Dubai-based Lebanese jazz singer and songwriter Rouba Zeidan, better known by her stage name Rouba, is making waves in the region.
The 40-year-old made her official debut in the music business in 2013, and sat with Al Arabiya News to discuss her growing success.
Give us an insight into your background and who you are
I started singing from the age of five and found refuge in music, which became a huge part of my life. There was never a period of time in which there was no music one way or another; be it in the form of jam sessions with musicians or live performances.
My parents encouraged me to take up music, vocal and theory lessons, in order to develop my voice and talent. Like many musicians I had to take on another career to survive, so I studied advertising and wound up pursuing a long career in communications, another passion of mine.
Pursuing music was a great trigger for me. It helped me untangle myself from the fear of going after my passion, and today I continuously push myself to fulfil my full potential in every way, be it through music, writing or day-to-day business. One thing I find essential is to approach everything from a place of passion - that is my sole commitment to myself.
How did you get into music?
I never really “got” into music, I have always been in it. I feel I was even born in it. It is part of my identity. It took me five years to complete my debut album “Mama’s Back,” but it was an essential step that truly affirmed my commitment to my musical career.
How would you describe your sound?
It is a blend of jazz, soul and blues. My influences truly resonate through these genres, and this is evident in every track I have performed or written.
What was your musical experience like while being raised in the United Arab Emirates?
My mother is an artist and used to always host poetry readings and music sessions at home, which exposed me to cultural sounds from a very young age. They inspired me tremendously, and enabled me to explore my own musical talent. I did not really get a chance to jam with any musicians here. That came when I spent some time in Lebanon, where there is a relatively large musical community. That is also where I started performing live.
Where have you performed your music?
I have performed in a number of live music venues around the Middle East, such as Music Hall in Dubai and Beirut, Bourbon Street in Amsterdam, Blue Note, Bar Louis and SNATCH in Beirut. One of my biggest performances was at Beats on the Beach in Abu Dhabi to an audience of some 50,000 people.
What was your biggest break so far in your music career?
Launching my debut album at Rolling Stone ME’s fourth anniversary in the region. It definitely gave me a chance to showcase my music.
What was it like performing with Ziad Rahbani, the son of Fayrouz?
That was the most educational experience of my entire career. Ziad remains a friend and a huge source of inspiration for me to this day. He completely opened my ears and got me into jazz… got me to love jazz and perform it to the best of my ability. I really loved working with him. As tough as he can be sometimes, his musical instincts and taste are amazingly unique.
It is thanks to Ziad that I can spend days in the studio without flinching or feeling tired. He taught me to keep going over the melody until it becomes entrenched in my mind and I can sing over it in my sleep.
When did you realize you wanted to leave the corporate world and return to music?
I had spent more than a decade building a career that I found a lot of passion in, but had fallen short on fulfilment. I was longing for something more, where creativity and passion were at the forefront. Life is too short, and I did not want to spend the rest of mine in pursuit of a corner office and a promotion.
Your debut album was produced by Joe Kennedy. How did you get in touch with the LA producer?
I have come to learn time and again that there is something divine about pursuing one’s passion, and that once you set out on that path everything falls into perfect alignment. You meet the people you need to meet, and it just happens so organically.
I got connected to Joe Kennedy through a family friend. Once I heard what he could do to my songs, I was sold that he was the producer to work with. It was an absolute joy to work with him, and his passion added tremendous value to this album.
What feedback have you received from the community in the Middle East?
People are usually surprised when they hear my music, and tend to comment on how professional the production sounds and how I sound, as if they expect me to sing in an Arabic accent for some reason. Very positive feedback generally and much support.
What are some of the obstacles you have faced in your career?
Quite a few actually, but what is life without a little excitement? For one, I am an Arab singing in English. Secondly, my music is not mainstream, so radios were not supportive at all. This tends to be a common challenge for artists who come out of this region, but I never let that stop me from loving and continuously pursing my music. I do it because it makes me happy. That is truly the main reason I sing - I need to.
What do you hope to achieve with your music?
I hope to develop my music style and composition further, express myself more and talk about the subjects that mean much to me. Working on my debut album was an education, and I now listen to music differently. I am now keen on getting back into the studio and experimenting with my new state of mind and get the music out of my head.
Do you have any set future plans?
Definitely more music, continued growth, more contemplation, exploration and self-fulfilment. I plan to spend some time in the studio over the summer, and will be releasing some new music soon. I am also working on my first book entitled “Finding my Venus,” which talks about how music opened my eyes and put me on the track toward fulfilling my full potential as a singer / songwriter, mother, woman and entrepreneur.
Tell us an interesting fact about you or an experience you had
I love cooking and baking, and am constantly exploring new recipes and putting my twist on dishes from all around the world. When I throw a dinner, no one wants to miss out on the new dishes they will be trying out for the first time.
What social media platforms can people hear your music on?
I am very active online, and I love social media and the power to connect with people all over the world. You can find me on Instagram.com/roobaz, Twitter.com/roubaz, Facebook.com/roobaz, Soundcloud.com/roubaz and youtube.com/roubazeidan