Some summers ago, a radio station threw a block party in Ilham’s Queensbridge, New York neighborhood. “The DJ stepped on stage and announced that they were going to start a talent show. I was a shy kid and took a lot of convincing,” recalls the Moroccan singer of the moment. Her cover of Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson brought people to tears. “I won a bike for my siblings – from that moment, I knew I was going to be an artist.”
Ilham fast-tracked her graduation from Cornell University, finishing a year early in order to deep-dive into her music. “I wanted to go to Los Angeles, to explore the scene there, but my parents are North African, so there was no way I could convince them that I was going without any goal.” She has since learned that their concerns were well-founded. Ilham concedes that there are many challenges that young women face in the music industry. “The first is being taken seriously in a space that is male-dominated,” she says. “A lot of men may have different intentions. You may want to work on music, while they’re more interested in other things. It’s the sad truth, and a story that too many female artists share.” Another challenge is navigating style and authenticity. “The key is not allowing what the industry deems to be beautiful or sexy to cloud and warp your vision about yourself,” she asserts.
The aspiring artist earned an internship at Capitol Records. Wasting no time, she found herself a producer and created her first EP, titled 41-10. With an alternative R&B sound, she has clocked more than 20 million streams and grown her social media reach to 120,000 followers. In a recent highlight, the young artist was surprised and emotional to see American singer Tinashe vibing to her music. “If you have a dream, protect it,” says Ilham. “Don’t wait on anyone; figure it out.”
Originally published in the June 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia