Introduction: When friends first told me about a brilliant, hip Afghan-Canadian female pop singer who was winning over audiences in the highly competitive Toronto nightclub and concert scene, I was interested in learning more. My friends said that Lina Fouro is going to be a big star.
Then I listened to her yet-unreleased track of "Bang Bang Baby,” and I thought that maybe my friends were on to something. So I listened to “Boom” and watched one of her music video trailers. Then I was sure they were right.
Lina Fouro is a star already. She will be a much bigger star very soon when her debut album The Love Cycle is released by Yen Productions early next month.
Fouro writes all her own songs, blending electro-influenced styles of pop, funk, house and progressive music with a unique touch of both hip-hop and Afghan/Persian beats. But it isn’t just her musical style that is unique. Also a poet, a sometime-actor and model, a social activist and an intellectual, the story of Lina Fouro herself is unique.
Lina Fouro was born in Canada to Afghan immigrants who had first been refugees in Iran after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She grew up in Toronto’s rough Jane and Finch neighborhood, an area known for one of the highest concentrations of street gangs and criminal activity in Canada. The street smarts that young Lina gained growing up in a place like Jane and Finch gave subtle edges to her musical style that would only appear years later. Jane and Finch also gave her a passion for helping at-risk youth that endures to this day. At one point she even considered a career as a social worker.
Things changed for Fouro after a life-altering experience in Iran. Desiring to explore her roots after graduating (with honors) from university in Canada, she traveled to Iran. There she fell into the underground Iranian music scene and recorded her first track - with a Persian rap artist.
That first song, “Take your Love Back,” features a mesmerizing beat and lyrics in both English and Farsi. It was a preview of what was to come for Lina Fouro, and things suddenly clicked. Her passion for music ignited and she began writing and performing with great intensity.
Her time in Iran opened Fouro’s eyes to many things. She describes that journey to self-discovery in Iran as one of the “happiest times of my life.” It was also the genesis of her upcoming new album, “The Love Cycle.”
Fouro had been interested for a long time in the work of the famed Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and what is more commonly known as the “Five Stages of Grief” or the Grief Cycle: the emotional states of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Fouro saw many parallels between Kübler-Ross’s Cycle of Grief and what Lina herself now calls the ”Cycle of Love.” This is the theme that Lina Fouro brings together with brilliance in The Love Cycle.
That theme is one of the many fascinating and even revolutionary things about her debut album. On the one hand, The Love Cycle is a danceable, techno-infused exploration of the parallels between Love and Grief. It has the beats and rhythms of some of the best progressive/techno pop music and dance clubs in the world. But on the other hand, it also connects to one of the great thoughts of the 20th century.
Lina Fouro returned from Iran to Canada in 2011, where she was discovered by Juno Award –winning producer Lonnie Szoke. Szoke has worked with musicians such as 50 Cent, Beyoncé, Lil Wayne, Ne-Yo, Drake, Sizzla, and Keyshia Cole. In 2006 Szoke produced "Take Myself Away", the first single from reggae musician Sizzla's album “Overstanding.” That album peaked at #15 on Billboard's Album Charts in January 2007.
Lonnie Szoke immediately recognized Lina’s talent as a musician and recording artist, and he signed on as Executive Producer for The Love Cycle. The album is scheduled for public release worldwide soon.
I found Lina to be charming, personable and approachable – a pleasant combination for a hot new recording artist who you’ll likely see soon on MTV.
But we should let Lina Fouro herself tell the rest of the story.
Film Annex: Lina, it’s great to speak with you. You will release your much-anticipated debut album The Love Cycle in a few weeks, and you write all your own music. What can you tell us about the title and themes of The Love Cycle? What inspired you to create this album?
Lina Fouro: Thank you, Captain Zellem. دگروال زالم It’s a pleasure to do this interview with you.
I was inspired to name this album The Love Cycle because the songs in it reflect the highs and lows of emotions and thoughts people have in the different stages of love. After I wrote and started recording the songs, I realized that all of them together reflect Kübler-Ross's model that says anyone who finds themselves facing personal change or emotional upset will ultimately go through five stages of grief. These stages of grief have a lot in common with my own feelings about the stages of love. And so together they became The Love Cycle album.
FA: What do you think Love and Grief have in common?
LF: We can’t have one without the other. Grief and sadness is the result of love, which is inevitable because the loss of that love is unavoidable. Nothing lasts forever. And I think that love can also be the result of grief.
Once we understand this, it's easier to understand the emotions we feel. It helps us to know in advance what emotions lie ahead in the cycle of grief before we enter The Love Cycle again.
FA: You have said that the underground music scene in Iran “ignited your passion for music.” What can you tell us about Iranian underground music, and your early involvement in it? How has it influenced your own music?
LF: In the spring of 2011 while visiting relatives in Iran, I was introduced to an Iranian rap artist. He invited me to the studio to collaborate on a song titled "Take Your Love Back." I initially just did the song because I liked it, and as a souvenir to highlight my trip. But recording Take Your Love Back turned out to be a very memorable experience for me. It changed my view on a number of things.
A lot of Iranian popular music is still underground because Iran has a theocratic government. There are many restrictions on how music can be practiced there. But even with these restrictions, it inspired me to see that talented young Iranian artists are still continuing their pursuit of music while facing real oppression. They are not doing it to oppose the system. They are doing it because music is what they love.
This opened my eyes. I saw that no matter what the rules are, when facing oppression the only thing that a person can really do is pursue what they love. And that leads to hope.
How did my stay in Iran influence my music? Before I went there, I thought I was facing oppression the way my fellow musicians in Iran were. But afterward I realized that I wasn’t facing real oppression at all. I am fortunate to live in North America where I have the freedom to do what I want to do. I dearly hope that one day recording artists in Iran, and other places in the world where such social and legal restrictions exist, will have that same freedom. There are many unbelievably talented musicians and artists out there.
FA: Your electro-influenced pop and progressive house sound in The Love Cycle is extremely danceable. And as we’ve discussed, the song lyrics are also very introspective and you write all your own songs. Which is more important, the music or the lyrics? What other recording artists inspire you?
LF: Some people may think music is more important than lyrics or vice versa. But to me they are equally important. When I have an idea, I listen in my mind to see how the music of it makes me feel and what kinds of emotions it brings out in me. Then I start writing and creating melodies.
It is hard to explain how this works, because it involves both the head and the heart.
I am really inspired by musicians who push the envelope. I have great admiration for Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Ahmad Zahir and Googoosh. They captivate me with their lyrics, music and performances.
FA: What was it like working with Juno Award-winning producer Lonnie Szoke on The Love Cycle?
I had a lot of fun working with Lonnie Szoke on this project. The most important element in creating music is having a level of comfort and trust during the process. Lonnie showed me that right from the start. He's worked with many well-known artists such as Drake and Lil Wayne. So he knows the elements that are important to have when you record, as opposed to performing live on stage. I do a lot of live performances.
Lonnie has always advised me to push the boundaries on lyrics, vocals and music. This has inspired me and given me confidence to branch out into other musical genres too.
FA: Many Afghan families are very traditional. What does your family think about your choice to be a recording artist? If an Afghan traditionalist told you that your musical style is too advanced, what would you say?
LF: It wasn't easy for my family to accept my choice of being a recording artist. But I've been lucky that they support my decisions regardless of whether or not they think it's the best choice for me. What they are most interested in is my happiness.
Because they've been so supportive, in return, I always make the best effort to respect their wishes and not push boundaries that would bring my family scrutiny from my relatives or their friends/associates.
I am well aware that many Afghan traditionalists might find my musical style too advanced. That may be because they don't understand the type of music or genre I'm in. I also am trying to appeal to my young Afghan fans, who are searching for more progressive things in music and lyrics that they can relate to.
FA: You have a history of helping troubled youth, and have spent much time volunteering with Youth in Action and supporting other charitable organizations. Do you think that at-risk youth across the globe have anything in common? What can the messages of The Love Cycle do to help them?
LF: I think that at-risk youth all over the world do have many things in common, Two of them are loss of hope and inaccessibility to a mentor who can help them acquire the life skills that will inspire them to go in pursuit of their passion, whatever that may be. Everybody has a passion. Some people just need help finding it.
The Love Cycle has messages in its lyrics that can help motivate and inspire listeners to express, deal and to overcome hardships. My goal is to do exactly that.
FA: It is well-known that the Taliban oppose almost all music, and they are particularly against the styles of music that you are known for. The Taliban even made playing or listening to such music illegal when they were in power in Afghanistan. What would you say to someone who says that you should not make music?
LF: A few extended family members have asked me to distance myself from music because they hold the same type of mentality as the Taliban. Although that is not an easy pill to swallow and they disagree with my views, I haven't said much in response.
I don't plan on focusing my energy on the fact that some people oppose what I do. It seems to me that my critics are more interested in spreading the cycle of grief. I am on the opposite of that spectrum. I want to focus on promoting messages of love and hope through my music.
FA: Can modern pop and dance music help the cause of peace in Afghanistan? If someone asked you to write just one song about the future of Afghanistan, what would you title that song - and in what style would you perform it?
LF: Modern pop and dance music can help the cause of peace in Afghanistan. Music has the ability to have a powerful impact on any culture. It’s a great tool to reach a lot of people at once in a positive way.
If the people of Afghanistan listen to new music that reaches them emotionally, then they may be able to bring some of that into their lives. I hope it can motivate them to have hope that positive change can occur. And just maybe, it will develop into something greater - like positive change for the entire nation.
If I were to write a song about the future of Afghanistan, I would title it Hope Is Here. I would sing it in a folk style, so it could have an emotional impact on people to help promote hope and change.
On that note, I would like to share my favorite Afghan Proverb from your fascinating book: A river is made drop by drop. Qattra qattra daryaa mey-sha. قطره قطره دریا میشه It means that every little bit counts. Progress comes from accomplishing many small things.
FA: Many fans are looking forward to the release of The Love Cycle. When and how will people be able to get and listen to it? Will you tour soon? What are your plans for the future?
LF: People can get The Love Cycle when it is released worldwide, which will be soon. It will be available both for downloading online and as a CD. We will release a new music video (directed by Lavado Stubbs in Los Angeles) at the same time.
I am really excited for this fall. I will be promoting The Love Cycle album while still doing some shows in and around Toronto and other places.
Most importantly, I will be getting back in the studio and working on a project that will get much attention in the new year. We will follow this with a tour in 2014.
I'm really excited for the future. I am now surrounded by a wonderful team that shares the vision of spreading my message of Love through Music.
Love through Music always will be the driving force in what I do as a recording artist. It motivates everything I do.
FA: Thank you and tashakur, Lina jan. تشکر We're looking forward to the worldwide release of The Love Cycle, and to providing updates to your fans on Film Annex.
More of Edward Zellem's interviews with Afghan celebrities and thought leaders are coming soon.