Artist of the Month #3: Felukah
Soliloquies of pride and versatility: Felukah on finding her space and shaping her citadels
I grew up in a context where the plural is the focus,
feed the people, treated equal, plus we revolution locusts.
I don’t take much to notice this mishap of history,
I was born in ‘98, took a pen, the rest a mystery
– From Felukah’s song ‘22+1’
Since her sensational arrival on the scene in 2018, with the release of her first full-length album ‘Battery Acid’, Felukah has remained a captivating, humble and creative musical figure. With a unique blend of neo-soul, hip-hop, R&B and poetry, this 22 year old creative has crafted a defined and recognisable character that is strengthened with each new release. Combining her Cairo heritage and the New York City that adopted her, Felukah exudes a homage to both past and present as she layers her stories and narrative on time-bending beats and reflection.
As Felukah gears up to release her third album “Dream 23” with Abu Recordings, we sat down with her to find out more about her artistic journey. But far from keeping the focus on herself, Felukah tells us a story of the individuals and communities which have provided the context for her creative career. Who are the places and people that have shaped her transcontinental creative realm? What does it take to create art which spans continents and ages?
Musician, writer, poet
While she is often referred to as a rapper or singer-songwriter, Felukah insists that she considers herself a poet first and foremost. It’s a refreshing reflection. Taking it back to the roots of hip-hop, her rich poetry and rhymes have become lyrical endeavours of her self-expression; a vivid extension, rather than departure from decades and centuries of literary legacies.
For Felukah, making music was never her main aim. Instead, music became a key and means to unlocking her creative potential. Growing up in a musical family, she was writing poetry, reading and taking dance lessons from an early age, while her siblings, both musicians, ensured a steady stream of music as she was nose-deep in her books, dancing across the living room.
Felukah tells us of an oath she took when she was fifteen. Prompted by falling out with a close friend, she found solace in her journals and channelled her sadness into writing. The comfort she found spurred on the key realisation that “a journal will never close” on her, providing an ever-present page on which she could chronicle her reflections. The more she wrote, the more she escaped into a self-created space, allowing her to piece together the bigger picture of what she was going through. In the process, she understood that art could never be an abstract concept in her life. Art in any form, could never be less than a real reflection of her surroundings.
At 20 years old she began releasing her music, spurred on by the encouragement of friends and family. She credits her brother with helping her record her first mixtape. Her mother helped her choose the name Felukah, while her friends encouraged her by insisting that her narrative and experience would resonate with many more people than she expected. With her journals and her support networks providing spaces for reflection, Felukah as an artist became the medium and dialogue, and with it, she gained the ability to voice a narrative she had been yearning to hear. Hers.
“I don’t hear my landmarks: no one is shouting out my streets”
Felukah expresses gratitude to the plethora of role models that have helped pave her way. From classic Arabic musical icons, US hip-hop legends and contemporary prose writers, she celebrates the rich vantage point of sitting on the shoulders of giants.
With a deep literary background she learns from all of those before her, who like her, created poetry and music to express their narrative. Crediting the poetic work of Nayyirah Waheed as one of her favourite literary influences, she also finds regular inspiration from contemporary prose writers like Mona Prince, Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith. On the other hand,‘The Narrative’ the song from her second album is an empowered dedication to the groundbreaking female artists that have paved her way, such as Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Noname, Princess Nokia, Lil Kim and Dounia. Yet despite the ocean of talent she was inspired by, she yearned to have music that could resonate with her uniquely. “I didn’t hear my landmarks, and no one was shouting my streets’.
Old school soul like Fairuz
Amy Winehouse in my blood
I got a bad case of the blues
But I pick it all up like cool Kehlani
Dounia made a record with the sister
Fire role models and I’m here right now
Fire role models to speak of
Won’t forget my men in hip hop
But y’all never missed the feature
– The Narrative.
“Role models and I’m here right now”
One role model in particular – closer to home – gave her the confidence to do so. For Felukah, the classroom of her English teacher in Cairo, Miss Zabaneh was “a space for outcasts, people who were too this or too that, a space that became a safe haven”. When Felukah showed her teacher her favourite new artists, Miss Zabaneh would insist that her student would soon become one of them. Guided and encouraged, Felukha gained the assurance that her story, and every story, was worth telling, and with it discovered the power to voice the narrative she was yearning to hear. To this day, Felukah keeps a picture of Miss Zabaneh in a locket around her neck, something her teacher finds a bit off. Felukah is unfazed.
In 2017 Felukah left Cairo and headed to New York to begin her studies in Creative Writing at Hunter College. Preparing to graduate this month, she reminisces about feeling “like a flower that bloomed as soon as she landed”. The city became a playground of interactions as she trawled through the streets of New York, hopping on late night trains from one new event to another. Attending open mic nights every week, she quickly gained insight and connections into the city’s bustling underground music and art scenes. She credits Nuyorican Poets Cafe as a key hub in this process.
Established in the late 1970s by Puertorican writer and poet Miguel Algarin, the space nurtured marginalised voices of playwrights, poets and musicians of colour. It became a unique community and platform for those whose work was not accepted by the mainstream academic, entertainment or publishing industries. Almost fifty years later, their popular poetry night, a Monday staple, became Felukah’s regular place of lyrical worship. Often debuting the pieces she had written the same day, she laughs thinking back at the number of times she forgot her lyrics on stage. Yet it never seemed to matter. She was constantly encouraged and supported to keep performing by those around her.
Felukah is clear that her artistic profession is only possible within self-sustaining cycles of community, family, and support that fostered her music. She also realised that none of this should have to cease by leaving Cairo. Instead, New York gave her an additional platform to build, create and contribute. As she puts it, “collectively growing up is much more sustainable as a process. You need a scene. Friends and community are the source of all, without it, you wouldn’t have the ammunition and belief to keep going”.
Writing a feature on Felukah has inevitably led to writing about the people, scenes and cities which have nurtured her creative journey. As part of an artistic community, she loves seeing artists moving in a collective fashion. She laments that superficial divisions are often created by the media and music industry and between creatives who vocalise their activism differently. But according to Felukah, there’s a lot of space out there for difference. She pledges herself to a career based on collectivism and love, and one which puts her community on display, not just herself.
Felukah’s new album Dream 23” drops on August 13th.
To listen: https://soundcloud.com/felukah
What has been your favourite performance to date, and why?
Performing under the stars on New Years eve in South Sinai by the beach in Egypt. I had my close friends and a bunch of amazing artists around me. It was magical.
What inspires you?
Dance, rhythm, water, movement.
How can female artists in smaller towns in Egypt make it?
Create art with what you have, watch video tutorials if you want to learn production and practice freestyling if you want to rap. Wherever you are with whatever you have, pour your heart into it and build from something. Passion is nothing without drive.
Who are your 3 favourite artists/inspirations of all time?
Erykah Badu, OutKast and Jimi Hendrix.
What is your favourite time of day?
Mornings, with a big breakfast and the right playlist.