”
Shahin returned with the Prodigy for the their fifth album.
“At the height of their success, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned was fantastic, the collaboration was really cool.” There’s a distinct sound of affection in voice.
“I liked Get Up Get Off – I loved, so much more, the dance version because Liam had sent across the mix featuring Twista. I did like the original, but that was not the version I heard, I heard the dance one. And I thought this was gonna be massive. But Liam decided to put the original version on the album!
Get Up Get Off
“It was fantastic to have Twista and I LOVE JULIETTE! (Juliette Lewis, from Juliette and the Licks). I am such a big fan of the girl!”
“Before that there was another track I had done with Liam but that actually never got on the album. You can get it on iTunes though. But that’s how Liam works. He changes his ideas so many times!”
When it comes to Shahin’s ideas, her own songwriting depends on her mood. She says: “I write about love if I’m in a spirituals mood. I write about my connections. It’s life, culture, experiences or emotions. It also depends on the production and the vibe.”
She has also collaborated with Tim Deluxe, performed at festivals across the world including Glastonbury (the mention of which releases a big oh my god! from Shahin), Global Gathering, WOMAD – we’re talking 20,000 to 70,000 crowds, and yet it’s surprising that many will not have already heard of her.
“The whole mainstream crowd. I love them to bits but I try and do things a different way. I know it’s not very acceptable. But it opens different doors – I’m there and people think, what on earth is this?”
“A lot of companies wanted me to expose my body, but it goes against me.
Girls like me are very spiritual.”
I don’t even need to probe further in terms of how the physical female image is often crucial in the art and advertising of many music artists.
“If I had to relate myself to Britney or Madonna – it wasn’t that I wasn’t able to, it’s that my morals are very strong. That’s why sometimes I’m seen as a role model.”
A meteoric rise from HM Customs and Excise to world and dance superstardom, Shahin is quick to mention that your success in the music industry rests on more factors than watching Top of the Pops, rebelling against your mum.
“It all depends on your luck. And your hard work.” She pauses. “Really, really hard work, and your connections. If you have a good voice, and it’s projected out there, and there are people who listen to you and think you’ve got it…
“Music is a passion – you sing or you lose – it’s like a battlefield. Very glamorous, but there’s a lot of competition. If you believe in what you’re doing – the reason I carry on is because of my belief and my fanbase – people want to listen to your music. That’s what keeps my faith going.”
And what does the future hold for Shahin?
“I would love to get married and have a little gorgeous child, one child before I die!
Oh, I really don’t know. I love children, and I love children, and I think its very important for me to have a supportive family life, somewhere to take a step back from my busy life!
“I’m looking for someone understanding – someone that could be able cope with my work schedule and who I am.”