ABIR: The Arab Pop Princess
By Laila Shadid/Arab America Contributing Writer
“Arab Pop Princess” she is indeed.
It all began in Fez, Morocco, where Abir was born before moving to Arlington, Virginia, with her parents and sisters at age 6. Throughout her childhood, Abir kept her Arab heritage alive with frequent trips back to her homeland and cultural traditions in the household; she celebrated Muslim holidays, painted henna, and listened to Arabic music, especially Umm Kulthum.
“If Umm Kulthum was on it meant it was time for chores,” she laughed.
In Morocco, Abir remembers being around her family.
“I always remember having my cousins around,” she said. “We would go to the market, the medina, play around in the streets, and get all the kids from four blocks down. There was a stand right outside our house, and we would do anything to get a few Dirhams so we could buy the Arab version of Bubblicious gum.”
Abir’s Arab heritage “finds its way very naturally” to her music career, she said.
“Understanding that my Arab culture makes me who I am is how it seeps into everything I do musically,” Abir said, adding that, “Being a singer and songwriter is my life, and I have to include who I am as a person, who I am inside, who I am at my core, in everything that I do.”
Her most recent project is a music video for the unreleased record “Inferno,” which she shot in Morocco as a tribute to her Arab identity. The video and record will be released together on July 9 through Atlantic Records.
“One of the things I’ve been trying to do ever since I started my career as a singer and songwriter, is incorporate my two worlds—make them co-exist,” Abir said about being from both Morocco and America. “Inferno is really important to me because I wanted to show the landscape of Morocco, and how beautiful it is—how it is a piece of me.”
Breathtaking landscapes, vibrant colors, and a fusion between traditional and contemporary Arab garb characterize this music video. Besides the visual aspect of the record, the most important thing to Abir was shooting the video in Morocco with Arab creatives.
“This project was the first time I got to experiment with Arab sounds, Arab visuals, and Arab instruments, or even fly to Morocco and shoot a music video,” she said, adding that the entire cast and crew were from the Middle East and North Africa. “That was so important to me.”
Abir encourages other Arab-American artists to follow in her musical footsteps and provide more representation for the creative Arab community.
“The biggest thing for me, and also most important thing as to why I chose to be an Arab-Muslim singer-songwriter, is the fact that growing up, I didn’t really have anyone that looked like me doing this. I had no guide, no one to follow,” she said. “Having someone that looks like you, doing what you aspire to do, is helpful and inspiring. It makes you feel like you do have a chance.”
In an Instagram video titled “REBIRTH,” Abir spoke about breaking stereotypes of the Arab woman in her career.
View this post on Instagram
“I am a lot of things a Muslim-Arab woman isn’t expected to be. What she looks like, what she does, how she acts, how she feels, what she wants,” she said in the video. “The current narrative is uninformed, and honestly, it’s f**king boring.”
The most common stereotype Abir has witnessed, she said, is that Arab women are oppressed, voiceless, and controlled by men.
“It’s just so wrong,” Abir said, “as if we are these weak women when really, we are the strongest, and we have such a will to live and to fight. It’s time to break that stereotype because Arab women have a lot to say.”
Abir added that using her Arab identity as “a weapon” is powerful in fighting these misconceptions.
“I thought to myself—what separates me?” she asked. “And it was my Arab heritage—it was being an Arab woman.”
Growing up, Abir was not always proud to be an Arab woman. She was picked on for smelling like “good Moroccan food” and having a large nose. But spending summers in Morocco helped her realize, “Wow, who I am is beautiful and where I come from is beautiful.”
She paused, then spoke.
“I need to own that.”
This past Monday, Arab America hosted a private online event with Abir. Over 60 team members from Arab America representing sixteen states participated. Abir performed her hit song “Finest Hour” and upcoming record “Inferno,” and took time to answer audience questions about her Moroccan heritage, music career, and identity as an Arab-Muslim woman. The singer said she was thankful to collaborate with Arab America and looks forward to an in-person concert when the pandemic subsides.
Check out our blog here!