“You can tell I grew up with Rock ‘n’ Roll in my veins.”
Zak Musawi is a successful singer/songwriter whose musical inspiration came from his childhood in New Orleans. But in this media-obsessed world, Zak knows it’s not just about music. Image, fashion and social media also play a huge role.
Hi Zak! We last interviewed you in 2012 and it was a very daring photo shoot. How was your experience?
Yes, I remember that shoot! Fun times at what used to be the Hard Rock Kuwait. It was great from what I remember. The place was all ours, the photographer was a friend of mine, and I was surrounded by Rock & Pop culture memorabilia.
Now, tell us a little bit about yourself – your background, education etc.
Well, I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana till my middle school years, that’s when I came back to Kuwait. I attended NES before joining ASK for high school and eventual graduation. Naturally, I headed back to the US for university and attended Loyola University in New Orleans, since it was more like home. But I had to switch uni due to my major in Mass Communication so I attended and graduated from Murray State University in Kentucky.
How did you get interested in music?
Very early on! Growing up in New Orleans, the birth place of Jazz & Blues, you cannot help but be surrounded by it on every street corner and every bar/café in the city. MTV has a huge part in that as well (back when MTV played music videos). Rock ‘n Roll was king back then.
We’ve been hearing a lot about you and your music and we notice you’re starting to gain a lot of attention. How does it feel?
It feels great! This is what I have been working for all these years. It has not been easy though. It takes a lot of time and effort and a lot of sacrifices have to be made. But it was my dream to become a musician just like those I saw on MTV and that’s what had to be done to achieve that.
How has the singer-songwriter scene evolved since you started?
It has grown immensely. I started to do what I do way back when no-one else was doing it. Before Instagram, before Snap Chat and before Facebook! Word of mouth was all we had back then. Now, I notice the musicians are coming out of the woodwork and it’s no longer taboo to be playing guitar. There are no longer looks of confusion or disgust when passers-by see us at an event. In fact, it’s the contrary. I am so pleased to see this happen here. We need it. We need more of it.
What does it take to be a singer/songwriter today?
Technology has changed the game. Today, the singing and the songwriting alone might not be enough. Image, social media presence and fashion play a huge role in defining artists these days. A while back, musicians actually had to have a bit of musical talent, like play an instrument or really have a defining voice to make it. Today, a few apps or programs can create so much with a few finger swipes. In my opinion, it takes a bit of both – real talent and technological help to make it today.
Beyond song craft, what other skills, technical or otherwise, does today’s singer/songwriter need to cultivate?
It’s necessary to ask the inspiring musician what his main goal is, money or critical acclaim? You have to have technical skills in today’s cut throat music business. Most young musicians I see today, spend hours and hours behind a computer or a drum loop machine or some other new gadget. Old-school musicians would spend hours and hours with their beloved instrument, trying to perfect their craft. It’s more intimate that way. But the world is changing, whether you like it or not, and that’s why you need a bit of both. You need technical skills but also, to be the real deal, with real talent to back it up if the computers shut down.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Honestly, nowadays I don’t listen to much! I do enjoy the radio because it gives me a quick idea of what’s hip in today’s music scene, from different new artists to different styles of music. The market is so over saturated with new sounds and artists, it’s hard to keep up. But, I’m a Rock ‘n Roller at heart, so that’s my go-to feel good vibe.
What is your day-to-day life like these days?
Very busy and hectic, but fun! In order to be recognized and hopefully loved for your craft, you’ve got to work, work, work! Most days I’m gigging or playing a show anywhere they let me. Hence why most people say to me: ‘I’ve seen you somewhere, right?’
When you sing in your mind, what do you hear?
I usually close my eyes certain times while singing and belting out loud. It varies from song to song. Some songs I really live each word that is sung. Others, I concentrate on certain notes that to me, must be hit just right to get maximum adoration. Some notes are really hard to hit!
Who are your musical inspirations?
Anyone who knows me knows I’m the biggest Bon Jovi fan. Jon Bon Jovi has changed my life with his music and as I delved more into his personal life, he changed me even more by being the great humanitarian and philanthropist he is. Richie Sambora, the Bon Jovi guitarist was one of the main reasons I picked up a guitar. I never thought I could be Jon, leading a rock band, but I thought, I can definitely be a Richie! Obviously there are many, many other inspirations like Def Leppard, Guns N’ Rose’s and Pearl Jam. You can tell I grew up with Rock ‘n’ Roll in my veins.
If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I hear Coachella is pretty nice!
Do you prefer playing bigger venues or smaller, more intimate ones?
That’s a good question. I have to say, both. Being from here, we don’t have that many big venues to play, so mostly I’m known for my café gigs and more intimate shows. I love them. I get to meet the fans one-on-one; have a real conversation with them, shake their hands and take selfies all night long. But I won’t lie to you, nothing beats the adrenaline feeling of performing to thousands and thousands of screaming fans.
You have just released your new single, how does it feel? What inspired the song?
Yes, Nvr Let M3 Go! I’m so excited about this one. It’s a complete departure, musically and lyrically from what I’m known for, but that’s what I love about the song. Every artist has to push his own boundaries and not stay in his comfort zone too long. This song is a collaboration with a young, talented Kuwaiti rapper, EL3MENT. The boy’s got flow and his vibe is contagious. You all will love this one!
Nvr Let M3 Go was written probably three years ago. I was very influenced by the emerging Synth and EDM sound in music today and wanted to write something very radio friendly. I tried many times to record it unsuccessfully, but the third time was the charm I think.
What’s your songwriting process?
I usually come up with a musical ‘hook’ first, a chorus so to speak. Then I try to put lyrics to it once I believe the music is ready. My process is more organic though. I like things to flow naturally and not force myself to sit down and finish the song. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, leave it for another time.
Do you have any standout/strange/funny gig moments?
Performing outdoors, you’re always open to the unknown. Not so much funny, but recently I was performing for a VIP dinner event outdoors on a huge balcony on the 14th floor of a high rise building. Needless to say, the wind was not kind to us. Mid-way through the show, the wind picked up and there was flying gourmet food everywhere! People dressed up in their finest clothes ended up leaving with tiramisu all over them.
What are you working on now and where do you feel your music is headed?
Right now, I am finalizing my second full length album. Recording, mixing and mastering a 10-track album is quite hard work, especially here where the industry is still in its infancy. Yes, we have studios, but not all studios here are familiar with Westernized music. So finding the right people to work with is essential, and hard to find locally. Luckily, I found amazing people to work with, it just takes longer than usual to get all related parties in one place at the same time.
To speak frankly, the internet opened up so many possibilities. I feel my music and the production elements I am investing in are targeting a worldwide, international audience. Nowadays, it’s doable to target that with the help of the internet. So I’m going worldwide!
Everybody needs time out. What do you do in your free time?
I’m a homey kind of person. If I’m not gigging or playing at an event somewhere, you’ll probably catch me at home, Netflix and Chilling.
How can people find you and follow you online?
I’m on most social media platforms so you can follow me on:
Instagram, Twitter & Snap Chat – @zakmusawi
Facebook – @iamzakmusawi
YouTube – Zak Musawi
Also, you can visit my website for my latest news and shows at:
What advice would you give to an aspiring singer-songwriter?
Keep trying! I have been rejected so many times. I almost contemplated quitting this whole music thing and just working at a bank or something. Growing up I wanted everyone to love me and my music but that’s impossible – even the best of the best have haters. So keep practicing and keep perfecting your skill no matter what it is, and always try to perform infront of people who don’t know who you are. Friends and family can be biased, they will love whatever you do. But the general public will let you know if you’re on the right course, or far from it.
Your message for us at CP magazine:
I can only do a follow up interview with people I love and I love you all at CP magazine! My first ever cover shoot was with you and you never forget your first!
Photography: Hamad AlAinati @7mdphotography
Directed by: Jameel Arif @jameelarif
Location: House Of X @houseofx_kw