There is an art to perfecting a sultry and forlorn voice that can turn the simplest lyrics into a tenderly tragic love song. Islamiq Grrrls blends the vintage vocal style of France Gall and Astrud Gilberto with witchy aesthetics, ambient synths pop and RnB sounds. Perhaps, less obvious in her new LP Faminine Mystique, made in collaboration with San Francisco-based underground producer oOoOO, are her Balkan roots. But, as the singer reveals, the record is a melange of references to discredited artists and genres of the 20th Century, including the pop-folk Balkan ballads she grew up with.
“You Don’t Love Me for example started with the idea of making a song like Stoja’s Gde God Podjem Tebi Idem and Ceca’s Trula Visnja,” she says in reference to Serbia’s two biggest turbofolk stars. “If you listen close enough you will hear the synths and heavy drums from Stoja’s song. All my song are inevitably connected to my culture, though its not always obvious.”
Islamiq Grrrls, who goes by the name Asia, grew up in Hagen, an industrial town in western Germany, to Bosnian-Muslim parents. “Leaving behind their family and culture made them become even more obsessed with traditions. It was almost like they were trying to compensate for their loss of identity,” says Asia, who in contrast was “in total denial” of her multicultural heritage. Nor does she identify as German. On her education, she says she grew up in a bubble that had little to do with German culture. “I wanted to listen to cool American music, have blonde hair and blue eyes,” she remarks. Her musical journey started with MTV, WuTang Clan and Nirvana, interrupted occasionally by the accordion-laden melodies and patriotic lyrics of narodna muzika (folk music) her parents would play in the company of guests. At 17, she ran away to Paris but says her newfound freedom came as a shock: “I panicked. I realise, now, how much I missed my culture including the music.”
Eventually she found a new home in Berlin's and Los Angeles’ underground scenes. This was also when she met her collaborator: “oOoOO and I grew up in very similar circumstances and pulled ourselves out of it by our own strength.” Currently based between the two cities, she has been producing music under the moniker Islamiq Grrrls since 2017.
The inspiration for the name came from a drawing by Taravat Talepasand, called Islamic Youth (2009), a parody of Sonic Youth’s Goo record cover, where Maureen Hindley and David Smith are replaced by what appear to be two women wearing a burqa and hijab. “I liked the idea of associating Muslim women with the American, feminist, punk youth-culture movement, Riot Grrrl. The name was chosen in response to the culture of fear surrounding Islam and the desire to turn the association into something positive. I wanted the name, as well as the visuals and music that go along with it, to help young girls feel encouraged to step up against tradition and make up their own rules.”
Faminine Mystique also came out of a frustration with contemporary artists who are afraid to be truly vulnerable in their art. “Protest movements have been co-opted to sell Gucci bags (“Gucci dans les rues” by Glen Luchford) and Pepsi Cola. Feminism is used sell music. Its all the invention of marketing strategists and creative agencies.” The album's title is an allusion to the Betty Friedan book Feminine Mystique that hugely inspired the 2nd wave feminist movement in the US. In an age when emotion and desire are packaged and standardised, she says music should stay uneditied and raw. Her songs are confessions on everything from falling into obsession to wanting to be loved. Ultimately, compared to Ceca and Stoja, these are love songs to herself — she hopes the takeaway message from Faminine Mystique is the importance of knowing yourself, and the freedom that comes from it.