As an Iranian-American child of immigrants, YaSi’s career may be deemed an unconventional path, but it is one that she explores unapologetically. With a unique sound mixing genres, styles, and even languages, the Denver-based artist known for her vibrant live shows is now capturing that energy in her latest single “guilty” from her upcoming EP, Coexist With Chaos.
The United Sounds of America
This is an ambition that YaSi has fostered since childhood. Being caught between two cultures, her appreciation for music grew with her family’s roots in the United States. Raised on the sounds of Iranian artists, she found herself drawn to exploring Western music.
“I think a lot of first-generation American kids might agree with this too. You know, of course, I grew up listening to the greats of Persian music of like Ebi, Dariush, Googoosh, Mansour. That was the music that was playing in my house,” YaSi shared with EnVi. “I hear a lot of artists who are like ‘oh yeah, my mom was listening to Prince’ or ‘yeah, my mom was listening to Jill Scott’ or something like that. I never really had that experience with American music because my parents were always listening to Persian music. So, music discovery, I think, is the thing I hold dearest to my heart because it was the first time I found or learned about something myself. My parents didn’t teach me it. I didn’t learn it from anybody else. It was just kind of on my own.”
From there, she found herself delving into almost every genre from Disney to pop to punk. Eventually, it was rap and hip-hop that led her to study music. She admired the likes of 50 Cent, Eminem, Tupac, Nas, and Hieroglyphics. It was Kid Cudi who inspired her to create her own music, while Mac Miller showed her that it was possible for a young artist without connections to rise to fame in the digital age.
“That was my first time where I was like ‘oh, I want to make music. I’m not just a good singer and I’m not just a kid who’s really good at English. I can combine all these things that I really love and actually make a song, make an album,’” she said.
New Rules this Nowruz
Since then, YaSi has been dedicated to art in all forms. She has worked towards studying Music Business at university, opening for names like Teyana Taylor and Zara Larrson, and even touring the country with Iyla.
That’s how she started the rollercoaster this past year has been. Last Persian New Year, or Nowruz, she had played a live show and celebrated with her family. During the festivities, she received her fortune from The Divan of Hafez, “everything you’re working for will come to fruition.”
The poetry manifested itself in an unexpected way. Coming off the high of performing all over the country, their last show of the tour and the foreseeable future was in March. Just after, Live Nation had canceled all concerts as COVID-19 continued to spread, leaving artists who thrived in the live music industry in a position of instability and uncertainty.
“We got home and I was just kind of in-between a tour depression, a pandemic depression, and then just questioning if my life choices would work out for me as in being a musician during all this stuff happening,” she said. “And so, for a few months, I was just kind of at home. I didn’t really touch any instruments. I didn’t even make any music.”
Then, her agent at United Talent Agency reached out to her about recording an EP. Pulling strength and inspiration from her peers and other esteemed artists in the industry, she traveled back and forth from Los Angeles, California to create what is now Coexist with Chaos.
“I was talking myself in and out of being an artist,” she revealed. “I felt really inspired by my friends who were also in the same boat as me kind of pushing me like ‘hey dude, it’s okay we’re all in this boat together. We just kind of have to figure out how we can all be artists in all of this because the one thing that does help people get through stuff in life is music and art.’”
Through that process, she was able to channel these unique experiences into creating what she called “music that I believed in.” One of those tracks is “Inferno” which opens with lyrics in Farsi, marking the first time she had recorded vocals in her parents’ native language.
“Usually, I would be afraid to sing in Farsi because my cousins would always tell me, ‘your American accent is way too thick. You gotta work on it’” she laughed. “It was kind of intimidating, but then, when we’re making this EP and I’m realizing at first, I wanted it to be really cohesive and kind of be like a story from beginning to end, and then as we’re in sessions and we’re working on stuff, I’m realizing that this EP is kind of like an onion. It’s different layers of me and different layers of who I am as a person.”
The timing is fitting. As music from around the world becomes popularized in the North American market such as K-pop and Latin pop, many have been wondering when Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) music would follow suit. Considering the hardships over the past few years, that desire has become all the more pressing. Events like the Iranian Revolution, the aftermath of 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, and the Travel Ban have led to a lot of uncertainty, tragedy, and prejudice. Consequently, depictions of SWANAs are frequently centered around negative and harmful stereotypes. The arts are no exception to that. Combatting these stigmas, YaSi strives to share the beauty of such a rich culture through her music.
“I got into Rosalía heavy and Bad Bunny pretty heavy a few years ago, and it made me want to learn more about where they’re from,” she explained. “It made me want to learn more about their cultures, and I’m kind of hoping that ‘Inferno’ does that to people where they want to kind of learn more about Iran outside of the political cloud that is over the country where I’m from.”
As a woman, her journey in the music industry becomes even more complex. In this male-dominated field, women are often overlooked and objectified. She explained, “I definitely have faced a lot of sexism in the music industry as I’m sure a lot of other women say that they have as well. I kind of got my industry ‘start’ from live shows and a lot of times it’s like instead of me, the sound guy will go talk to my bandmates who are all male.”
At the same time, women’s bodies are subject to scrutiny even when performing their craft. Similar to Billie Eilish, YaSi preemptively chose clothing that would prevent that. “That’s why in ‘guilty,’ I wore an oversized fit; because it is a daunting thing as someone who’s pretty self-conscious about how they look,” she said. “I wanted to feel comfortable looking back on the videotape and I just didn’t want people commenting on my body.”
As SWANA women continue to challenge these factors, they represent a group that is often overlooked in the arts. These artists are creating a space for SWANAs, who have often been dismayed by stereotypes and cultural norms, to pursue their passion and share it with the world. YaSi herself appreciates musicians like Sevdaliza, Snoh Aalegra, and other Iranian friends she has been able to connect with online. She expressed, “I just hope I can help continue that legacy of art and music that our culture has always had.”
However, this is not solely up to the artists. Listeners can help spread the SWANA culture and create space for representation in the industry as well. YaSi revealed the simple secret; all you have to do is follow, stream, and share their work with five of your friends. Fans can do so when YaSi’s Coexist in the Chaos, what she calls “a-pop-calyptic — pop music for the apocalypse,” drops April 2.
Be sure to check out Vedo, another talented artist on the rise!
Thumbnail Photo by Hillary Thomas