Iranian-Dutch musician Sevdaliza dissects reality with an arresting truthfulness. Her debut album, the recently released ISON, is a world unto itself, filled with sparse trip-hop beats, jazz-inflected grooves, jarring industrial noise, and R&B’s signature smooth edges. Its 16 tracks explore a lifetime’s worth of topics both dark and light: motherhood, childhood, death and reincarnation, fantasy, past lives, sexuality, and the male gaze. The unarguably ambitious work is further elevated by a gorgeous full-length visual accompaniment, created in collaboration with Los Angeles-based hyper-surrealistic sculptor Sarah Sitkin.
“I made this record with so much passion in me,” Sedvaliza says via phone from her apartment in the Netherlands, speaking in a calm, almost tentative voice. “I’m trying to do something very personal and sensitive, and I feel like in 2017, there’s not really a lot of space for that anymore.”
But public reception has never really ranked high on Sevdaliza’s list of concerns. Born in Tehran, the singer fled to the Netherlands with her family at the age of five. By 16, she had left home to live on her own, putting herself through college with help from a basketball scholarship that eventually took her to the Dutch national team. She came to music late, at 26, but quickly staked claim alongside her co-producer Rotterdam-based Mucky. Together the pair recorded and self-released two beautifully bracing, spectral-sounding EPs in 2015, The Suspended Kid and Children of Silk. Like ISON, the EPs spawned a series of provocative music videos that found Sevdaliza using visuals—usually twisted, morphed images of herself—to help bring her artistic visions to life. The most striking of all these clips might be last year’s “Human,” in which Sevdaliza steps into a show ring before a crowd of elite-looking men, then reveals herself as a faun—adorned in jeweled lingerie, with the legs of a goat—as she dances and writhes in the dirt.
“I’ve always been aware of the fact that, when I walk into a room, everyone will look at me,” she tells me. “It’s not about being pretty or anything—it’s just an energy, and it’s an energy that I’ve been living with my whole life. When I’m in my natural state, I’m not really aware of it anymore, but when I’m onstage or in a video, I will use that presence. I love to play with it because you can bring out your fantasies.”
In these fantasies, Sevdaliza says she “loves to show skin” and prefers clothing with texture—“leather, PVC, latex, chains”—and things that feel androgynous. “But me in my regular life, I love to wear down-to-earth pieces. Fabrics that are soft, that are heavy, earth tones. Quite basic things, combined with a lot of sportswear,” she says. “It’s almost like two different people.” Offstage, Sevdaliza is quite introverted, preferring silence and long walks in the garden behind her apartment to being “wild and crazy.” It’s only through music, she says, that she’s able to channel the powerful, commanding presence she’s long struggled with into something that fuels her creatively.
“I’m past the point of being ashamed of my body,” she says. “I think it makes most people uncomfortable, and that’s quite interesting to me. It’s not normal that people do this without sending a sexual message or a body positive message, and I’m not doing any of these things. I’m just a woman, and I use my body in my art. That’s it. I don’t have an aesthetic that I follow. It’s just who I am.”