equality factor: a POC girl speaking her truth in a white world
latest release: Gen Z
musical idols: Lauryn Hill, Frank Ocean, Daughter
based in: Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg-born artist and producer Emilie Azaaria wrote her very first song at the age of sixteen, inspired by Daughter’s first album “If You Leave”. Through music, she found a way to express her inner struggles and search for a voice of her own. As a member of a family of mixed cultural and ethnic backgrounds growing up in a primarily white environment in Germany and of course, a young woman, Emilie strives to create music that is unapologetically hers and true to her thoughts, feelings, and opinions. In her own world, our artist of the week does not have to fit in – because she sets the tone.
“For the longest time, I looked up to white musicians, which sort of led me into a crisis. I realized I could never copy their image, be it physically or in other ways. I will never be perceived as the calm blonde girl anywhere, no matter how hard I try.”
Between starting singing lessons as a teenager and releasing her very own songs at the age of 21 amidst the global pandemic, Emilie Azaaria’s artistic development comes close to a coming-of-age story. After writing “Love myself” as a high school student, she started playing music with a couple of classmates, mostly for the purpose of practice and fun. After graduation, still, in search of her calling, Emilie took a break from the artist living in her hometown and went on to study German studies and history in Cologne. There, she felt out of touch with herself and quickly decided to return to her hometown. In her most difficult years, music always helped her feel understood and related to, so she again turned to the art form. “I love music, and I listen to music all the time. There is music that gives me good vibes, but it isn’t comparable to what I feel when I listen to artists whose struggles and topics I can relate to. When I hear someone going through what I am feeling, too, it makes me realize that I am not alone. That my issue can’t be as bad as I am currently imagining”, Emilie describes her relationship with music. Inspired, she took a leap of faith by applying to the Hamburg School of Music – and when she got accepted, she was fully committed to making music her passion and profession. It was also upon her return to her hometown that she founded the band Call Us Rainer and had her first official gigs. Together with her band members, among which Marianna Ikonomou (bass), and Marcus Theilmann (percussion), Emilie took her first steps on stage and got a taste of the life of an independent artist. While a split from the band turned out to be the right step toward Emilie finding her own voice as an artist, she still enjoys the musical contribution, input, and friendship of some of Call Us Rainer’s members today.
“I know, sometimes less is more – but there are millions of songs that consist of only four chords, and we don’t need any more of those. So I try to approach music with a bit more of a theoretical challenge.”
Emilie Azaaria’s music today is composed of two main factors: her strive for artistic challenges and growth, pushing the boundaries of her compositions each time she begins working on a song - and self-expression beyond what is expected of her. In early 2020, when her last gigs with Call Us Rainer were cancelled due to COVID-19, Emilie decided to go her own way. She wanted to be able to express herself without creative conflicts of interest: “At some point, our voices diverged. I realized that when I have a vision of a song in my head, I need to realize what I want by myself. I don’t want to be in need of help, or for someone else to take care of it simply because I don’t have the skill to realize a concept. It’s different if I am searching for help and support because I appreciate a certain artist’s style.” She started out her self-producing efforts with the help of Garage Band, later evolving to a more complicated production set-up at home. For a brief moment, Emilie dabbled in working with external producers, but never felt her voice was accurately represented when she was not in full control of her songs. Using music as her most important way of self-expression and defining her identity, she needed to be able to work independently. “I think for many, I am always the loud girl who is a little bit exhausting. This is the label I get quite often because I am vivacious, I like to laugh loudly and don’t need to blend in. I like to use music to express that side of me because I am able to be loud and passionate without being labelled”, Emilie explains.
In her self-produced songs, Emilie Azaaria can address whatever she wants: her anger about feeling subject to the male gaze, fetishization as a woman of color, and struggles with sexism and racism. The lyrics to her songs are usually full of anger and straight to the point, poking at the fragile egos of misogynists and racists. In “The Truth”, she talks about what it is like to be a “brown girl in a white world”. “I am definitely influenced by colourism, but I am usually subject to different forms of racism than other Black women, like my grandma. I usually have more experiences of fetishization or people pointing out my skin tone and curves“, she explains in our interview. Emilie’s songs address mental health issues (“Another Night”), street harassment (“The Truth”), and self-love (“Love Myself”), and they also go beyond the shallow when it comes to their musical composition. She likes to challenge herself, sometimes writing songs with a piece of paper alone, hearing the chords and notes only in her head and then transforming them into new melodies on the piano, or with the help of her computer and production software. A year into producing by herself, Emilie has found confidence in working alone. “Nobody is good when they get started. It sounds cheap and like a demo version. But you notice whether you have a knack for producing rather quickly”, she says. “I think my songs get better and better with each release.”
“People don’t necessarily see that I only started producing a year ago, they just see that I am a woman and the songs aren’t perfect yet. If I were a guy who started a year ago, I might get more support, tips, and compliments for how far I’ve come.”
Despite her newfound confidence and growth, Emilie notices that she is perceived differently as a producer in the industry than some of her male colleagues might be. She is often flabbergasted by the lack of support and cheering women producers receive from audiences and male colleagues. “I sometimes find it crazy to think that as a woman, you need all these support groups in the industry. You just know that as a female creator, you get perceived differently in the industry and you really need to support each other to get the recognition you deserve.” Within her own support network, Emilie has found a like-minded soul in her former band member and bass player Marianna. “Marianna and I are just on the same wavelength, and I am eternally grateful for that. She is always on point and I love working with her. I think it is also because we are women because between women, the friendship is definitely more intimate”, Emilie describes their professional and personal connection.
“I feel like a big problem within the music industry is how artists are being turned into sellable products. This leads to women often being portrayed as the sexual object front singer – which is also a reason why I started writing my own songs. And as a POC woman you also sometimes have to take the position of being pressed.” Beyond expressing herself and using music as an emotional outlet, Emilie also takes her responsibility as an artist very seriously. She is no product, but a complex human being who wants to use her platform to call out injustice and fight for women, particularly those of color, and those struggling to find their place like she used to. “I think if you have a platform, you are obliged to stand up against social injustice. You always have to assume that you have many young listeners and you have a responsibility to stand for the right thing”, Emilie explains. More than mainstream success, she strives to inspire those who relate to her, in the same way, she was inspired by her musical idols Frank Ocean, Lauryn Hill, and Daughter. She wants to grow musically and become a master at her craft. She never wanted to fit into a certain mold or do things the way they were expected of her. “When I was 16, my singing teacher – who always cheered me on and told me I had to do this for a living – told me to stop my high school education to study music. She was convinced that at 19, I would already be too old. I, personally, really needed the time. At 16 or even 18, I was at a much more insecure and vulnerable point than I am now, psychically and musically. I wouldn’t have been able to make the same kind of music I am making now”, Emilie reflects.
For some, Emilie Azaaria might be the loud brown girl who does not fit in or the trained singer who started her career later because she needed more time to grow into herself. She might have chosen a more difficult, unbeaten path by splitting from her band and teaching herself how to produce – but Emilie Azaaria is not one to take the easy way. Instead, she chose the one that is most authentic and true to herself, making her sound irreplaceable and unique. She does not try to fit in, she aims to speak her very own truth - through expertly composed music.
In her newest song, “Gen Z”, to be released this Wednesday, Emilie again speaks her truth, this time addressing the struggles and zeitgeist of her generation. Between empowerment, pressure to conform, and constant improve oneself, she reflects upon dealing with constantly being urged to be better, more beautiful, and smarter, dealing with prejudice and high expectations. With a guest appearance of Burkhard Lipps Thelen’s guitar and bass, the song reminisces 80s pop. Despite its more uplifting and energetic sounds, the song is still quintessential Emilie Azaaria: filled to the brim with thought-provoking observations, vulnerability, and social criticism.
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