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Wafia's New EP Is The Perfect Pandemic Sountrack

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Wafia Al-Rikabi sings by the name Wafia. Her latest collection of songs could be a soundtrack for what many of us are going through right now. One day you may feel OK. The next, you just miss everybody. But her lilting voice can weave in and out of moods, from longing to fill the void of a lost relationship or hit back at haters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD THINGS")

WAFIA AL-RIKABI: (Singing) I live for those moments. I love that they notice that my glow is gold. Yeah, baby, I'm shining. It's always a good day to rub you the wrong way. I admire the way...

SIMON: That's the title track of a recently released EP, "Good Things." Wafia joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

AL-RIKABI: Thank you so much for having me, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Well, I'm fine. But I don't have to tell you or anyone listening good things feel like they're in short supply these days. But, of course, you wrote this before we knew any of this, didn't you?

AL-RIKABI: Yes, I did. Yeah.

SIMON: Well, what's it like to hear these songs now?

AL-RIKABI: They've taken definitely a new meaning for me. There are some songs I can still really relate to, like "Hurricane," which is about, like, being so far away from your friends and the people that keep you grounded. You know, I listen to that, I'm like, wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HURRICANE")

AL-RIKABI: (Singing) I almost had it, but I forgot. Good when I got you here. It breaks me when you're not. Always dramatic when I talk...

SIMON: The video, I gather, was shot during the pandemic. And it shows you dropping off flowers and baked goods at your friends as you smile and wave at each other at a distance.

AL-RIKABI: Yeah. That's probably my favorite day in the last year - to go visit my friends from a socially distant distance (laughter) and give them these things that I've been making - you know, bring a little bit of optimism to them that day.

SIMON: And your family is still back in Australia.

AL-RIKABI: Yeah. I mean, it happened in March where I, like, fully was like, I'm going to live here now, and I'm going to get a place. I'm going to make LA mine.

SIMON: So you moved to Los Angeles in March, and first thing that comes up is a pandemic and then ultimately wildfires. (Laughter) Are there times when you say, what have I done?

AL-RIKABI: Honestly, my parents have always been immigrants, and I - it's the only way I know. So my dad's attitude is very much like you take the good with the bad of any country that you go to. And I feel like America is just going through it right now, but there's so much good here. I have to believe that. I have to believe in the American dream, and that's why I'm sticking it out.

SIMON: Wow. We'll explain - your parents are of Iraqi and Syrian descent, and you were born in the Netherlands, right?

AL-RIKABI: I was, yes.

SIMON: And have lived a lot of different places, I gather.

AL-RIKABI: Yeah. I went to a lot of different schools. I learned how to make friends pretty quick.

SIMON: You've said in other interviews that you shed a lot of heaviness this past year in making this album. Help us understand that, if you could.

AL-RIKABI: I went through a really rough relationship.

SIMON: Was this - this was a romantic relationship? Forgive me for asking.

AL-RIKABI: A romantic relationship, yes, yeah. And it got tumultuous and toxic very quickly. And I thought that's what love was. And I thought love is being the best punching bag you can be. Like, I wanted to show everyone how strong I was for being able to uphold this kind of love. And I - like, that's not really love, is what I've learned. But so this EP is an exploration of that. And real love looks like putting yourself first sometimes. And that was a very hard lesson for me to learn. So I think - you're sort of conditioned to think that, like, if it's dramatic and then there are highs and lows, that's love, when really - what I'm learning now is that love is - when it's right, it's steady. It doesn't prey on your insecurities. So yeah, that was a very big learning curve for me.

SIMON: A lot of great love songs have been written by people who, well, could never seem to get it right (laughter). Let me put it that way.

AL-RIKABI: (Laughter) Yeah. And so you think that's kind of like almost necessary for great art, but I don't know that it is. I don't know that I have to go through all of this pain continuously to make good art.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO LOSE A FRIEND")

AL-RIKABI: (Singing) That summer feels like a lifetime ago. Still miss you sometimes, but you'll never know. I want to call you, but I'm not going to.

SIMON: Can you tell us about the song "Lose A Friend" (ph)?

AL-RIKABI: Yeah. I mean, in all of this loss that I was dealing with in terms of this relationship, I was also grieving. My best friend didn't want to be my friend anymore. And there's no good word for a friendship breakup. That was very rough on me because she was my person. Like, I thought that if I were to ever get married, she'd be my maid of honor. And it felt a little high school. One day I just was unfriended on all of the social medias, and it hurt. It actually hurt more than my relationship did because I'm still here trying to figure it out. And I think when you go into a friendship, you never think that you're going to not be friends one day. But with a relationship, a romantic one, there's this expectation that's, like, it's either forever, or not at all. But you don't expect that with a friendship.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO LOSE A FRIEND")

AL-RIKABI: (Singing) How do you go from talking every day to will we ever speak again with someone you knew so well, so well...

SIMON: Somebody - I think it was either Joan Didion or William Shakespeare...

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: ...Said we never get out of high school.

AL-RIKABI: (Laughter) That is so true.

SIMON: Or it was my auntie Chris (ph).

AL-RIKABI: (Laughter).

SIMON: I forget, but some great philosopher said it.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAFIA SONG, "PICK ME")

SIMON: I'd like to go out on "Pick Me."

AL-RIKABI: (Singing) I've always adored you, but you like me better backed up in the corner. I don't want to go there, but every time we fight it feels like keeping my head over water.

Yeah. I mean, that song to me is the culmination of everything that I was going through post-breakup. A lot of the arguments towards the end of the relationship were ones where they didn't want me to make music anymore. They didn't want...

SIMON: What?

AL-RIKABI: (Laughter) Yeah. They didn't want me to tour at all. Or they were like, you're only going to do this for like another year or two, right? And it, like, dawned on me that that's not what I want at all. Like, I don't want to have kids right now and, like, be married. I don't see that life for myself - just was like, I can't be in this relationship. There's nothing wrong with wanting those things, but I think there is something wrong in wanting to change a person to want those things. It's the best decision I made.

SIMON: Wafia - her new EP, "Good Things." And thank you so much for being with us.

AL-RIKABI: Thank you so much. Have a great day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICK ME")

AL-RIKABI: (Singing) You make ultimatums. Don't you understand all that's going to happen if you're going to force my hand? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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