Faouzia’s breakthrough has begun.
It’s been two steady years of songwriting, music-making, video-creating and social-media hyping for the pop singer from Carman, who after months of anticipation, released her debut project Citizens on May 19.
"I’m super-excited. I just can’t believe it," she says of fans’ positive reaction to Citizens on social media. "You never know what to expect. I was just so focused on getting the music perfectly done, the way that I wanted it."
The record’s beginning to match the lofty expectations she has — Faouzia says she’s a perfectionist — and those placed upon her by the likes of influential media giants Variety and Vogue, both of which said she would be an artist to watch for in 2022.
The number of listens to her songs on streaming services has kept on rising — she has more than five million monthly listeners on Spotify — and her Arabic-inflected single, RIP, Love, has received more than 14 million plays on the streaming service since coming out March 30.
Variety went as far as to say that Faouzia’s album could get consideration from Grammy Award voters — months before her project was released.
The prediction might be presumptuous, but it did offer some foreshadowing for her future because on May 23, Faouzia took to the stage at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles for the official launch of Citizens, where she answered questions from fans and sang all eight songs from the record.
"It was super, super-amazing to hear they wanted me there and it was a big honour," she says. "What was really cool was I got to look around and see who had done the same (Spotlight) event as I had. Dua Lipa had done it back in 2018 or 19 and she was on the wall.
"That was really cool to see someone I listen to and I really love had done the same thing I had."
While Citizens includes some songs she’s dropped over the past two years, including Minefields, her duet with John Legend, two newer tracks show she has musical variety to match her vocal range, which was already apparent in her teens playing Winnipeg venues such as Festival du Voyageur and the West End Cultural Centre as well as on her 2020 EP, Stripped.
"I feel like I’ve progressed exponentially," says Faouzia, who earned a Juno Award nomination for breakthrough artist of the year and was a presenter on the televised ceremony earlier this month. "I’m a lot more critical of my work and I feel like I’ve learned so much in the past few years that I can write in a more refined way… In two years I’ll probably think the same thing about the progress I’ve made (from today)."
RIP, Love will get people on the dance floor but it’s a sound that reflects Faouzia’s roots. She was born in Casablanca, Morocco, but came to Manitoba along with her family as a baby.
The song’s uptempo rhythm and Faouzia’s trilling voice provide a Middle Eastern sound that’s unlike almost all pop songs released in North America.
"I’m so happy that everybody connected to a song like that, especially as I was able to tap into my roots and incorporate that into my music," she says. "Before, I used to do that without realizing, or subconsciously try to add those things in, but I really wanted to mesh those two things together."
She co-wrote RIP, Love with British songwriter Fransisca Hall, who has written songs for Britney Spears, Keith Urban and Imagine Dragons over the past decade, and Swede Jakke Erixson, who has composed tunes for Christina Aguilera, Rod Stewart and Eurovision competitions.
"We all understood the vibe and the world that the song needed to be in and I think that’s why we wrote something we all loved because we were on the same page when we wrote the song." – Faouzia
"We all understood the vibe and the world that the song needed to be in and I think that’s why we wrote something we all loved because we were on the same page when we wrote the song," Faouzia says.
The song appears to have helped Citizens catch on with listeners around the world, with the album tracking strongly on Apple Music in Arab-speaking countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
"They don’t really hear many pop artists incorporating Middle Eastern influences in the music so I think it’s very exciting for them too, to hear something like that," she says.
Another new track, the emotional breakup ballad Anybody Else, is more conventional from a western pop point of view but it’s another showcase for her vocals.
"I don’t know what it is but it really takes me away and it’s one of my favourite songs to perform live for that reason. I love to just pour my heart out into it every time," Faouzia says.
Faouzia takes on Europe next and has five concert dates booked for July, including Lollapalooza Paris on July 16 and the Latitude Festival in England later in the month, which gives her a chance to connect with fans who’ve cheered her on via social media for the last two years without seeing her live.
"Lots of rehearsals, lots of planning and getting everything ready, but I’m so excited and so ready to perform in Europe," she says from Los Angeles where the preparations are underway. "I’m getting so many messages, people are tweeting, saying they’re all coming, so I’m going to see all these faces I’ve talked to online.
"They all feel like my friends."
There are plans in the works for Faouzia to perform in the United States and Canada soon as well — no dates have been set up yet — and she says she hasn’t forgotten her home province either.
"I’m going to try my best to make sure that Winnipeg is a part of that because (a tour) won’t be complete without coming to my home city."
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.