SABRI is a rising star in the world of R’n’B and Soul, who as highlighted in this interview, isn’t afraid to try other genres like dance music. Emerging out of the Netherlands, she has built up an audience in other countries like here in the U.K. with her honest and passionate tales of heartbreak and finding herself. We previously sat down with her towards the start of 2022, but since then a lot has changed.
She ended 2022 with the release of the ‘Actually, I Can‘ EP, which garnered even more attention and documented a failing relationship. SABRI sat down with us towards the end of last year and opened up on her mental health struggles and how they inspired her music. This was not only a conversation about music but also about how to combat one of society’s biggest issues.
IndustryMe last spoke to you about 7 months ago. What has changed for you musically in that time and have your goals in music changed?
Goals in music are still the same. I think I said in the last IndustryMe interview, my passion comes from songwriting. That is what I enjoy the most; writing the songs, writing the stories. The purpose with that would be to showcase it to an audience. In this case, I chose to do it in EP form, but it could have been anything. It could have been me writing with a different artist and for his/her artistry. It could have been in different worlds.
What changed is I chose to make a body of work and tell my story. I’m in a phase right now where I feel the need to do it. For a long time, especially as I (am) writing for other artists, I was in the background a little bit. Not because I was shy or anything, that was just the circumstances. I didn’t feel a strong need of telling a story and specifically my story.
Since I entered my 30s, I’m just in a way different place (than) where I was in my 20s. You hear that a lot, but I really feel like my 30s (were) different. I went through so (many) positive things, and times (when) things didn’t go as planned. But, all of these situations and things I have been through have shaped me into the woman I am today. I felt the need to tell that story and hopefully inspire others.
Would you say doing this through your debut EP, allowed you to do it better than individual singles or through writing music for other people?
It depends on what your goal is. In the beginning, when I was putting music out, I’m not going to lie, things came from the heart. But because I was still new I had to think strategically about stuff. How music works with the streaming era, people consume music differently. I had to take into consideration that ‘ok I have music’ and I wanted to showcase that to a big audience, as much as I was able to do and reach a big audience.
I wanted to make music that touched my soul, so I didn’t follow any hype or anything like ‘let’s make Afrobeats just because it is popular, let’s do this because it’s popular.’ I made something that I wanted to make so that is one. On the other side, let us do single after single because that is now in the landscape of what works. I feel like since I already accomplished some nice things with those singles, I feel I am finally able to tell the story the way I want it to be told.
I do like the concept of an EP or an album. I’m a 90s baby, so I am still old-school with that. If you remember back in the day, buying a single and going to the store to see which single came out was nice. The excitement I was having of buying an actual album (back then). We were waiting for Alicia Keys, Destiny’s Child, or whoever you were waiting for to drop that album. Then you would go back home and sometimes if you were lucky, you would get the lyrics inside the CD. That experience was something I grew up on and I always said I still believe in the concept of an album. It’s so unfortunate now that it has changed.
People consume music differently, even I consume music differently. If somebody drops an album, I go through it, and I just like a few songs. I don’t take the time to listen to the body of work from number 1 to number 10. You might even have it on shuffle and don’t even notice you have it on shuffle, so you don’t really get the story.
Making this project, I realised that and what I am trying to do is tell my story. I hope I’m triggering it for people to listen from the beginning to the end because it is a story from the beginning to the end. I start with my struggles in a relationship and how one foot is in the door and one is inside. In the end, (I am) saying goodbye and so long to you, I’m out of this and now it is time for me. That’s the story I am telling and I hope people are getting that. I enjoyed making it like this and I definitely enjoyed the concept of making an EP or in the future an album.
I think that is interesting as what you are doing there well is you’re thinking of things from your own perspective which is ‘I want to do this because this is my story and this is what I want to tell.’ But, you’re also thinking from the business perspective. You are thinking ‘ok, I will drop this single, that will build a bit of anticipation, then I will drop this, then I will release the EP.’ You need to have that business mentality in music, especially today to build a fanbase, but in a way that is true to you, not ‘I’m going to drop this single because it is going to do well.’ That will help you in the long run.
I agree with you in terms of how people consume music. I remember once, I was on a coach and somebody said ‘what you listen to the whole album, that is boring,’ and I was like ‘hold on a minute, what?’ With an album, I listen to it front to back and I heard that and was like ‘what, you don’t listen to albums at all?’
That’s weird, right?
Weird to me, but that is just the way music has changed I guess.
As I said, I noticed that you have such a big opinion about this, but if an album comes out I might have it on shuffle. For example, Kendrick Lamar is known for telling a story from beginning to end, it doesn’t really make sense to listen to just number six. You have to go through everything to get the whole story.
But, even I catch myself sometimes. I have it on the shuffle button and I’m like ‘why did I do that?’ But automatically you’re just putting it on shuffle because you don’t know what you want to listen to that day. There’s so much to consume now. Back in the day you only had one CD and that was the CD you had in your Discman. That was the only thing you listened to that day, but now you have millions of songs and you need to find a way to go through them.
I remember when I was younger, that excitement of ‘I finally got the CD,’ whereas now on Friday it’s like ‘I have got this to listen to, and this to listen to, and this to listen to,’ so I definitely know what you mean there.
I do think in some ways, building anticipation, I still like that method. If somebody drops an album it’s like ‘oh somebody’s dropped an album’ and then you listen to it. Whereas if you drop a single, ‘this is good, I can’t wait for the next single.’ I don’t know, maybe that is just me.
I feel what you are saying. It’s weird, what I want to do is not follow any rules and just do it my way, whatever I feel comfortable with. When I drop my music, I don’t really listen to other people’s opinions, I just feel really good about it. It was ‘Lost In You‘ my debut single I felt good about it, I felt confident about it and I just did it. Since I’m independent, I had to figure out the behind-the-scenes stuff. I personally think it’s fun because I like marketing, so I like that aspect as well. I’m in a place now in my career where I am just trying to let go of all that. I just want to create. Whoever I can touch with that is a win for me.
That’s good that you are enjoying it and it’s not just a process for you. I think being independent is a lot of hard work and you’re enjoying it which is good. But in the long run, you are not going to have those contracts like ‘hold on a minute you have this much from the music I make?’ You’ll reap the rewards in the long run as well.
Both sides can be beneficial. One thing about being independent and what I do enjoy, of course, it is stressful at times, I’m not going to sit here and be like it is not, but I do have to say, even a small placement on a Spotify playlist or something you are accomplishing, even someone in your DM’s. I had this text yesterday, I don’t know who it was but he texted me from the States which is mind-blowing to me, as I’m from the Netherlands, and he sent me a cute message saying ‘thank you so much, I discovered this on Apple R’n’B tracks. I am trying to send this to as many people as I can.’ I told him ‘you don’t know how much this means to me.’
If you have a really big machine behind you that is pushing money into the project and into you, it is almost undeniable that it’s going to see some places. If it’s going to blow up at number 1, you never know but at least it is going to see some places because they have the machine. I don’t have the machine, all I have is belief in myself, patience, and passion. If I am able to even reach that one person, then that is a major win.
One it’s on Apple R’n’B, that’s something I did independently. Two, it is somebody I (have) touched, he is trying to spread it because he knows I’m independent. Those types of wins I feel like mean way more than being with a big label. But like I said, being with a major has its benefits because you are able to reach a bigger audience right from the beginning, whereas I have to build towards it.
Obviously, it is nice when you have people from other countries listening to your music and vice versa. That person is going to be happy you responded to them, ‘oh my god, my favourite artist responded to me.’ People will appreciate that fan interaction.
I even sometimes if I have the time, send voice notes back instead of replying. I’ve noticed that if somebody did that to me and I properly like that person and their music, and they would take the time to send me a personal voice note, that would mean a lot to me. I love connecting with people and I might meet people at events and they come to me and tell me they like my stuff. I’ll say please send me a DM and I always respond. Now it is manageable as I don’t have millions of followers. I guess (big) artists would like to, but they don’t always have the ability to respond. I try to respond to everybody and it makes me feel good as well, (that) my music is reaching people.
If you could go back to one concert you’ve been to or one in history that you thought you would have enjoyed, which one would you choose?
I really want to go to Coachella, I think that would be an amazing experience. Concert-wise, honestly I don’t even know. I had Kendrick Lamar on my list and I just saw him two weeks ago for the first time. That was one of the really important people I wanted to see. I would like to see Masego. I’ve never seen him before. But as far as festivals, Coachella is a dream.
Coachella would be cool. I’ve heard some differing opinions on it. But it’s something I’d be interested to at least see what it is like being in a big American festival in very hot summertime. When it is festival time over here, it can be hot, sometimes it can be terrible weather. It will be a different experience. I went to Primavera in Barcelona and that was a lot different. That was similarly very hot.
Kendrick Lamar, I saw back in 2018; but it is a good live show. I saw clips of (his recent shows) and I wish I went again.
He was so good. I do have one thing to say when talking about festivals, there’s one festival on my bucket list and that’s Glastonbury. I’ll always have this vision; it’s funny that you say rain and sun. Of course, I hate rain and being cold. But, if I go (to) Glastonbury I hope that it is going to rain. I feel like it is going to complete the whole experience having the boots and the rain thing, standing there with my hair all messed up, enjoying music.
Or maybe that middle-ground where it is raining and the sun comes out and there’s a rainbow in the sky.
Hopefully, one day I can perform at Glastonbury, that will be a dream come true.
I’d like to go there as well, but it is so difficult to get the tickets. I think they went up by £70 this year and I was like ‘maybe next year.’
Wow. After Co-Vid, I feel like everybody trying to be outside, so everything is expensive to do. Also, like you said, the amount of tickets they just (sell out).
You spoke at the start of the interview about entering your 30s and moving on from feelings of insecurity and hardship. Were these pressures put on you by yourself, society, or a bit of both?
No, it’s probably me because I have not been raised to follow a certain timeline. My parents are very cultural, they are not strict like you have to be married before you’re 30. All that stuff I didn’t grow up on. But, it is more so the insecurities came from me (being) a perfectionist. I had a certain time in life where I was going to already reach a certain point in life and I didn’t business-wise, but also personal relationship-wise. I thought I was going to be a young mother and I didn’t. All these things you have a certain idea of (in) your 20s and how you want to enter your 30s. All the things I thought I was going to be able to reach, I didn’t.
Now, it came to the point where and that’s the reason why I named my project ‘Actually, I Can.’ If you want to heal and live life with no anxiety and no depression, depression is something (where) you deal with (your) past. Anxiety mostly comes from the future, the unknown. If you want to limit that as much as you can, then you have to let it go. Just take it day by day and enjoy the little things in life.
I still struggle not going to lie. I want to speak about that because mental health, especially with artists, is a really common thing. We put so much pressure on ourselves and at a certain level, people expect things of you. For example, people in the team can be like ‘hey we need to drop a single,’ where mentally I am not ready to drop it because I am dealing with other things. Dropping music is something so personal, so you’re constantly in a battle, doing this and doing that. Now, I came to a point where you have to let it go because you need to live in the moment and enjoy. Then good things will come.
I’m religious, so at the same time, I think I can plan whatever I want. Whether you believe in the universe, God, we can’t plan. You can plan and then tomorrow you break your leg and then you can’t do the concert. That’s something very negative to say, but all I am saying is life happens. We have to find a way to take it day by day. I’ve learned that along the way and being in my 30s where I am like ‘huh, I thought I was going to be in a different place and I’m not.’ When I let go of that type of insecurity and hardship, and pressure, I feel way better.
I think people are starting to understand that a bit more. I feel before there was this idea you need to do this before this age and this by this age. Whereas now, people are starting to understand, ‘well no you don’t.’ I’ve seen a lot of music artists start to get big now in their 30s. Before everyone was like ‘if you get big it’s going to be when you are starting out,’ but that is not always the case anymore.
Mental health is always important, whether you’re doing music or whatever you are doing. People sometimes forget you are a music artist, but your human beings as well. You can’t just work and work. When you create music it comes from the soul. You can’t just snap your fingers and something happens it has to feel real. I remember somebody once telling me when it comes to mental health and anxiety, you will still deal with those things, it’s just learning how to think about it and go ‘ok, this is happening today its not good, tomorrow will be alright,’ and just put it one side.
Exactly and find your way. I started by journaling, I always thought that is not my way and then I looked into it. I always thought it wasn’t something I wouldn’t like as it is a lot of effort. Then I had this one sheet and on the left side, it asks you ‘ I woke up today feeling…’ and then you fill in how you feel. It could be I woke up feeling motivated, I woke up feeling sad, I woke up feeling anxious, or whatever. Then it goes on to say ‘I’m grateful for…’ and you write down I am grateful for the sun, today it is not raining, my parents. Even I am grateful because I am waking up. The last question is ‘today would be nice if I can accomplish…’ and then you write down one or two things.
When I started doing that I was like ‘ok, today I’m feeling motivated, cool.’ I’m grateful for it not raining. I can get outside, and go get my coffee. I can go for a run outside, today is a good day. Today will be a good day if I can accomplish for example having a good interview with you guys or if that person gets back to me with that email. If that happens at the end of the day, your journal will say today is a good day because I had a good interview with IndustryMe, so why should I be sad? Then you go into your next day feeling way better, at least that’s my experience.
All of that happened in my twenties and now like I said with this project, I am just finding a realisation that ‘oh, I’ve been through some stuff, it’s time to talk about it.’ (It) shows people that it is normal and grown people stuff; going through heartbreaks, disappointments, and thinking you’re going to get married and your not going to get married, thinking your already going to have kids and you find out the person is not the person you thought he was or she. It’s life and we all go through it.
You have to find that thing that works for you when it comes to stuff like that. Whether it is writing down your goals or having a to-do list. I remember once I was doing a list and they said to me ‘alright (let’s) sit you down and tell us what you achieved.’ Then I had this list and they were like ‘look at all these things you achieved,’ and I was like ‘oh yeah.’ Something as simple as that boosts your mood. Even the sun being out puts a smile on the face, it can be so simple but it makes you feel good.
Trust me. I always thought that was spiritual stuff. Then when I started journaling, it was before the summer and I was thinking ‘what am I grateful for?’ The Netherlands is kind of the same as the U.K. as far as weather, we are very happy if we have a day of sun. Then that day was really nice and you could go outside and wear a t-shirt and stuff. I was like ‘today I am grateful for… oh the weather is so good today!’ I can actually sit on my balcony and just chill, and get a drink. I’m talking about the sun right now and it is shining on my face, what a coincidence. It’s stuff like that which makes me feel better. It’s about finding the strength in yourself. If you really think about it, there’s something you must like about yourself and that’s who you are so go with that. That’s your strength.
Who is one artist you would like to make music with that would take your sound in a new direction?
I would love to work with SG Lewis, he is high on my list and I have a feeling we probably will at one point. It would be a nice combination because he has an electronic background and I’m interested in that as well. (I) tried to incorporate that a bit in ‘Wish The Love Never Died,’ but he’s high on my list. I would also love to work with Masego as I think he’s so talented, the way he is on the saxophone is phenomenal.
You’ve mentioned Masego now a few times so I need to get on him and I do love a bit of saxophone, so I think that would be up my street.
I think you would like him, he’s dope. He’s coming to Europe sometime soon, so he’s probably coming to London as well.
I like SG Lewis, what he’s doing is very cool in the electronic scene. Making music in the electronic scene is cool, not only because you’re doing something new but it also puts you in a new space for new people to discover you.
I also love a lot of artists from the U.K. I’m into Disclosure. I’ve followed them since the beginning and they have a lot of good albums. There is so much from the U.K. that I really love. I love Nao, there’s an artist called J Warner, he’s a good friend of mine. Even though he is a good friend, I always harass him. I’m like ‘hey you need to work with me because I love your stuff.’ (laughs)
Those are some good names. I love Disclosure. I’ve seen them live a few times and they are great to see live. The first time I saw them they had the drums there and everything, that was really cool. Nao is amazing, she has this very distinctive voice which I love about her music. I have heard of J Warner, but I have not delved too much into him. I imagine that is cool to have your friends in the music industry and be like ‘let us make a song together,’ and then it comes off well.
It makes it easier too. J Warner is actually dope. He is so talented, it’s crazy. I worked with him a few times on a project. He has a song with SG Lewis (called) ‘Aura.’ That song is so great. It is more like a summer track but it is dope.
SABRI is on Instagram.