Zhala’s performances look more like an art installation than a concert.
The singer, often called “Kurdish Lady Gaga,” drapes herself in Kurdish and Swedish flags. Tie-dye sheets adorn the stage, flowers line the walls, and a hookah steams near the microphone. She sprays the audience with rose water before the first song’s track clicks into place.
This fiery, queer singer does not look like your average Swiss person – she’s not tall, blonde or blue-eyed. Both of her parents are Kurdish, and her mother even spent five years in the mountains fighting in the Iraqi Kurdi military Peshmerga. Her father still lives in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Zhala was raised Muslim in a predominantly atheist country, and although she was born in Stockholm, other Swedish people question her identity frequently.
The young artist decided to blend Kurdish dance music with Swedish pop in order to create a unique, otherworldly sound. She creates a different type of Swedish songs: She discusses identity politics without being “prepackaged,” she said.
She discusses her experiences growing up in Sweden which, through no fault of her own, have always been closely tied to Middle Eastern and European politics. For example, due to the war in Syria and Sweden’s rising nationalist parties, Zhala has experienced greater xenophobia and physical threats in the past few years.
If you’re not white, you always lose. There is a lot of racism and it is growing in Sweden.”
She creates music for people who, like her, have struggled to define their own identities. She says about her music:
It’s anti-nationalism. I don’t even care about the nations. It’s simplifying something complicated, but it’s [also] about having no borders. That’s how I see it. Having a lot of flags is not making it nationalistic, other people are doing that. They think the world needs to be that. I’m not going to change my opinion, I’m not a nationalist. People mirror themselves when they look at someone when they perform. I am trying to be transparent when I perform. I’m trying to be me. Here I am, whether you like it or not.”
On top of being the child of non-white immigrants, Zhala is also queer, which adds another layer of complexity to her assimilation into Swedish culture. In response, she has created what she describes as a “maximalist” musical aesthetic. She says, “To take the energy off me being Kurdish as an identity, I dress more extreme. It takes the pressure off of your nationality, which can be a nice break.”
Her genre is hard to pin down, although you could describe it as cosmic electropop or perhaps spiritual electroshine. Spirituality has always played a major role in Zhala’s life; even after converting from Islam, she remains close to her spirituality through crystals and meditation.
Check out her ethereal music at her official website.