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Meet the Moroccan-American Singer Finding Music in Speaking Out

Meet the Moroccan-American Singer Finding Music in Speaking Out
From TIME - October 20, 2017

Dounia is not your average pop star. Born in Queens, raised in Morocco, and finishing out her youth back in the New York borough she still calls home, the 20-year-old Instagram star, model and body activist and now singer-songwriter will be the first to tell you that she's not conventional. Not in the way she looks; not in the way she sounds. But that individualityand her willingness to speak openly about body positivity, feminism and more on her social platformhas brought her fans, work with major brands and ultimately the chance to record music. As a baby, she was sent back to Morocco while her mom stayed in the U.S. for work. Back in the U.S., she taught herself English by devouring books from her local library. Just a few years ago, though, she was struggling to find her way, failing out of high school and working retail shifts at a now-defunct American Apparel. Yet the things that made a traditional path hard for herher opinionated personality, her free spiritended up being "such an asset in the real world," as she told TIME.

And on Friday Dounia released her new album Intro To. Filled with her dreamy brand of rap-singing over vibey, rolling beats, it's a confident alt-R&B sound that explores the challenges of overcoming the grind through its honest, Queens-inflected poetry.

"I am so glad that I am unconventional, because at least it's real," she laughs. That "real"-ness is evident in every line of her music: "I ca not hold my tongue, it lashes when it wants."

TIME spoke with Dounia about finding her voice in music, becoming a positive role model and turning her quirks into an advantage.

TIME: Were you also into writing and songwriting growing up?

I feel like writing music and poetry in general is like the most innate extension of me. Id never really been exposed to music, because Im Moroccan; Muslims dont listen to music that much. Especially strict Muslims. So in high school is when I went out of my way to find music I liked, and started writing. I dated this boyand then he really annoyed me. So I wrote a dis track and posted it on SoundCloud. He was a rapper too, but I really went off on him. I was like, "Your bars are subpar... Everything youre spitting is a lie. So that circulated within the school, and people were talking about it, saying it was really good.

So music is pretty self-taught for you?

Nothing was really taught to me at all. I kept trying to find outlets to learn from as an artist, but I realized they didnt benefit me. It took away from my originality.

Who are your role models, or other artists you look up to?

The people I admire are not on the macro scale that I aspire to be on. Do you know Princess Nokia? Shes a rapper, New York girl with this podcast called Smart Girls Club. Shes such a multifaceted human and good role model, which I think is imperative when youre a woman with a platform. A lot of people underestimate the significance of that. I think its obligatory.

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