Dubai singer Layla Kardan is determined to dance to her own tunes
For years, jazz singer Layla Kardan lived with a secret because she was worried her family would object to her musical ambitions. But a year ago, she decided she had had enough of her life working as a corporate strategist to please her parents, while harbouring a private passion for singing – and she took the stage.
After a successful showcase at the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival in February, the Australian, whose family has Iranian roots, has released her first single, As One. The video, which has been viewed more than 20,000 times on YouTube, is her message of empowerment for women, and also an homage to the Emirates.
“As One is a song about love and those relationships that are rare,” she says. “When I say the planets are colliding, it’s a rare occurrence – so is when you find that chemistry with someone that draws you so close to them. But As One is also a song about ... togetherness and unity.”
The video features Kardan dressed in heavily embroidered kaftans, shifting between glamorous indoor locations and the streets of Old Dubai.
“I wanted to have something rustic yet glamorous,” she says of the video, directed by Kenyan artist and filmmaker Amirah Tajdin. The song has been produced by RuzBeatz and Adam Baptiste. “Not really about the bling of Dubai, but about the heart and soul of the city.
“Amirah managed to see my vision and turn it into something far beyond what I had expected with the limited budget. The video is very much about being a strong female, as well.”
Kardan moved from Sydney to Dubai in 1986, and after completing her marketing education, joined her family business.
She grew up learning ballet and listening to blues and jazz, but could not pursue her musical dreams because of family resistance.
“There was always this conflict within me to release myself from the corporate chains and follow my passion as a songwriter and singer,” she says. “But I come from a background where it is not acceptable for a young woman to be on stage performing. So I quietened my ambition for a long time – but it was suffocating me.”
She says her father still does not accept her choices and has not seen her perform. “We have a lot of family friends who still ask me what my real job is, or say that no one will ever marry me because I am a singer,” says Kardan.
“It’s all these expectations for a young woman to fit the social mould, which was stifling. Then I got on stage and realised that I can’t live any other way.”
She is working on completing a full album this year.
“I write and record my own music, but since I am an independent artist, the process has been long,” she says.
Kardan’s deep bass voice lends itself to jazz but she prefers not to be typecast.
“When I write, I don’t like to have a specific genre because I think they are very much shifting,” she says. “So my style is very much neo-soul pop. There are a lot of jazz lines in there, with Middle Eastern undertones.”
She says day-to-day life inspires her to write poetry, which she converts into lyrics.
“Most of it comes from a place of truth, so things I’ve experienced in life: love, relationships, friendships or even observations when I travel,” she says.
The singer will be releasing a new single after Ramadan. Keep Running will spread a positive message about perseverance and working towards goals.
“I’ve produced and recorded this with Swedish rapper Adam Baptiste, who has written for Katy Perry and Usher,” she says.
“Adam is in the video with me and we shot in Ras Al Khaimah to show the rocky mountains and the deserts of this country.
“I really wanted that diversity in scenery to come through.”
Updated: May 23, 2017 04:00 AM