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31 May, 2011 9:08 PM
Published by MDS
If you think of a harpist, you probably picture an old lady in the corner of an orchestra performing a classical symphony with a bunch of much older musicians. Well, this is certainly not the case here! Habiba is not your typical harpist. Combining the harp with her folk soulish voice to make contemporary songs is genius. With a little more promotion and the release of her debut album coming, this one could be a hit and I hope it's one, we need more artists like Habiba nowadays.
Read the interview, buy and check her music after the JUMP ...
Buy "Jewellery Box" HERE.
*How would you define yourself as an artist?
I'm a singer-songwriter with a harp.
*Who would you name as your biggest influence? / What is your dream collaboration?
So many influences! I've been very inspired by Hanne Hukkelberg. "Little Things" is my all-time favorite record. I love the way she uses her voice; both fiercely and angelic, the playful and surprising arrangements of her songs and the lyrics, contemplative, charming and sometimes critic. I think you'll definitely hear her influences in my songwriting. Other influences are Thom Yorke, Patrick Watson, Midlake and Kaki King. I absolutely adore Thom Yorke's solo album “The Erasor”. I love the sounds on that album. Patrick Watson for his dreamy feel and exciting build up in his songs; from simple 3/4 pop tunes to exhilarating classical arrangements and back within one song in a very natural way. Midlake got me listening to their "Courage of Others" for almost a year! I was blown away by the beautiful layered yet harmonious compositions and their lyrics about mankind versus nature and society and the nostalgic feel of this record really speaks to me. Kaki King inspired me with her earlier records like: "legs to make us longer" and "Everybody Loves You". No harpist in the world ever inspired me to get good at playing harp, but after listening to this brilliant guitarist I really wanted to become a better harpist and get the most out of my harp playing!
My dream collaboration? I would love to tour with Midlake. Add even more strings to their songs and sing second voice here and there. Or a duet with Thom Yorke! That would be heaven!
*So you play the harp, why did you start playing it?
My mother always wanted to play harp, and my father build her a Celtic harp from scratch so she could do so. My mother gave me my first lessons after teaching herself from a book. Then we both took lessons from a real harp teacher! It was kind of natural for me to start playing the harp. I don't remember being interested in playing anything else.
*How hard is it to create a melody with a harp?
The harp is kind of like the piano. Everything is there right in front of you, and possibilities are endless. Sometimes I start singing a new melody while cycling through Amsterdam. Then I try to find the right chords on the harp that go along with it, twist and turn them until I think the harmonies are exciting, and while doing that I tend to start composing more and more harp elements to the song both melodic and rhythmical. And sometimes it's the other way around. Then I'm just playing around with an element that I heard that inspired me (usual rhythmically) till it ends up being a perfect base for a verse or chorus. I start building the song up from there, humming along with it until I find an interesting melody.
*You just said you started writing while biking through Amsterdam, is this true?
Yes, I always sing while biking through Amsterdam and over time I came up with a lot of pieces of melodies that needed accompaniment. Then one day I decided to try to use my harp skills for this!
*What have you done to improve your skills?
Well, my harp skills didn't need much of improvement for playing my songs. When something is hard to play I just repeat that little part a thousand times until I can. I had to practice a lot on singing and playing at the same time in the beginning. That can be challenging. I have to be aware that sometimes the movement of my arms can affect my vocal space. My singing on the other hand was not good at all in the beginning. I had no control over my voice and difficulties with the high notes and getting hoarse after an hour of singing. I found myself a great singing teacher and after years of trying to learn a good technique I'm singing what I’m hearing in my head. (Most of the time)
*What unique qualities do you think the harp brings to your music?
Well, the tone to start with. With my pedal harp I can use an enormous range from warm long and deep tones to sparkling high tones.Compared to the guitar I can use much more tones at the same time, compared to the piano I like the fact that you can hear my fingers touching the strings.With my pedal harp I like the fact that I can easily play all kinds of strange chords (did you know the pedal harp is perfectly suitable for jazz and blues?), with the Celtic harp the sound is higher and brighter and the chords I use with this harp stay in one key which makes the songs more folky/Celtic.
*Your obviously not a classical act, how do you make it contemporary while playing such a classic instrument?
I use a lot of jazz chords when making songs on my pedal harp and always try to use nice pop or jazz rhythms.
*Why did you quit studying at the Conservatory of Amsterdam?
I was 19 at the time and found it very hard to lock myself up all day to study while the big world was full of adventure! Since I came from a young talent class I had the feeling I had never made the decision to commit to this truly. Then after the first year it became clear that I completely lacked the passion for the classical repertoire. When I decided to quit it felt like a big weight was lifted from my shoulders.
Five years later I missed making music, got my harp back to Amsterdam and started writing songs with my harp.
*In 2007 you won the Mooie Noten, how did it feel?
Before that I had no idea if what I was doing had potential and was worth improving at the first place. Winning this price gave me the confidence to go and make some more music!
*You went on to release your first EP in 2008, tell me more about "Jewellery Box" ...
The songs were all reveling harmless secrets you tend to keep for yourself. Lock them up in your jewellery box, or wear them with pride!
*What's the concept behind "Sweet Talk"?
Love smiling at people, love being smiled at, love enjoying and using my femininity. Nothing harmful; just in a “tong in cheek” kind of way.
*And behind "Queen"?
The day I wrote that song I was being grateful for being able to wake up alone in my queen sized bed, look outside and welcome the spring; full of promise of great things, and spending all day playing harp and singing, being my own employer. Like a Queen. For me that is what true wealth is all about. Having the freedom to spend the days of your live doing the things you feel passionate about.
*Are you releasing any new material soon?
Yessss! I have tons of new songs and I really want to make a great debut album this year. I have been playing around with many ideas about how it is supposed to sound but I think I've figured it out roughly and now it's definitely time to cut the knot and take action!
*How can we expect it to be?
Contemplative songs, layered vocals, of course a lot of harp, some instrumental parts here and there, upright base and light percussion at the base of the songs, some electronic sounds to spice it up (like the demo song of 2010 "Tip Toe") And some nice string parts here and there.
*So what are your plans from now on?
I'm planning to make a promo video in June in which I talk about making music and what inspires me. And I'll be doing a lot of demo recording for the record. I like to arrange all songs myself on the computer to get an idea of what does or does not work.