Women Who Travel

Women Who Travel Podcast: Faouzia on How Morocco Shapes Her Music

Host Lale Arikoglu sits down with the singer-songwriter to talk about visiting the country she left as a child, adjusting to rural Canada, and how her heritage is shaping her new music.
Faouzia on How Morocco Shapes Her Music

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Lale chats with Moroccan-Canadian singer songwriter Faouzia Ouihya—who, at just 23, has already clocked up numerous accolades for her poppy, anthemic hooks performed in English, French, and Arabic. They talk Moroccan food, how Faouzia’s heritage shapes her music, and more. This episode was recorded several weeks before the devastating earthquake in Morocco.

Lale Arikoglu: Hi. I'm Lale Arikoglu, and this is Women Who Travel. Today my guest is an Moroccan-Canadian singer-songwriter who, at just 23, has already clocked up numerous accolades for her poppy anthemic hooks performed in English, French, and Arabic. She's Faouzia Ouihya.

A quick note before we get started. This episode was recorded several weeks before the devastating earthquake in Morocco. For information on how to help and donate, head to cntraveler.com.

Faouzia: My sound as an artist is, uh, dramatic, dark, like, fun pop sound that I would say sometimes has a Middle Eastern flair mixed in, in some tracks. But there's also a, a, an almost theatrical aspect to some of my songs as well.

LA: Born in Casablanca, Faouzia and her family settled in the prairie country of Central Canada in the early 2000s.

Faouzia: So we immigrated when I was  one. So I was just a little baby. But I feel like I held on to my culture really well because my parents spoke to us in Arabic, and they spoke to us in French, and we would eat Moroccan food all the time.

LA: Is it your hope that there's other women, people like you, from Morocco who may be living somewhere else that can see themselves?

Faouzia: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I didn't really have anyone like me to listen to growing up to, and that kind of had that both world situation going on. And I hope that people that are like me, or people that are just even experiencing different cultures, whether ... whatever part of the world they're from, and whatever part of the world they may have immigrated to, to see that it really doesn't matter where you are in the world. As long as you embrace who you are and your culture, and you wanna do what you wanna do in your life, then I hope that they can find themselves in, in my career and in my music.

LA: Clearly, it's happening because you are reaching so many audiences, and there's a ton of TikTok dances, um [laughs] ... that have been cropping up. How does that feel, to see you kind of reaching all these people and reaching lots of people in countries in the Middle East and beyond?

Faouzia: Oh, my gosh. Every day, it never ... Like, it has not sunk in yet. Every time I see people all around the world making dances or making covers or singing along, or even coming to my shows, I'm literally like, "What is happening? When did this happen? Like, how is this possible that I can do this as my job?" So I feel so, so lucky, and, like, these people, everyone in the, like, fan base is always so sweet. Everyone always asks me to describe, like, "What are your, like, fans like?" And I genuinely mean it when I say they are the sweetest people in the world. And so to be able to see that and to see them be creative to something that I made when I was being creative is so cool. It's just like a really cool experience.

LA: Faouzia was chatting to me from LA, where she now spends a considerable amount of her time recording. It's a stark contrast to a rural town called Carman in Manitoba.

Faouzia: The town that I grew up in was so, so tiny, and I actually spent the majority of my life going to a school in an even smaller town, population of, like, 600. And the town that my home was in was a population of 3,000. And to me, that's all I really ever knew, and I lived in my little bubble, and, like, a city that was 15,000 instead of 3,000 seemed so much larger to me. Um, we had one gas station. We ... No, we had two gas stations, actually. We had one grocery store and one high school, one elementary school. And I thought that was so big because the town that I went to school in was even smaller. But I thought it was so peaceful, and because there was nothing to ever do, I would just spend my time playing music and writing music.

LA: So you were in somewhere that was full of the outdoors, but it sounds like maybe you were a bit of an indoors person, if you were staying in and making music?

Faouzia: Yes. I was definitely an indoors person. I would go camping in the summertime, but where I'm from, it's also so freezing cold. Like, the winters get to a point where you can't really go outside. And that was perfect for me 'cause either you play winter sports, or you don't. And I didn't really- [laughs] ... play sports.

LA: I was  not a sports person, either, so [laughs] ...

Faouzia:  Girl, if you ever see me playing hockey on the hockey ice rink, call 9-1-1 because [laughs] ... I am literally being forced to be there. There is no reason I should ever be playing hockey. I did do some figure skating, which was really fun, but I was very young.

LA:  I mean, that sounds great and appropriate for the weather. But yeah, I mean, I wasn't playing ice hockey, but I was playing hockey in the park in London, and that was bad enough. I- [laughs]
... got in a lot of trouble for skipping those lessons all the time.

Faouzia: I mean, it's all good. I  don't blame you. I'm the, I was the same [laughs] way.

LA: It's how I, it's how I started smoking, for better or worse. My dad's Turkish, and I used to bring a lot of Turkish food in for lunch and  stuff like that. And I feel kids were either super curious or, like, kind of annoying about it.

Faouzia: Oh, yeah. No. They definitely didn't vibe at all. [laughs] I was like ... I really was the only ... I think I was one of the only people at my school who wasn't white, and 'cause it was such a small town in, like, rural Canada. And growing up, like, I, I definitely was the kind of an outcast. I mean, I had some friends, but then I always was very different from everybody else because I wasn't Canadian, like, like, you know, born in Canada. But as I grew older, I feel like people got more curious, and less people, you know, like, "You're not a little kid, and you mature a little bit more," and you get more curious about other cultures. People  started to be a lot more, like, respectful and intrigued by, you know, me being from Morocco.

LA: It's funny. I feel like it's, at least in my experience, it's something that when you're younger, you've almost, like, try to ... not hide, but, like, kind of just, like- [laughs] ... not make a big deal about. And then you realize that it's actually a really cool thing about you, that people are curious about.

Faouzia learned violin, piano, and guitar as a child and wrote her first song age six. You said that your parents really did an amazing job at making Morocco feel very, like, present in your life.

I imagine some of that was through the music they played.

Faouzia: So my parents would play traditional, like, Moroccan and Arabic music all the time, and it was a mix of that in my childhood, and also me listening to, like, Gaga. So I've, I really got to experience both of the worlds really well, and I listened to a lot of, like, Arabic vocali-, or Arab vocalists and also, like, Western vocalists. So that was kind of the soundtrack to my childhood, was just powerhouse vocalists and singing in different languages.
LA: And when you started making music in your house in the snow, were you consciously kind of weaving in Moroccan influences? I mean, you really hear it in your music now, but was that something that began then, or was it a sort of natural progression?

Faouzia: I would say it was a very natural progression and something that I didn't even realize that I was doing. I always would just write what would come from my heart and come from my mind, and as I grew older, people would hear me sing, and they would say, like, "Where are you from? Like, the way that you sing is a little, like, almost Middle Eastern or North African." And that's when I realized that it had seeped its way into my music without me even realizing it. And just up until recently, I wouldn't even do it intentionally, but I wrote a song called RIP, Love that's out now, and that was the first time that I went into a studio session, and I was like, "I wanna make, like, an Arabic pop song." And, but before that, it was just what came to me naturally.

LA: I love that song, and I ... One of-

Faouzia: Thank you.  

LA: One of the things I love about it is it's so transportive, and, you know, I mentioned my connection to Turkey, which isn't an Arabic country, but it is a Middle Eastern country, and it made me, it sounded like I was in a bar in Istanbul. Like, it was just— It made me so excited and have such a yearning for that part of the world.

Faouzia: [singing]

LA: RIP, Love. It, I feel like, is a perfect kind of encapsulation of everything that you just described. And it's also just such a bop.

Faouzia: Thank you. [laughs]

LA: How did you decide which kind of Moroccan sounds and that flair and those instruments, and to kind of incorporate into it? Um, it must've been like a really fun experimentation. It has this, like, amazing opening, um, where you're, um ... I don't know if this is the correct term for it, but you're kind of, like, trilling.

Faouzia: Yes.

LA: Was that improvised?

Faouzia: So we wrote the chorus, and there was no post-chorus, and I started to just improvise different melodies, and that was the first one that came in straight out of the chorus, like, naturally to me. And we were like, "It ha-, this song has to start with that," and that was the post as well. And it really was just, like, a magical day. Like, everything fell into place so well, and yeah, that one was the first melody that came to my mind. [laughs]

LA: I love it. Um, I mean, I really love it. It's such a good song.

Faouzia: [singing]

I feel like Arabic is such a beautiful, deep, and even, like, romantic language. It's also very poetic, and I take a lot of inspiration, even if I'm not writing in Arabic, I take a lot of inspiration from Arabic songs because I ... The lyrics are always just so emotional, and so I try to bring that emotion and bring that poetry into, um, English lyrics as well. I love to listen to Arabic music as well, even if it's like ... 'Cause there's different dialects of Arabic, and I speak Darija, which is the Moroccan Arabic, but even if it's something I don't fully understand, just to hear different dialects and to hear the language, I think it's such a beautiful language. And so I try to expose myself to it as much as possible.

LA: Are there any moments where you're, like, trying to think of a, a lyric or a turn of phrase, and you're like, "There's, this doesn't exist in English, or I have to say it in Arabic, or this doesn't exist in French?

Faouzia: When I'm speaking, all the time. I think there's so many funny phrases in Arabic that don't exist in English, and I always just, like, look at my parents or my sisters, and I'm like, "How do you say that in English? Like, how do you even explain what I'm trying to say?"


And we always say something that's close, but it doesn't hit the same. [laughs] I'm like, "I really wish that I could bring those sayings and those catchphrases 'cause they're so funny." There are so many funny ones in Arabic.

LA: I was about to be like, "Okay. Tell me some of these catchphrases," but I feel like you'll only be able to say them in Arabic, right?

Faouzia: Yeah. And I can kind of explain what they mean. Um, there's like ... I'll tell you one that's really funny. Well, one that we always say as a joke, is, like, [foreign language 00:11:46], which is, like, "Well, we relied on you," which doesn't make sense in English, but basically, if we assign a task to somebody and they take forever to do it, or they just don't it, you're like, "Well, we r-, we relied on you," like-


... "We relied on, like, the worst person," which is one of my favorite ones. And it doesn't work that well in English. [laughs] So.

LA: [laughs] Oh, no. It's great. I love it. I feel like just, you know, any, a-, anything like that, anything that's just being, like, sharp is hilarious to me. So.

Faouzia: Yeah. There's also another that I really can't translate, but it's called, like [foreign language 00:12:21]. And I don't know how to say it in English. Like, the closest thing is, like, cringey and, like-


... infantile, almost. But you, uh, you can't directly translate it. And I really wish you could because it's a very ... Like, it's a very useful word. [laughs]

LA: I was gonna say, I feel like I'd be throwing that one around a lot.

Faouzia: Yes.



LA: This is probably an impossible question to answer, but is there a language you enjoy singing in more?

Faouzia: There ... English is the one I'm the most comfortable singing in. I almost get shy singing in, like, Arabic. I like to also sing in French, but I, again, I get a little shy because I rarely do it. So I, I feel like when I do sing in French or Arabic, it's like there's almost more attention on it, and everyone's like ... But everyone's always so sweet and positive. I just get, like, I just get a little shy doing it. [laughs]

LA: After the break, Faouzia talks about travels in Morocco and looks back on how her parents maintained a connection to that country through the home they created in Canada.

Do you get to go visit Morocco much? Where, where are all your family?

Faouzia: A lot of my family's kind of all over the place, so my, my immediate family's with me, so my parents and my sisters are in Canada with me. But I have some aunts and uncles that are in Casablanca, in Fez, in Taza, just, like, all over the map.

LA: Where do you like to go when you're there? Is it Casablanca? Is it Fez? What's your, what's your dream Morocco trip if you don't have to do all the family duties?

Faouzia: [laughs] There's always family duties. Every single time. W- ... I don't think ... I've never had a Moroccan trip without family duties. The whole time is spent going from, like, house to house to house to house, and you're barely really, like, exploring 'cause you have to say hello to everyone. And it's always funny 'cause people will come up and be like, "I changed your diapers," and I'm like- "I don't know- who you are." [laughs] No, literally. Um, so it's always really fun and funny to do that. But my favorite places that I did see were Agadir, and Casablanca was also very beautiful. And Cueta was one of my favorite cities as well.

LA: Faouzia has vivid memories of traveling back to North Africa.

Faouzia: Seeing everyone being so passionate, like, and everyone being just as, like, passionate and loud and expressive and all this, I'm like, "Well, that's why I'm the way that I am." Like-


It was, it was just really, like, special and cool 'cause I'm like, "We really are like this," like, aggressive and fun-loving, like, all these things. So at, at first, it was very surreal. But now it's ... I think it's really cool. And I haven't even fully gotten to experience Morocco as an adult yet. So I think that'll be a whole other experience in itself.

LA: Food is so intertwined with our identities. I, for one, feel attached to so many Turkish dishes that I grew up eating. So I wanted to know what Moroccan dish Faouzia was craving.

Faouzia: I'm craving, like, a tagine right now, which is ... I don't know if you've even seen those, like, triangular dishes that are kind of, like, made of, like ... They're like pottery dishes, almost, and there's one that my mom makes. It's, like, chicken with lemon, and she always makes homemade fries and put them inside, and it's so delicious. So I'm craving that right now. I'm also craving just, like, a Poms, which is, like, uh, Moroccan soda.

LA: Oh. What sort of soda is that? I've never heard of that.

Faouzia: It's like, it's like apple-flavored soda, and it almost tastes like sweet ... It tastes, like, close to apple cider mixed with, like, ginger ale, almost. That's the best way I can explain it. But it's so delicious, and it's, like, really bad for you. You can just tell by the amount of sugar [laughs] that, like, hits your tongue the second you drink it. But it's so good, and I really want that, and I don't know where to get it. It randomly comes up in markets, like, sometimes in Canada, like, Moroccan or Arabic markets, but it's not always there.

LA: I wanna track that down. Um, there's a place in Brooklyn called Sahadi's that has a lot of imported Middle Eastern products.

Faouzia: Mm-hmm.

LA: And I was actually there stocking up on Sunday, and I'm gonna look for that 'cause that sounds fantastic.

Faouzia: What's your favorite, like, what's your favorite thing to stock up on when you go?

LA: Oh. Great question. I got a big tub of labneh.

Faouzia: Oh. Yeah, yeah.

LA: It's essential. Essential. And ... God. I can't remember the name for it in Turkish, but it's like a very specific, like, spicy sausage. Um-

Faouzia: Oh, I think I know what you're talking about. Yeah, yeah.

LA: Yeah. And then there's ... They ... I feel like I can never find these, like, cured black olives anywhere-

Faouzia: Oh, yeah.

LA: ... in New York apart from at Sahadi's, and my dad would bring them back from Istanbul in, like, massive tubs-

Faouzia: Oh, my gosh.

LA: ... which now I think back, I'm like, "Not sure how he was getting them past customs." But-

Faouzia: Also, how did it not break?

LA: I do not know. And then he would just, like, have it proudly out on the counter and would dip into it every day.

Faouzia: Yeah, no. That's the thing about, like, Middle Eastern parents. They will transport it overseas, and they will do it successfully. My parents transported an entire living room to Canada.


Like, they transported couches. They transported pillows. They literally transported tables. They transported, like, like, little things and said l- ... I'm like, "Where? Where? How did you do this? Like, did you teleport it?" But they just will make it work. They always make it work.

LA: I love that. So was it, like, a replica of your childhood living room in Canada?

Faouzia: I don't even, I don't even know. Like, I just remember one day in Morocco, we were going shopping for, like, cushions and stuff, and I was like, "Okay. Cool." And then they're like, "No, we're bringing this back with us." And they literally had to build, like, a bunch of things in Canada, but most of it was transported, and I don't know how they met the weight requirements on the- suitcases 'cause it was so much. They brought literal, like, blocks of wood from Morocco to make these tables. They brought them in pieces. It was insane. Like, now that I think of it as an adult, I don't know how they did that-

LA: [laughs] I'm obsessed.

Faouzia: ... 'cause I would've just gave up. [laughs] I would've been like, "You know what? It, we'll take a picture of it to remember it when we're in Canada." [laughs] I'm like, "What?"

LA: You're like, "Would've been nice to have, but, like, shame."

Faouzia: Yes. [laughs]

LA: You know, all of that Moroccan style and it fusing into your home growing up, and then you've now ... You're, you're an adult, and you have your own sense of style. Looking at you in photo shoots and music videos and stuff, like, you're such a chameleon and wear such-

Faouzia: [laughs] Thank you.

LA: ... cool stuff. How would you describe your personal style now?

Faouzia: I think my personal style is, I would say, very sleek. I like, like, high fashion looks, and I, I also love to explore, and I also like to wear Moroccan attire when I'm celebrating holidays. But for most of, like, my artistry, I like to keep it pretty, pretty sleek, I'd say, and also very out of the box. I like to do things that are a little bit, like, pushing my limits. [laughs]

LA: What does that look and feel like to you?

Faouzia: I mean, I will wear something extremely outrageous just, just for the fun of it. I, for my Puppet music video, I wore, like, an entire, like, floral piece, and I was basically just, like, covered in, like, these, like, solid paper flowers. And I also wore this giant oversized yellow piece that had ... I don't even know how to explain it, but if you go look at it, you'll understand what I'm saying. And for Minefields, I wore this really giant, beautiful, white dress, and I was absolutely obsessed with it. It's made by a designer named Ashi, and so, so sunny. But all the comments were like, "Is she wearing, like, a couch? Like, what is that?" [laughs]


But I, I love things like that. I love when it's out of the box. I love when it looks like an art piece.

LA: And you can, like, be playful and creative.

Faouzia: Yes. Absolutely. It's probably ... I'm sure it was listening to Gaga  I think, definitely. [laughs] Oh, my gosh. Gaga and Rihanna being the people that I listened to growing up and ending up the way that I am, I think, I think that's the answer.

LA: Yeah. Coming up, feeling different versions of yourself in three different countries.

Well, you know, we've talked about Canada. We've talked about Morocco. We've touched on LA. You're zipping between the three places, it sounds like, pretty regularly.

Faouzia: Mm-hmm.

LA: How do you feel like you fit into each, or I guess, also, how do they fit into your life? What do they give you?

Faouzia: I honestly feel like there's a part of me that I leave in each one of these places, and whenever I visit, I just kind of jump into that part of me. And I really like just having so many places that I feel like I can call home. When I'm Canada, I'm definitely, like, a more chill version of myself and more quiet, more reserved. And when I'm in Los Angeles, I'm way more social, and I'm going to sessions and just exploring the city, trying out a lot of really great food here. And whenever I'm in Morocco, I really feel like I connect with, like, a deep-rooted part of me.

LA: Music enables her to delve deeper into her heritage.

Faouzia: I always love to find new ways to stay connected to my culture, and I've always wanted to write in, like, a full, fully Arabic song. But the day that I do it, I want it to be something that I'm really proud of. And I've tried. I've done, like, small, like, snippets here and there. But that's something I haven't fully attempted yet. But yet it is a really great way to stay connected.

LA: I love your music. Like, that's the flux of everything. And we'll have to get you back on.

Faouzia: Thank you.

LA: I could keep asking you about your music and Morocco and your travels so much more, but I'm just gonna ask you one last question-

Faouzia: Okay.

LA: ... which is, are you gonna go [laughs] and seek out some Moroccan food after we finish recording? Is there somewhere to go in LA?

Faouzia: I don't know, but need to find one ASAP. Like, even if it's not tonight, I need to find a place to go to 'cause I do- ... It just made me miss it so much, and I'm probably gonna see my mom in, like, four days, so we can make food back home. But otherwise, I need to find a place stat. [laughs]

LA: Yeah. You need, you need those fries and the tagine. That sounds-

Faouzia: Yes. Oh, my gosh.

LA: ... incredible.

Faouzia: Yes.

LA: A reminder that for more information on how to help and donate in the wake of the earthquake in Morocco, head to cntraveler.com. Next week we're traveling on new and old sleeper train routes across Europe with our train expert Monica Rajesh. And we hear from a listener who crosses Canada by train to celebrate becoming a Canadian citizen. See you then.

I'm Lale, and you can find me on Instagram @lalehannah. Our engineers are Jake Lummus and Gabe Quiroga. The show is mixed by Amar Lal. Jude Kampfner from Corporation for Independent Media is our producer. See you next week.