Lafawndah is the multilingual musician who knows pop isn't a dirty word
“Different languages are better at expressing different things. French is playful and poetic, but Farsi is very extra. It’s really cool to be able to tap into different selves. I feel all of them.”
On discovering Lafawndah in 2019, you would never imagine that the multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer spent a significant portion of her childhood obsessed with Reel 2 Real’s 1993 dance hit I Like To Move It. “I remember being so possessed by this tape,” she recalls. “I just liked the thickness, the bass and how grimey it was. I didn’t really like emotional music or things that talked about love.” Again, this is surprising considering the emotion-drenched performance we witnessed the half-Egyptian, half-Iranian musician deliver this summer in London.
“I think there are many ways to express emotions,” she continues, “but the idea of having a sugary lyric with a sugary vocal, a sugary melody and a sugary beat… there's just no tension there. I feel like the things I’m attracted to need be very tense. It doesn't mean that there isn't any emotion, but there’s friction and fights; you can say something really mean in a really beautiful voice.” Lafawndah references Solange’s A Seat At The Table, calling attention to her pristine vocal and calmness, how despite that, she’ll fuck you up. “However that tension is expressed – whether it’s the friction between the melody and the lyrics, or the melody and the beat – I’m in search of exactly that, the moment it all aligns.”
While many would paint Lafawndah, who sings in English, French and Farsi on her debut album, Ancestor Boy, with a ‘world music’ brush, ask her what kind of music she makes and she’ll tell you it’s pop. “I hate the age-old idea that pop music is shit, unadventurous and not experimental,” she explains. “When I say pop music, I mean that I want it to be for everyone.”
She speaks Spanish too, for the record, and loves having a linguistic toolbox to play with when writing music. “Different languages are better at expressing different things,” she explains. “French is playful and poetic, but Farsi is very extra, very overly emotional. It’s really cool to be able to tap into different selves. I feel all of them. Sometimes I want to be really direct, sometimes more abstract. I feel lucky that I can use languages this way.”
Raised in Tehran and Paris, the polyglot artist – who also scores film projects and has recently begun directing her own stunning music videos – has been living in London for less than a year. “Before that, I was in New York, LA and Mexico City for two years.” So where feels like home? “I’m not sure I know that feeling,” she says after a pause. “Home is wherever feels good, and right now that’s London.”
Having lived in so many cities, picked up influences from all over, I wonder how she navigates the fine line between taking inspiration from a culture and appropriating it. In her new music video for standout single Daddy, for example, her and her mother Zoreh are depicted dancing flamenco. “I think about it all the time,” she says. “Not even from living abroad, but from things that come from home. I think that the question constantly is why? Why am I taking this? For it to feel truthful, I need it to be coming from an embodied experience. I don’t take something because I think it’s cool, I need to have lived it it. The other thing is asking, what do I add? You have to experience, digest and transform it so it becomes yours. My music isn’t a mood board.”
Photography Josh Olins Styling Max Clark
Hair Cim Mahony at LGA Management.
Make-up Ciara O’Shea at LGA Management using Fenty Beauty.
Nail technician Trish Lomax at JAQ Management using Cnd.
Set design Max Bellhouse at The Magnet Agency.
Photography assistance Jeremy Young.
Digital technician Brian Cleaver.
Styling assistance Giovanni Beda, Joe Palmer, Monica Armario and Gal Klein.
Hair assistance Tarik Bennafla and Rohmarra Kerr.
Make-up assistance Jade Smith.
Set design assistance Miranda Latimer.
Production Etty Bellhouse.
Production assistance Molly Senior.
Lawfawndah wears coat Loewe. Jewellery Jennifer Fisher.