We had the good fortune of connecting with Salem Aya and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Salem, how do you think about risk?
Growing up in Morocco, I came to realize that queer identities were not celebrated. The choice to openly come out as gay was always daunting to me in my youth, and often unfathomable at times. I have always been a creative person, and much of my personality and mode de vie is conveyed through my art. There came a time where I was tired of watering myself down in order to keep those around me more comfortable, so I eventually took the risk and began celebrating all aspects of who I am unapologetically. Moreover, female autonomy and individuality are very much pioneering concepts in patriarchal MENA
societies, and even simply putting myself out there as a female rapper is expected to be met with backlash. While Morocco has progressed in a multitude of facets over the last 20 years, society still holds extremely traditional values of which women are expected to adhere to. I am inherently unorthodox in my expression of my female identity and do not conform to the standards that dominated the circles in which I grew up. The fact I am openly a queer female artist from a Arab country will always be a risk, but a necessity at the same time. If I don’t put myself out there and speak my truth, no one will. Living in
Miami for the past 7 years has allowed me to grow as an individual and musician. I recently released my fourth single “Panic!”, and all my music thus far has received nothing but positive responses from my community back home. In fact, my second release was placed on a Spotify editorial playlist specifically curated for Middle Eastern and North African listeners–something I would have never considered at the start of my artistic journey. En masse, taking the risk of fully
owning and celebrating who I am has proven to be nothing but fruitful to both my life and career as a musician.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have always been the black sheep in most contexts. I grew up very ashamed of my differences, but learning to celebrate them is what turned my life around. I am an openly queer Moroccan artist, making hip-hop in Miami. I don’t know too many people like me, doing what I am doing. I often feel like a pioneer in that regard. My journey as an individual definitely runs parallel to my evolution as an artist, and for that I am most proud. In turn, growing into my own skin has led me to become a better artist and able to connect with a wide array of people. I’ve had young Moroccan men and women alike write to me about how much they identify with my story and music. And that has only pushed me to continue investing in myself and my work. I’ve learned that hiding the brightest parts of yourself out of fear will keep you stuck in a rut of self-detriment. I hope that my ability to overcome that challenge will motivate others to do whatever it takes for them to be at peace and invest themselves in what they love. The biggest risks are often followed by the most surprising results, and I am incredibly excited to see what the future holds for me as an artist.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If there is anything I love more than music, it would be food. One of my favorite restaurants in Miami would be Mandolin Aegean Bistro. I love Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, and all their dishes are absolutely delicious. I am very conscious about what goes into my body, and their menu has several healthy options that remain authentic to Mediterranean gastronomy. I am also an avid traveler, and the restaurant’s decor makes you feel like you’re dining along the Aegean coast. Oh, and their white sangria is simply divine. I am also a fan of guitars and vintage cars, so I would recommend Walt Grace Vintage. Beautiful Les Pauls and Stratocasters decorate the walls, along with a rotation of vintage Lamborghinis and Porsches parked on display in the middle. It’s truly a one of a kind spot. You can even play the guitars upon request. I feel like a kid in a candy store whenever I walk in. I believe most of their stuff is for sale too, ranging from pre-owned to new–so if you’re looking to invest in a gem or two I would definitely recommend checking this place out.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I owe a lot to my mentor Fräktäl. Aside from taking me under his wing and schooling me on all aspects of the music industry, he has taught me valuable lessons about life as well. I met him at a very dark and vulnerable time in my life, and collaborating with him on my first ever project really catalyzed my artistic development. We click on so many levels creatively, and to also be able to call him my friend is a very special thing. He was among the first people in my life who truly believed in my work and pushed me to become the best version of
myself–and for that I am forever grateful.
Nominate Someone: ShoutoutMiami is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.