MUSIC // IMAN
Interviewed by Emma Finamore @finamoray
IMAN has impressive song credits, for major label signed artists, has been placed on triple platinum and gold status records, and makes her own R&B-tinged dance pop. But despite being championed by figures like Annie Mac and MistaJam, and working on albums peaking on the UK Official Charts and making Number 2 on the UK Dance Charts, she has had to endure a private struggle to get to where she is. With her latest single ‘Wishing’ out now – placed in the UK Urban Charts and making #10 in the pop commercial charts, where she is the only independent artist – we chat to IMAN about the sacrifice she’s made for her art.
Can you describe your upbringing and your family, especially in terms of music?
I grew up in Hounslow to a Sudanese father and a Yemeni mother. Both came to the UK independent of each other and they eventually met through mutual friends. I was bought up in a Muslim household and it was important to my parents that I understood and respected my roots. Growing up I found it hard to be open about my love of performing and hid my desire for it for a long time. None of this was down to the religion but more so the culture. Moments when I would broach the subject of maybe going to a stage school were shut down. I think the whole idea was pretty alien to them. I have a large family and am the only musician in all of it, and my passion for it scared them. In their countries there is no music industry per se, with music channels or festivals, and I think when they came here music was very much synonymous with sex, drugs and being broke. So, I know the only reason they felt they couldn’t support me was because it was their way of trying to protect me. I always understood that.
How did you develop a love of music, and your skills?
It’s so cliché but listening to the radio all day everyday was my escape. I found solace in the music, listening to it calmed me. I pretty much studied the songs, the lyrics the singers. Perhaps also by osmosis the pop melodies is why I tend to also have a pop melodic edge to my music no matter if it’s on a drum n bass or ballad record of my own. I felt a connection, and even though when I first started music I could barley control my voice, singing to groups of friends at school somehow felt like the most natural thing, I only ever felt excited and hardly ever nervous doing it.
How did you come to the conclusion to leave?
I think when creativity is repressed it becomes stuck energy and that for me eventually turned to depression. I was 16 when a girl I’d just met at college said I could stay with her and her family in North London. At first I couldn’t believe what she was saying and I took time to think about the enormity of essentially running away but the more I thought about it and how Hounslow was a dead end for me the more it felt like it was the only thing to do. North London was a totally different space to my suburban home, it was full of youth clubs with music courses and all types of creative people and I never saw this growing up where I was. Living in North London with her and her family was definitely the start of my music journey.
How did you break into the industry?
As soon as I arrived in North London I immersed myself in the scene and went to every talent show I’d hear of. I went to the youth club and asked about singing lessons, I literally was on a mission and I was a sponge soaking up all I could about the industry. After knocking on doors for what felt like forever eventually I’d managed to put together my first demo and I used this to make more connects.
How has your upbringing affected the music you make?
I think listening to the radio the way I did for so long was very instrumental. I subconsciously picked up song structures and hooks and even know when I listen to music I always want to hear the hook straight away. Also I only ever want to make music that has depth to it even if it’s like one of my more dancier songs like ‘Wishing’, that’s out now, I still hope it has some soul and meaning lyrically for listeners.
What would you say to a young person struggling to get into music?
I would say focus on your strengths, don’t bother comparing yourself to any one. Stay positive and use everyday to progress. Stay hungry to learn your craft and pick up an instrument.