Need a gift for a gifted musician?
Close your eyes and imagine a voice as rich and distinctive as Sade and Joni Mitchell, with the soulfulness of Amy Winehouse and Dusty Springfield, emanating the depth and fragility of Bonnie Raitt and Adele and built on the infectious and effortless pop of Michael Jackson and Jason Mraz.
Songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Rokhsan is the kind of artist whose musical gifts reach straight to our soul, hearts and minds. She is first and foremost a songwriter – whether authentic or figments of her imagination, her songs are as varied and complex as life itself. Whether dipped in Stevie’s Motown soul, splashed with dashes of disco or played intimately on a Steinway piano, she bares her soul raw. Rokhsan possesses the mark of a great songwriter which is that the more personal her material gets, the more universal it feels and resonates with her audience.
Despite a “pop-free” childhood, as she likes to joke, Rokhsan vividly remembers the unexpected and euphoric feeling when, aged 16, she first discovered pop. Brought up between Southern England and Bahrain by a Persian father and an English-Indian mother, Rokhsan reached her mid-teens without ever hearing the charts. “Music was a huge part of my childhood, but not pop music,” she explains. “My parents listened to Iranian music, Whitney Houston and occasionally Mariah Carey. My dad played piano, Tar (a 6 stringed instrument) and Tombak (a drum). I started piano lessons aged six. I longed to learn drums but I wasn’t allowed a drum kit so I’d bang pots and pans.”
For her sixteenth birthday, Rokhsan was given a CD player and started buying her own albums: “I discovered Carole King, The Carpenters, Dusty Springfield, and Stevie Wonder. As hard to believe as it might be, this is when I first heard The Beatles! I fell in love with Michael Jackson. I couldn’t get enough of pop and felt like I had been in a time warp,” she recalls laughing. “A few months later, I borrowed my boyfriend’s guitar, taught myself how to play it and started writing songs.”
By 18, Rokhsan had mastered the guitar on top of her piano skills, taught herself drums (real ones!) and violin. She enrolled in a music course at a local college but quit a few weeks later when she wasn’t allowed to perform her own songs. Over the next two years, Rokhsan played local clubs and venues around London while cutting her first recordings.
Thanks to her songs’ inescapable pop hooks, her music has been a feature of British television with her songs appearing on Hollyoaks (a long-running TV series), on Channel 5’s “Friday Night Fright Night” and “There’s Something About Josie.” Additionally, one of her song was featured in an ad campaign for Orbit’s chewing gum in Russia.
In March 2011, Roots Manuva, the British Jamaican rap legend, randomly tweeted Rokhsan after hearing her voice on a TV show. Within twenty-four hours Rokhsan had written the lyrics for “Get the Get,” Roots Manuva’s latest single leading to her performing on the song and appearing in the official video. That same summer, a chance encounter in London with New York based
producer and manager, Olivier Chastan, led to an incredibly fruitful partnership. The two of them recruited ace bass and guitar player Rob Lamont and renowned session drummer, Toby Couling, and locked themselves in Olivier’s recording studio outside of New York in February to record Rokhsan’s first album: “Shine!”
“After writing for a few years, I had so much material that it was nearly nerve-wracking having to pick and choose. I felt like I was betraying some of my own songs if I left them aside,” says Rokhsan playfully. “However, when it came time to record with the band, the sound started taking shape and it made the choice of material somehow easier. It was intense though! We recorded close to twenty songs in less than a month then I did a few more trips to do some overdubs. We even tracked a horn section and a string quartet back-to-back!”
The album is a blend of classic recordings with a modern touch, not unlike the recent “British Invasion” of Adele and Ellie Goulding. Songs like “Soldier,” a shimmery, sun-soaked soul-pop with nods to 70s disco and the heyday of Acid Jazz blend with soulful ballads like the moody “You Stole My Heart” mostly driven by a somber Steinway Grand Piano. Other highlights include the synth-pop songs of “Love” and “Gold”, which were mixed by New York wiz Sinclair who worked on the Scissor Sisters, Trent Reznor, and Dave Stewart (of Eurhythmics fame) to classic pop song a la Carole King such as “I’ll Be Your Lady” a romantic mid-tempo ode to old- fashioned relationships, “Yo Yo” a beautiful and tempestuous song which describes the heart’s complex mechanism and “Everytime” a Bossa-Nova meets Motown horns pop song about being swept off one’s feet!
It’s a very diverse set of songs but Rokhsan’s stunning voice and distinctive songwriting is the thread that keeps it together. One can explore various moods, genres, tempo, themes or styles but it’s all Rokhsan and her voice, front and center throughout, reminds you that she is in absolute command of her craft and of your attention.
As if recording twenty songs was not enough, Rokhsan joined Roots Manuva’s Summer 2012 World Tour leading to more than 30 live dates from massive festivals in England to club dates in Tasmania! In between flights, Rokhsan would fly back to New York to put the final touches on her album.
Rokhsan concludes: “I’m incredibly excited about 2013! Last year was just the prologue, I now want to share my music with everyone and I have so many projects in my head. I’m already ready to record my next album,” she says teasingly – but she might actually be serious!