Isabella Salimpour, known musically as Izabela, is an artist across the spectrum. Recognized as a singer and dancer — stemming from a lineage of incredible performers, Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour — the expression and rhythms have been embedded in the artist from an early age.
Blossoming from a natural born legacy towards her own self-written story, Izabela’s proper musical debut fuses an eclectic mix of sounds and movement; a reoccurring theme for the artist’s introduction. It doesn’t necessarily remove the artist from the rooted realm of dance, but creates another branch to continuously grow from.
The track, “When Poison Blooms,” is an elegant ache that is laced with the artist’s Arab heritage and thrives on her organic self-expression and poetic songwriting; traits well embellished through the artist’s jazz and musical theater training. Taken off her forthcoming EP, Superior Vena Cava, which “revolves around exposing private emotions that are not always expressed,” Izabela’s free-spirited voice induces the listener for self-examination.
From producing the song in its entirety and staying creatively busy during quarantine, GUM had a chance to talk to the artist about influences, her connection between jazz and Middle Eastern music, and the direction of Superior Vena Cava.
How has quarantine been treating you these days?
Quarantine has been a very introspective time for me. I have been going through many transitions such as moving home, transferring schools, reevaluating my life, and setting my intentions and goals. Creating music and art has really been a lifesaver, allowing me to express myself through all these changes! I’ve also had the chance to catch up on my reading, finish some paintings, and I now have a small garden to tend to.
I had a chance to listen to the lovely chat you had with Alicia Free on her podcast [A Little Lighter] and it opened another realm of questions. I know you are highly influenced by your Arab Heritage in general, but do you ever consider certain dance techniques when crafting songs? It feels like they go hand in hand, so to say.
Throughout my life, music and dance have always been tied. Whether it’s music that inspires me to move or a dance that adds emotion to a song. When I make music, I always imagine a physical form (abstract or non abstract) that goes with what I’m writing or singing. It tells me more about where the specific piece I’m creating is coming from physically as well as strengthens the emotional content of the song. I wouldn’t say I necessarily think of any specific techniques when creating a song, but the way I move is definitely influenced by Middle Eastern dance.
Being a third generation performer — the daughter of the wonderful Suhalia Salimpour and granddaughter of the equally wonderful Jamila Salimpour — did you ever find it difficult when crafting your own identity?
In the dance world, I definitely found it difficult to develop my own identity, especially when I was younger. I was seen more as a part of my family’s legacy rather than an artist in my own light. This never really bothered me because I’ve always been thankful to be part of this community and carry on this legacy. My family’s three generations took life on as a team, and I loved that. I knew that I’d participate in my family’s business, and that I would combine my dance influence with my own passion for music. I’ve taken what I’ve learned from my culture and hours of studying music to create a sound that mirrors my experiences and memories. This is one of the reasons my music is such a fusion. After releasing “When Poison Blooms,” I felt that people would be able to hear my experiences and get a sense of me as an individual artist.
Another interesting point you brought up with Alicia [Free] was the comparison between Jazz and Middle Eastern music, regarding their complexity in theory and the way they make one “reflect.” On a more expressive perspective, do you find it easier to utilize both genres together, or a bit of a challenge? — considering their potency.
I find myself constantly mixing both styles, using the education I received as a platform to build off of. I feel I naturally express both styles together because I am familiar with each of them, not focusing on the mend itself. Both genres inspire me to express and create, challenging me to dig deeper into theory, melodies, and feelings. Ultimately I find it easier to utilize both genres and feel it helps add complexity to my music.
Your first single “When Poison Blooms” definitely carries those Arabic influences alongside your fusion pop love, and your voice is so luxurious. How did you find the balance between sounds when producing the track?
For me, most of my work comes from experimenting and spending multiple hours messing around with sounds, effects, and ideas. Usually I start by using the harmonic minor scale which is common in Middle Eastern music. Once I’ve established a strong base off the scale, I build around that with other instruments and my vocals. It helps me set the tone that I’m hoping to delve deeper into and honestly, it’s just my favorite scale! Once I’m able to make the sound that I connect with I play around with how to fuse different styles.
The lyrics of the song are very poetic as well. Was there a moment in time that sparked the ideology of the track?
When I wrote this, I was in a very vulnerable position in my life. I had just moved to New York and was trying to navigate my way through building a community and releasing parts of myself that did not serve me any longer. Specifically, I wrote this at 4 AM in my bedroom after being out all night. In that moment, I was feeling these transitions deeply and found myself writing poetry to express those thoughts. This inspired me to pull out my phone and start exploring melodies and match it with my words. I have always had an interest in creating art that sheds light on feelings that people move through privately, expressing the unseen. For me, this song represents the idea of getting reacquainting with myself and how that is accompanied by loss. It’s a song about self-discovery and the mystery that follows.
It’s personal for an official debut. Was there ever a doubt in your mind that this shouldn’t be your first single? [And] “When Poison Blooms” seems to shift its tone in the music video. It’s really beautiful and captures movement; when it starts and when it stopped. Could you explain your idea for the music video and the creative process?
There was a time where I was considering releasing one of my other songs which will be on my E.P. The reason I didn’t is because I felt that “When Poison Blooms” captured what I was trying to communicate as an artist and would be a good representation of myself. When developing the music video, I was really interested in making it spooky and sensual. I wanted to capture the energy of the song by incorporating visuals that mirrored how I felt while writing the song. The lighting, costumes, effects, and visuals are meant to be mysterious and dramatic.
On a more technical note, I often look through Pinterest and the Instagram explore page to spark ideas. I enjoy researching different artists and styles when looking for inspiration and always find things that pique my interest. Along with that, I am influenced by my family’s costumes and old videos! Once I have hatched an idea I feel matches the song, my creative vision, and my emotion while writing the song, I create a shot list and get all my props/ costumes together.
I know you are getting ready to share your EP. Could you share with us the direction in tone and concept for the EP?
I am so excited to be releasing and working on my EP! It will be titled Superior Vena Cava which is a passageway to the heart (in human anatomy), such is my music. A huge theme for this E.P, like I said in a recent answer, revolves around exposing private emotions that are not always expressed. When writing most of these songs, I found myself creating things about personal growth, always searching for the root and deeper meaning of my feelings. This comes up frequently in many of my tracks and is communicated through poetry, Arabic melodies, and sounds that create the scene of my mind. Some songs will be angelic, some dark and mysterious, and some a mix of both!
I think we’ve all had time to really reflect during this pandemic, so if you were to listen to one album for the rest of the year, what/who would it be and why?
If I had to pick one album I would choose Umm Kulthum’s Enta Omry. Umm Kalthum was a Egyptian song writer and movie star, known for her unique style and rich voice. Her lyrics, raw voice, and instrumental arrangement always keep me on my toes and inspire me. There is something so magical about the Arabic language as it adds a profound quality to even the simplest things.
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