Electronic Dance Music (EDM) producer, writer, and blogger Shuja Rabbani has established himself as one of the most influential social media personalities to come from Afghanistan. An accomplished music producer with over 60 music tracks to his name plus a notable literary career with over 100 articles published on world affairs. Shuja Rabbani is a clear representation to the youth as well as budding creatives that there is indeed more to achieve in life than working for others. Rabbani is also the owner of Rabbani Records- the first ever Afghan-owned and online registered music company. SHEREPUBLIC clothing entrepreneur and In-spire LS Magazine contributor Sarah Martin met with Shuja to find out more on his inspirational career + much more… #BeInspired
What a great moment in your career Shuja, you are the first Afghanistan celebrity and EDM artist to be verified on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, how does this make you feel all round?
It feels great to be the first public figure coming from Afghanistan and to have a significant personal branding presence on the web. Social media is just as widely used amongst Afghanistan’s youth as it is anywhere else and for me personally, it’s been serving as a critical platform to showcase my work.
What I like most about social media is that it’s a level playing field – as in, you don’t have to be a media giant with millions of dollars budgeted for marketing in order to be able to compete for the attention of the masses – but of course, setting aside budget for marketing your work is never a bad idea because organic growth in the digital ecosystem can take a very long time if you’re on your own.
As a music artist who is working independently, my outreach on social media definitely sets me apart from the crowd in terms of my online branding style on all my social media platforms. For example, I’ve made it very clear on my profiles that the hashtag #EDMA (which stands for Electronic Dance Music Afghanistan) can be used to follow my work on all social media platforms and for people to use it in their posts to help spread the message on my work. Since I’m still at very early stages of introduction into the music industry, it’s important for me to get my positioning right in the market and be strategic about how I plan to grow.
I get a sense from your social media posts that you are on a journey to making some noticeable changes in the world through your creative outlets. If I am correct can you tell me where your drive to making a big impact comes from?
A lot of my drive has to do with my upbringing and having the right role models. While there is no doubt that I’ve had the unfair advantage over many other Afghans who have to struggle to make a living, my personal work ethic and hunger for continuous learning and improving myself in different aspects of life is what keeps me going.
Everything you see about my work on social media, including my articles on my blog, is what I do outside my full-time day job and I doing it because I really enjoy it. I kept doing what I was passionate about and when I look back at the journey, I can see how far I’ve come within a matter of years and I hope that inspires other Afghans to start shaping their own destiny.
I read on one of your Instagram posts that you spent 5 years asking other Afghan twitter powerhouses with a larger following to support what you are doing with no avail, and how you made it your mission to be one of those powerful and influential people. Would you say that you have finally reached that place and what did it take to get there?
When I first joined Twitter in 2011, I was working in Afghanistan and I wanted to promote some non-political and non-profit campaigns that involved youth participation – it was all digital and required little effort to make it easy for those interested to get involved. At the time, I used to approach people that were already established in comparison to my new arrival and many declined to spread the word and help out.
Luckily, I’m not the one to give up so I continued learning more about platforms like Twitter and kept finding new ways of organically growing my following and promoting growth until I made my presence felt on Twitter.
When you reach a certain stage of growth on social media, people start taking notice of you automatically and that’s what happened with me.
What made you want to produce EDM music?
My interest in music production was by accident. While I was in my first year of university in year 2000, I came across a music production software which I installed on my computer. It had an introductory video which I enjoyed watching; afterwards, I started playing with the music loops that came as part of the software and that got me hooked on to it.
Throughout the early years, I continued searching for other computer-based music making software and got my hands on more advanced ones for amateurs – that’s how I learned more about EDM.
What were the defining moments throughout your life that led you to this point in your music career?
The defining moment would have to be when I visited an actual music studio in Sydney, Australia. When I walked in that studio and looked at the electronic equipment, I thought to myself: wouldn’t it be great to have something like this?
What have been the major obstacles you have faced over the years trying to make it in the music industry, how do you feel they have defined you as an artist and how have you have overcome them?
The biggest obstacle for me that still remains at large has been my understanding of all the other work that happens outside a music studio environment after the music is ready to be heard. As a music hobbyist, I’m still struggling to make contact with DJ’s and radio pluggers who will really help in getting my music heard to the right audience and testing out the audience response.
I’ve had different reviews for my music and I’m still exploring the industry and myself as an artist. It’s all a learning process for me at the moment and with time, I hope to immerse myself in the environment that will allow me to make the right contacts and do what it takes to get to the global audience.
Personally being born in Africa all I can remember as a kid was music everywhere and what a major part it played in my life, can you tell me whether music was a prominent part of your household and what kind of music you were surrounded by growing up?
Firstly, I must say that I love African beats! Nothing beats African beats! Growing up in the Middle East, music was never really part of my youth – I preferred playing video games all the time! 🙂 For example, I was not in a music class in school and I didn’t have any music teacher that taught me a specific musical instrument.
What’s beautiful about EDM is that you can go wild creating anything with the current day modern technology in sound production.
What and or who was your biggest inspiration in music?
My biggest musical inspirations would have to be producer-artists like Will-I-Am, Pharrell Williams, Dr. Dre, and Jay-Z – these music leaders have entertained generations of people globally and then have gone on to expand their brands beyond the music industry as entrepreneurs. Their monumental success has a spillover effect on everyone they work with and their longevity in the music industry is a sure sign of getting it right every time.
I’ve listened to as many traditional Afghan music as I could before this interview and I have to say I can hear the soul of your traditional music in most of your tracks, would you agree and if so how much of an influence does it play in the creation of your music?
People have said my music has a special style of its own – I’m not sure if that’s good or bad but if it’s unique, then I’m happy there is something different about what I do. Traditional musical instruments from Afghanistan however, have not played any direct role in my music
Nevertheless, the sounds I’m currently working on are influenced by world music and ethnic instruments and I’m looking forward to putting my fresh music out next year.
The history of Afghanistan and popular music runs deep in that the freedom to enjoy music in any form was restricted, now that things have changed how are your fans and the Afghan people accessing and enjoying your music?
The population of Afghanistan that have access to TV and radio are still oblivious to my music and that’s because I’m strictly using the Internet as the means to promote it. Some of Afghanistan’s top names in the music industry have had their careers catapulted by having placements in TV programs and they have been interviewed by leading TV stations on their work – that has not happened in my case; with an exception of one interview I’ve had with Voice of America earlier this yea.
The other reason being that my target market is not just Afghanistan – I’d like not just myself but hopefully other future EDM artists from Afghanistan to push beyond their boundaries and represent themselves in global markets.
What is your main goal for the music scene in Afghanistan and why is this goal important to you?
My main goal for the music scene in Afghanistan is the introduction of Electronic Dance Music because I truly believe that EDM is the future of the music industry in Afghanistan. When I watch some of our music competition shows, I can see young people so happy about entertaining and the audience being entertained. There is a lot of talent out there that gets wasted once they are voted out of TV shows.
My goal is to let Afghan artists know how they can continue showcasing their talent with a little help in keeping themselves focused and having continuity in their work. I find EDM to be very empowering along with technology and social media to be an independent artists’ best tools in this process. I also hope that the young aspiring artists in Afghanistan also start getting into Disc Jockeying, which is also the next step I’m considering for myself.
There is no denying that you stand out for all the right reasons, from your views on global topics, your personal style and your music, what do you feel attributed to you personally being you in an industry that pushes for what is hot right now?
It was important from the start for me to be living my true self. I don’t come from a family background that was in the entertainment industry, I come from a politically charged, conservative family that has been active in Afghanistan’s political scene for over half a century – so, by default, my last name carries weight and expectations by the Afghan society. By venturing into the music scene, I have broken all the rules and completely stepped outside my comfort zone.
You may wonder if it a challenge for me to go back to Afghanistan and join politics? Absolutely not because I’ve already held two jobs in Afghanistan before and moving back is the easy path. But is it a challenge for Afghanistan to accept the other alternative I have to offer in the form of art? I will only be able to answer that if I decide to move back to Afghanistan and be part of the media and entertainment industry.
Being my true self was also the reason why I decided not to have a stage name to represent my music. To the world outside the Middle East, it may seem like a different name and that’s because I am different when compared to other artists.
As an advocate of self-empowerment and self-love I believe that once a person realises that they are worthy of everything they deserve in life they become free to take the world by the horns, what are your views on self-empowerment?
I couldn’t agree more with your statement! I feel more empowered today than I’ve ever felt before. I think that self-empowered is a mental and spiritual exercise that we have to do every day.
Going back to when I started getting noticed on social media, I also got to see the ugly side of social media users and how abusive people can get. It’s a fact of life that not everyone will celebrate your success with you or would even want you to succeed in the first place – the secret to my success so far has been focus and perseverance.
As a record label owner do you have any other artists signed to your label yet, if so can you tell us about them and if not do you plan to sign other artists?
At the moment I don’t because I still have a world to learn about the music industry and how things work. Once I decide on expanding into DJ’ing and getting involved directly in the music business, I’d definitely be helping aspiring musicians to reach their audience through my label.
That’s not to say that I’m not open to hearing from other new artists at this time – I’ve always been a believer that two minds are better than one and success cannot be achieved alone. We all need help – we just have to make sure we are with the right group of people and in the right environment.
From your unique experience what advice can you give to other aspiring artists wanting to break the world music scene like you have?
Be patient, manage your time because it’s the most valuable thing you’ll ever have, focus on your work with a laser beam attention, plan properly, and know exactly what you want out of it at the end of the day – and please, do not ever give up if this is really what you want to do! Fame and money are easy to come and even much easier to go if you don’t know what you want to achieve in the end.
I note that you have not played at a live gig yet but are planning to, can you tell us where you would most like to play and would touring the world be something we can expect from you in the near future?
I’m planning to start learning to DJ next year and attend some international music conferences over the coming years to help get insights into the music industry. I’ve learned that it’s very limiting as a music artist to make music and not be able to play it to an audience so I’m aiming to achieve that goal first and then take the next steps.
I may be from Afghanistan but my vision has always been global. When I think of my music audience I don’t just think of Afghanistan, I think of the world. That’s the beauty of music, it has no language and brings everyone together.
Other than the pure enjoyment of music, what do you wish your music will give the world?
I wish to see my music give people hope – there are so many talented people out there who don’t use their core strengths or who have not yet come to a realisation of their talents and need a little push to take action – I want them to build the courage to take action and make their dreams a reality.
What can we expect from you in the future?
A book! I’ve already thought of the title and it will be called ‘Afghanistan: The Broken Heart of Asia’. Why a broken heart when others refer to the country as the heart of Asia, you might ask? Well, wait for the book to read the details on why I chose this title.
Other than music what else do you enjoy to do?
Reading is my other big hobby that I’m passionate about. Every day, I spend anywhere between 2-3 hours in traffic on the way to and from work – I utilise this time by listening mainly to business audio books – it helps me gain continuous knowledge and I’ve been doing it for the past six years.
And lastly what is your motto for life and why?
Life is all about learning: learning from people, learning from places, learning from experiences, learning from the good and the bad, and learning from what we have and what we don’t because the more you are open to learning from others in life, the more enriched of a life you will live.
Every day when I wake up in the morning and jump into my car to go to work, I’m grateful for everything and remind myself of how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing and to have what I have.
W| By Sarah Martin @ISarahMartin