Karen Elson, the British model and musician, has released her second album following a seven year hiatus since the release of “The Ghost Who Walks”. Elson’s “Double Roses” brings to mind the singer-songwriters of Laurel Canyon and the counterculture musicians such as Joni Mitchell and Carole King. The album has numerous highlights, but “Hell and High Water,” “Raven,” and most certainly “Distant Shore” cannot be passed by. This is an album not to be missed.
Fereshta is a Los Angeles rocker and peace activist. She was born in war-torn Afghanistan. Her parents fled persecution with a baby Fereshta in their arms, and hope and determination in their hearts. They journeyed to Pakistan in hopes of one day reaching America. Sponsored by a Baptist church in New York, Fereshta and her family began a new life in Virginia, where she soon found healing and inspiration in rock n’ roll.
Combining her deep love of music with her passion for sacred activism, Fereshta aims to support her homelands through peaceful dialogue and benefit shows. Her new album “Cultural Collision” shows us the beauty that can be made when three great cultures collide – her love for American rock n’ roll, her exotic Afghan heritage and the finest from Brazilian musicians in their authentic grooves.
Thanks to Fereshta, herself, and our friends at Women of Substance Radio, we’re here today to find out more about Fereshta’s story and her music; her new album in particular.
Fereshta, it’s great to have you with us. We want to learn more about your truly fascinating story. We know a little bit about your childhood and how you came to the U.S. from reading, but can you fill in the story a bit for us? Tell us about your family and how you came to the U.S.
F: Thank you so much for having me, it’s a joy to be here. Well, to answer your question, when I was born, the Soviet Occupation was in full force in Afghanistan. It became increasingly dangerous for educated men and women, who did not want to join the Communist Party, to stay in the country without the risk of imprisonment and death. My parents sensed the dangers for our family and chose to leave everything behind and smuggle us of out the country to Pakistan. It was an 8 day trek through the mountains, and eventually, 14 months later, we were able to make our way to the United States.
So, how did your interest in music come about? We’re you encouraged from a young age or did you find you own way to music?
F: I was naturally drawn to music, singing and dancing from a very young age. My family says I would sing all the time and sometimes entertain circles of children when I was little. I guess I just loved the feeling of it. It was liberating and unifying and soul-inspiring all at the same time. It connected me to something that felt meaningful and inspirational, and loved that.
The Afghan culture has a very rich history of music and dancing, and a very deep love for poetry. It’s what we do. The real Afghanistan, the one you don’t hear about in the news prioritized family, feasting, music and dancing in that order. We would have these large family gatherings and everyone would jam until the early hours of the morning. It was awesome. So that certainly nurtured my love for music at an early age.
Also, when we came to America, I fell in love with rock n’ roll. From the first needle scratch that brought me The Knacks’ “My Sharona” I was hooked. I’d never heard anything like it. It filled me with a sense of joy and liberation that still makes me smile to this day.
Did you receive formal training along the way and did you have any teachers or mentors that inspired you to become a professional musician?
F: I’ve been a poet all my life. That is my love first and foremost. The spoken word, how we express our hearts, how we connect with one another, it’s all in the poetry of our expression. In school I had English teachers who saw something special in me and who encouraged me to write. As for mentors, I grew up listening to a thrash metal band called Overkill, and their lead singer Bobby Blitz has always been a great source of inspiration for me. He leads by example with know-how and integrity, and from him I’ve learned what it means to be a true artist and a CEO. The importance of showing up for your craft, of doing what you love, of appreciating your fans and squeezing the last drop out of every day, while being empowered and authentic.
So tell us about the journey from Virginia to Los Angeles. Was there a special reason you decided to go west instead of (say) go to New York?
F: Truth be told, I had spent most of my life in Virginia and I was yearning for a change when I turned 18. I loved the weather in LA and felt called to acting at the time so it seemed like a good idea. Energetically speaking, there was a promise of freedom there. I could live more authentically in that city. An eccentric, free-spirited, bohemian poet can feel quite at home in the sun-kissed hills of LA if you know what I mean! I also had a great love for The Doors, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, I think intuitively I was drawn there for the music scene. I spent so much of my time writing poetry and making friends at Venice Beach, listening to music and enjoying nature in Laurel Canyon, and immersing myself in the music scene on the Sunset Strip. There was so much magic there for me, and in hindsight, it was exactly what I needed to be here now as a poet, musician and activist. I used to drive to and from work every day and pass by Jim Morrison’s house. I would promise myself that no matter what, I’d make the music and speak my truth one day. It sparked a fire in me to live in Laurel Canyon where so many talented musicians I respected created their art, and it kept me dreaming until the dream became a reality.
On to your music, you have two albums out, “Global Citizen” released in 2011, and the more recent release “”Cultural Collision”. The multi-cultural direction of your work is pretty clear from the album titles. While, it seems fair to say “Global Citizen” is a rock album, that isn’t to overshadow the very wide range of what you are doing. On “Global Citizen” you have the rock tracks such as “Amends” and “Global Citizen”; there are the bluesy “Tombstones” and Middle Eastern track “Human Frailty”.
Tell us about your view toward the first album and what’s behind “Cultural Collision”?
F: *smile* I love the first album. I really do. I have so many good memories from it. I learned so much in the process of making that album and those lessons still serve me to this day. “Global Citizen” was me finding my voice and really getting my bearings. I can’t help but smile when I hear it because I know how much work it took for this introverted poet girl to become an empowered front-woman. And for anyone reading this that wants to become a singer and doesn’t feel qualified: I didn’t know how to craft a song, I didn’t know how to hit a note, I didn’t even know how to keep time! I was so aweful, I had to learn how to play the drums to understand timing!
It was also the beginning of me understanding my own signature sound. It didn’t happen during the recording of the songs, so much as it happened after. I was paying homage to my influences on the record because you have to start somewhere and your influences do shine through. But later when I had a chance and really sat with the songs, I could hear a distinct voice, a signature sound that was all my own admist all the classic rock and grunch rock influences. A song like “Untie My Hands” which I wrote about the plight of Afghan widows, really opened me up to the kind of activism I could participate in through my music. It was a great journey for my spirit, and it magically led to the connections and the intentions that birthed my second record.
Let’s take a few minutes out and watch and listen to your new vid from “Cultural Collision» titled “Take The Baby And Run”.
Wow! Powerful music.
We know that you have some special causes that you support and you do a lot of benefit work. Tell us about your interests. Certainly, readers would like to know more about Half The Sky Movement: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
F: Yes, with my second album “Cultural Collision”, I have partnered with Half The Sky Movement. I strongly believe in the power of education, and I know what it has done for me personally. If it can turn an angry warbaby into an educated, expressive, empowered peace activist, I think it can change and heal the world.
I have a line in “Year Zero” that was inspired by their work, “We say, women hold up half of the sky.” I believe in this. I believe that it’s time for men and women to create mutually empowering relationships that benefit the whole, but we have to be willing to support one another. Half The Sky has this incredible documentary about the worst places in the world for women, and they go really deep into what’s going on (from poverty, to cultural traditions, to lack of opportunities…etc.) in trying to understand the root causes of oppression for women across the globe. I respect their work and all the organizations that are making a positive impact under their umbrella.
I’m also a huge supporter of the Sound Central Festival, the first rock festival in my hometown of Kabul. And I’ve just recently partnered with an organization called Combat Apathy and look forward to being a contribution to their amazing work!
Fereshta, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Please come back and update us on your music and your many other activities. Again, thank you.
F: Thank you so much! It’s been a joy to speak with you!