Meet Aishah Al Banawi. An emerging recording artist with Saudi and Latin cultural heritage, who has just signed a record deal with Randy Jackson. And no, you are not joining together the wrong dots. The rising star is related to designer Arwa Al Banawi. Naturally, the talented duo has already proved to be a great creative partnership on the red carpet. The Saudi designer supplied her cousin with an on-point black dress for the Grammy Awards last week that hit the sartorial zeitgeist. The fashion desk did indeed take note.
As Al Banawi rubbed shoulders with the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna, the event marked a turning point in her early career. In an exclusive interview and red carpet diary with Vogue.me, Al Banawi shares how she aced a record contract fresh from an Ivy League university with one of the music industry’s leading producers. Naturally, we also asked what it was like being an insider at one of the entertainment world’s coolest celebrations of talent, only a few weeks before hitting the recording studio. But this is no tale of good timing – rather, Aishah Al Banawi’s is one of talent. And one that could cut across cultures like never before.
On How Her Career Started:
The Big Apple: Al Banawi took part in Arabs Got Talent during her stay in Manhattan. “I sang Etta James, ‘At Last’ and Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good.’ I wanted to sing songs by powerful women from the 1960s revolutions because of its ripple effect over generations and its critical impact today. During the show, I did an interview on Sabah Al Khair on Good Morning Arabia and shared with the Arab region, that yes, I am Saudi and I am a Saudi singer and proud to be. I wanted to enforce a fearless narrative for women and their personal lifelong dreams.” Even though we are witnessing a new dawn in Saudi Arabia, with the driving ban for women due to be lifted in summer and cinemas reopening after decades of closure from the public next month, we are still dancing on the tipping point of the new era. Bold voices come at a poignant moment in time.”
With Randy Jackson \ @AishahMusic
“After I graduated, I sent Randy a couple of live performances from the show, and followed up with him about my visions as a Saudi/Latin artist. A few months later, after moving back to LA, we signed a deal. He understood the power within the polarity and intersectionality between my Arab and Latin roots.” It is not lost on executives in the music world that careers with longevity connect and unite communities and identities from the world over.
On the Power of Right Here, Right Now:
As the Golden Globes were taken over by the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns that empowers the victims of sexual violence and discrimination in all its forms, the global conversation has turned to the rightful role of women. “Two years ago, I sensed there was a female rumble coming from the ground… An undeniably powerful force that continues today. I am so honored to be an artist today because of this female revolution happening now.”
On Her Cultural Influences:
“My Arab influence has always impacted on my work. However, because I was born in America, as a child my Saudi identity played a mysterious role throughout my life.” Aged 22, Al Banawi decided it was high time to move back to Saudi. Making Jeddah her home, she immersed herself in Saudi culture and found her place among the artist community. “I performed at many underground events, and little did I know these experiences would shape my artistic path towards an authentic understanding of my dreams.”
Naturally, growing up in America meant that the real-life experience of Middle Eastern culture could not adequately measure up to descriptions and stories from her family. Exploring it first-hand centred Al Banawi. “The food, culture, decadence, and cosmic wildlife! I’ve never seen the stars so clear as I do in the Arabian desert,” Al Banawi tells Vogue. “I get chills thinking about it.”
On the Grammy’s:
The exciting journey that has brought Al Banawi from the US to Saudi and into the center of the international music world will no doubt give the artist a unique narrative undercurrent in her lyrics. The star took her first official turn on the red carpet at the Grammy Awards last week wearing her cousin Arwa Al Banawi’s striking little black dress, adorned with the Arabic slogan “Her Life.”
Aishah Al Banawi shares her 60th Grammy Awards red carpet diary with Vogue.me exclusively:
“My five-hour flight from LA to NYC went by very fast as my excitement to attend the Grammy’s felt thrilling and nerve-racking. I knew this iconic event wasn’t just about class and glamour like most award ceremonies, but about class and glamour combined with statement pieces and artistic expression. After weeks of searching for he perfect gown, Arwa, designer of The Suitable Woman, sent me a photo of the black dress that stated “Her Life.” My eyes sparkled when I first set saw it and I marveled at its chic sleekness and courageous, powerful message.”
“The day of the awards was a very cold winter day in NYC. I woke up restless and excited and walked down the street with a friend to get a coffee. The hairstylist arrived and we decided to do an Old Hollywood hairstyle. I then put on Arwa’s dress and began putting on my Oscar De La Renta and Rara earrings. I slipped on my Christian Louboutin shoes and my abaya. I have a ritual of spraying my favorite oud perfumes. I like to layer different smells and I pretend to be an alchemist while doing so. It gives me a positive feeling. Then I put a little of my favorite oud oil from Al Balad on my wrists and behind my ears.”
“As I received a call from the black car, I jumped in and turned on Jay Z’s ‘4:44.’ Once we got into midtown, things began to move very fast. I walked in, smiled, and couldn’t believe the powerful vibes as I walked in next to Lady Gaga. I knew this would be the beginning chapters of magical long-awaited years to come.”
Follow @AishahMusic on Instagram and watch this space as the artist begins to record her debut studio album in LA, with rumored interest from DJ Khaled. Go, girl.