Meet Bahjat- he’s Libya’s most prominent pop star and if he’s not already on your radar, you won’t want to miss this. Atlas is thrilled to be premiering his latest single, “Aladdin”, off upcoming EP A-POP. We spoke with Bahjat via email about his new music, his goals within the music industry and making his mark as an Arab artist on an international scale.
Atlas Artist Group: How would you describe your musical journey that’s led you to this new song and upcoming EP? When you look at your earlier material to your most recent, how do you feel about your creative evolution?
Bahjat: A-POP is such a special project for me. It doesn’t only represent the EP’s title or the music style I’ve developed by mixing the Arabic and English languages, but A-POP is the cumulation of years of me experimenting and finding my path in the music industry. For me, A-POP is having a vision and going for it despite the odds stacking up against you. A-POP is saying you deserve an equal chance even if you’re born somewhere that doesn’t grant you that freedom. A-POP is belonging nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
A-POP is carving your path, on your own terms, without compromising the things that make you… “you”.
When I look back on my music, I feel a sense of history that’s kind of like looking at old pictures of yourself. But, with music you get to hear your expression recorded – the pain, joy, excitement, anger. You document yourself in a moment of time that stays there forever. It’s haunting and beautiful.
Atlas: A lot of things have changed during the last two years- with Covid causing lockdowns and stagnation, how did you find inspiration to continue making music? Has this impacted your writing and how so?
Bahjat: For me, songwriting has always been the way I dealt with life and made sense of my feelings, the world, and my feelings in relation to the world and people.
One of the biggest ways lockdowns impacted me was the way time felt. Suddenly, the world didn’t seem in a rush anymore. I went back to songwriting from home, spending hours on my music program coming up with ideas, experimenting, producing, just like I did when I first started making music…it’s a pace of life you only experience when you’re a kid. So, in that sense, it really reignited that child-like fascination I had for making music.
Atlas: Are there any topics you’d like to explore in your music that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
Bahjat: Absolutely! I would love to keep experimenting with ways I can elaborate and write about the experience of being a refugee/immigrant. I think the world would be a much kinder place if we all truly understood how it is to be in each other’s shoes.
Atlas: What’s the story behind “Aladdin” and how does it fit into the rest of your upcoming EP? Which song on the EP do you resonate with the most and why?
Bahjat: “Aladdin” is a song title I’ve had for years. As an Arab artist with global ambitions, I tend to look for narratives/symbols that I could draw inspiration from. Being virtually the only Arab fairytale to have that kind of impact worldwide, I dug a bit into it. I thought it was interesting how the main character is still a troublemaker. I thought to myself “is this the first impression kids make about us Arabs?”, “is this a harmful narrative to an already negative stereotype?”.
As I pondered about those thoughts, I decided to write the song from the ambition perspective of it. Being a refugee myself, I only learned the true meaning of “when you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain” when I lost everything I’d ever known as a kid – safety, security, routines. I wanted to focus the song on that aspect of Aladdin’s story, the ambition of wanting something unattainable, and relating it to my experience as a refugee who is a bit “too ambitious” for his reality.
Moreover, growing up, there was no one on the international TV or music scene that I could relate to. So, I’m kind of saying I’m gonna be the “Aladdin” of the music industry – the Arab representative for the new generation.
Atlas: Besides new music, is there anything else coming up for you? Are you planning any live shows or touring?
Bahjat: My goal for this year is to put out a lot of music that I can plan touring with in the near future! I’ll definitely keep you posted.
Atlas: You’ve spoken before about being considered “too ambitious”- what does that mean for you now? What goals are you still pushing to achieve in your career?
Bahjat: As a young artist, especially one coming from a country with no proven-record for music industry success, I had a lot of people look down on me and my ideas. If I’m aiming for the Grammys, they’d tell me to feel lucky if I’d land a small festival back home.
My goal with my music has always been and will always be to share my experience with as many people who relate to it as possible. There’s so much healing in shared experiences. When I was younger myself, there was nothing on the planet that understood me as much as music did. It’s not just the words, it’s the expression, the sound, the feeling.
I’d say my ultimate career goal is to headline a stadium tour. Being the first Libyan artist to win a GRAMMY would also be nice!
Atlas: Artists often talk about the struggles that come with this business (and there are plenty), but what’s been the most rewarding part for you? Have you had any experiences that truly reaffirmed that this is what you’re destined to do?
Bahjat: The fans! 100%. My fans, who are called the ‘bahjatroops’, are honestly the reason I keep fighting the way I do. There’s nothing that matches the feeling I get when people tell me my music helped them through a rough time, or captured their feeling about someone in a way they couldn’t put into words.
When it comes to reaffirmation that music is what I’m destined to do, I believe that what when we’re doing what we’re destined to do – it feels somewhat like falling into a trance. You lose track of place and time for hours. That’s how I feel making music, recording it, performing it, sharing it. So, that’s how I knew it was (and is) my destiny.
Atlas: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you or your music, or is there anything you wish you could talk about more that you may not get asked?
Bahjat: Random facts about me: I love mermaids, I love cats, I listen to a lot of Taylor Swift, I’ve lost 120kgs, and I only learned how to ride a bike when I was 22!
Stream “Aladdin”- out August 12!
Story by Olivia Khiel
Photo courtesy of Bahjat