Interview: Liraz – Woman, Life, Freedom (July 2023)

Words by Ursula Billington / Photo by Hello Content

Liraz was a striking sight at WOMAD‘s dnb Soundscape, with her hip-length ponytail lashing as she stalked the stage in cutaway gold lamé. Her Middle Eastern synth-pop, with its catchy hooks, bittersweet melodies, and bouncy bass wrapped up in desert-rock guitar, provided a feel-good soundtrack to a deeper message of equality, autonomy, and creative expression.

Born in Iran and moved to Israel as a child, singing in Farsi offers a symbolic statement and a tangible connection to the birthplace she is unable to return to. She is palpably aware that women in Iran would suffer dearly for the freedoms she enjoys, adopting the role of ally and warrior for women’s freedom.

In this context, her exuberant sugarplum performance feels celebratory and defiant.

Her latest album, Roya, was recorded in collaboration with female artists from Iran who crossed the border in secret to meet Liraz and her Israeli bandmates in an underground recording studio in Istanbul. In a boldly insolent creative act, they recorded for “ten days of fear and love”. Liraz said, “I had the privilege of creating with extraordinary women to whom all my heart and soul, my songs and my career are dedicated. How many tears we cried at the end… tears of hope. Hope that in the next year, we will cry together tears of freedom and happiness and that they will be able to live their sweetest dream“.

What can people expect from your live performance?

My live show is emotional and happy, celebrating the freedom we have and own. Spreading the word and the agenda of supporting women anywhere, everywhere, especially in Iran these days.

How do you think music can help us make that happen?

My music is a complex blend of artists from Iran and Israel. Both extreme countries came together to create albums and music that make people dance and feel happy. It’s quite an achievement for all of us.

I do think the special connection and energy between these countries helped people understand that there is no label for being this or that. They can listen to something they may not understand one word of, yet they feel the vibe of striving for freedom, along with the special layers of art that we have shared. I am definitely trying to convey the feeling of ‘now.’

Because the past is the past, and solutions happen. Unfortunately, the last 24 years did not bring change for beautiful women. They do not have any stage to perform; they have to feel the art.

As for the future, we don’t know. We can only hope for a better future, with the goal now being to embrace everything we have not taken for granted: freedom.

You have had some politically difficult or risky collaborations. Why is collaboration important? Does that sense of heightened risk come out in the music?

I long for an Iran that I don’t know because I cannot visit Iran. Iran led me to the decision to sing in Farsi. Especially, I wanted to sing for the beautiful ladies in Iran. The moment I understood that they are listening to music, I said, “Okay, we can collaborate together.” They were very happy.

The energy of being afraid, doing this from both sides, made the lyrics much more courageous. And the opposite, that we can dance to this courageous sound. I think the people who don’t understand the lyrics may still understand the vibe, the instruments, the production, and all the layers that we have put together.

When we met, it was an explosion. We were waiting so much to meet each other, and the musicians, the women, had been waiting so much to go inside the studio, come on stage, perform with their instruments, and be alive.

There’s a lot of emotional protesting, empowerment, and it’s very lively music, full of joy and life.

Why do you combine the traditional and contemporary elements in your music?

I think it’s because I’m not only traditional and not only living in these days. I wanted to share my own layers and colors inside the music. I love the bass, I love the electronics, and I love the Iranian percussion. I love the old Iranian traditional instruments.

The thing is, I didn’t want to sound like an Iranian musician, singer, oldie. That’s not my story. I wanted to bring my story, my real story, and the power of protesting, and to be active inside the music, with all these beautiful musicians who are like me. They are not only Israelis; they are from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and they want to share their layers as well.

Can you tell us what’s coming next?

I just finished a tour with three of the Iranian musicians I’ve been working with on stage. Two of them managed to leave Iran, and they were taking off the veils on stage; they were shining and happy. One of them keeps the veil on because she’s still trying to find her way out of Iran. It made all of us really happy.

I also just got back from a great experience recording a new album with Adrian Younge, from Jazz Is Dead and Linear Labs, an incredible musician. We recorded with an orchestra and Iranian musicians based in Los Angeles who had just escaped Iran. This is going to be a great project. I can’t wait for people to hear it. We think it might be out at the end of spring 2024.