Singer, fashion designer and former Debu member Naseem Nahid speaks to Mspiration about her new music project and not being afraid to dream.
I been living in Indonesia since 1999. It’s the longest place that I lived in one stretch of time. My father was an imam, poet and linguist and he had a lot of followers, so as a child I have been moving around quiet a lot. I was born in America, by the time I was four I moved to Qatar. Then went back to the US in different places like New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Indianapolis as well as back overseas in Pakistan, Dominican Republic and Indonesia.
I was home-schooled, my husband was home-schooled and my kids are home-schooled. My parents taught me that everything in life was a lesson and that we can learn every where. Each generation learns from our parents mistakes. With my children they have an online curriculum. My husband is a gifted teacher and very academically oriented. I have a more creative passion so I give them some balance. I think that’s the thing that we lack in the Muslim community. It is often one extreme or the other. It’s either extreme academic or creative. A fanatic or a hippie. Neither are good but if you give the child a balance of both they can go out to the world and handle it.
When I was thirteen my father had a band called Dust on The Road and I was playing percussion and doing a little bit of backing vocals. He disbanded the group because he found the goal and vision of the band was not clear. When we moved to Indonesia we were singing his poetry at home together.We started playing music at home and through word of mouth it got around to other gatherings through friends and so we started to receive invitations to come sing a few songs, eventually we realised that we needed a name and Debu (meaning dust in Indonesian) came to be. Debu is a continuation of my father’s former band but with a new generation as my father is no longer performing. Debu started from 2001 and the group went on from there to travel the world.
I would describe Debu’s music as world music, but at the same time world music like no other. Ninety percent of the songs are composed by my brother Mustafa. The remainder are by other band members or my father. Now, Mustafa was born in a house where there was much music but he himself never listened to it. So when he composes he is not making music because he is inspired by some other piece. He’s making it because he has the desire to. It makes it have a unique sound and there is elements of Iranian, Chinese and some jazz. The goal of the group was never to be marketable or to sell, we were just doing it for ourselves.
Debu was all about singing daw’ah for ourselves. If it affects others then it is a bonus. For us it was a very spiritual experience. Yes, we were a group that were all Muslims and we sang songs that had a lot of Dhikr in them, but at the end of the day we were singing about love for Allah. Now, love is a very universal language and we found that when we travelled and doing shows – and the fact that we perform in different languages – we connected with a lot of people that were not Muslims. My experience was that love, through music, crosses borders and ethnicities. Music was just a medium to reach the heart. I have seen many places where young people are simply Muslim by birth and don’t have any knowledge of the deen. In these places they have many religious teachers giving long sermons where it doesn’t touch the youths’ heart. There is nothing wrong with the sermons as it is another form of sharing, it’s just that it doesn’t connect with everyone. We found through music it works the fastest and easiest. I had many Christians writing me emails saying I don’t know what you are singing about but I feel it and it’s very spiritual and I love it.
I have always been creative. Since I was a little girl I would cut up fabric and make clothes for my dolls. I remember very clearly when people came to our house and some of them didn’t know how to put their scarfs right, as a little girl I could do it and do it well. I remember how happy it made me feel. Growing up in America in the teenage years there wasn’t Muslim clothes so to speak, so I sowed clothes. Now in Indonesia, where I am also a fashion designer, it is better as I can come up with concepts and others can do the sketching and the production. Also when I was young I was involved in interior decorating. When I was ten my friends and I had a cleaning service for our extended family. They would pay us and we would go in and redo their house better than the adults. When I look at things it’s hard for me not to look at it in creative way.
As of last Ramadan I left Debu and went solo. I have been considering it for a few years as I wanted to sing more and in Debu I was mainly percussion. It happened naturally. We were in Turkey in Ramadan and performing around the country, everything was going well but I felt now was the time. Although I left Debu, we are still family and that will never change. I learned so many lessons from Debu, the biggest is the importance of trusting in Allah. There was many times before the concert where I felt like I still didn’t know how it would all come together but I learned repeatedly that it always turns out better than expected. I am now working with a Turkish producer on a solo project who understands what I want to express to the world. My soul is definitely blues but my favorite music is Turkish. I also love Arabic music as well. Most fusion for me doesn’t work and doesn’t move me. But with this producer I think he feels it the way I feel it. I am very excited about this and soon I will be coming out with dates and a clearer idea of what I am doing.
One of the things I learned is that Allah can really make anything happen. I learned that if we really want something, we have to ask Allah for it sincerely. But sometimes when we make our duas we choose words that have doubt. My parents taught me that it’s not that important to get what you want but that you dream. I remember at different stages in my life I wrote a list of my dreams. It didn’t matter whether I got them or not but I remember it felt so good to write them it was as if they did come true. By writing them down I felt that I have been living them already.
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