Interview: Mona Najib (33), Singer and Voiceover Artist Based in Stockholm/Los Angeles
Swedish singer/voiceover artist, Mona Najib (33), went ahead and did the one thing many of us are so afraid to do; she followed her dream, and maybe even more importantly, her heart. At 26, she was accepted into the Los Angeles College of Music in Pasadena, California, and decided to just go for it. “I’ve realised that up until the point when I applied to the school in Los Angeles, I had based a lot of my life choices on somebody else and not myself. I’ve always wanted to work in music so this was definitely a choice that I made for myself“, she says. With a background in teaching and professional soccer, the change was a big but happy one, that she saw necessary for her own wellbeing; “…mentally I was in a destructive place as a woman – dealing with body issues, psychological things, heartbreak…and the list goes on”. Keep reading for an insight into Mona’s beautiful soul and wise thoughts on life, following your heart, living far away from family and being fearless in a world full of fear.
Oh, and don’t forget to check out her beautiful voice and insightful and very funny vlog linked below.
First of all, how did you start your day today?
I went on my phone the first thing I did, which I’m not proud of, but my boyfriend was travelling back to Los Angeles and I wanted to make sure he made it home safely. I’ve been trying to not go on social media the first thing I do in the morning, and get into a habit of doing this kind of meditative thing, where I make an effort to “check in with myself before I check in with the world” – it’s a bit cheesy, but I think it’s good for your mental health.
I’ve turned off all SoMe notifications because I don’t want the constant distraction of things popping up. I would love to include a workout in my morning routine (but I’m slowly building up to that part), and I would love to get one of those old school alarm clocks that we used to have back in the day so that I wouldn’t have to depend on having my phone with me at night.
How did you find the courage to head to LA and follow your dream?
I think that because I grew up in a family where my father spent his early years dreaming of a better life for himself, I’ve always been hearing these amazing stories about his journeys and what it took for him to make the trip from Morocco (where he was born) to Sweden, where he ended up. His life story has really made a big impact on me, and so when I was presented with the opportunity to apply to the school (in LA) it was easy to say yes. I feel like I’ve always kind of lived with the philosophy that you have to ‘just try things out’ – thanks to my father, or both of my parents, really. I don’t want to live with regret, you know? Like I could or should have done something that I didn’t do. I want to live life knowing that I tried for something.
Moving to Los Angeles was something I wanted to do for myself, to be honest. I was living a pretty destructive lifestyle – not to say that I was doing drugs or anything like that – but mentally I was in a destructive place as a woman – dealing with body issues, psychological things, heartbreak…and the list goes on. I was at a crossroad really; I could stay in the same old s*** or I could move on, it was sort of a ‘now or never’ kind of moment. I was 26 at the time, it’s not like I was 18 and backpacking, but I was never worried about that and I believe that has to do with my upbringing. I was really excited about making the change and I never thought; “What am I gonna do there? Am I gonna get to know anybody?”, I was just excited. I’ve realised that up until the point when I applied to the school in Los Angeles, I had based a lot of my life choices on somebody else and not on myself. I have always wanted to work in music so this was definitely a choice that I made for myself with the full support of my family and friends
What is your favorite thing about your line of work?
I find that there are few things in life that fulfills me as much as the process of creating. I love seeing a song or lyric idea that I might’ve gotten on a walk, on the bus or on the subway come to life. The best part is when you can tap into that creativity and it’s such a unique feeling when you can eventually stand on stage and connect with people through your songs. The performance part is a really unique experience on its own, but another amazing part are the collaborations and the people you meet through music. As an example; the music school that I went to was a cluster of people from all over the world, and human interaction has always been thrilling to me; hearing other people’s stories is the best part of music, I think. You get to meet people from all walks of life and then together in a collaborative situation, you get to create something that’s unique, that’s just made by the two or three (or however many people) are collaborating, that’s the best part of it.
I just love creating and think that’s something that can be hard for me and everyone else who have a constant urge to do something creative. I mean, I can do a 9-17 job, but there’s stuff that you can do when you work with something as creative as music that is hard to find in another line of work. I guess I shouldn’t say that either, I’m sure you can be creative in an office all day too, but you know what i mean.
What is the biggest sacrifice you feel like you’ve made in your line of work?
Being away from my family is definitely the hardest part. It wasn’t that hard to leave, but, I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this: when you’re presented with a choice and you have to make decision and you just know? I knew in my heart that I couldn’t stay in Uppsala (hometown) and Sweden my whole life just because it was comfortable. The hardest part is being away from family and also my friends, obviously. My best friend has had two kids while I’ve been away, many of my friends have had kids, and I’m missing out on all of that. It’s a big sacrifice to not be able to be close to your family, especially since it’s the most important thing in my life, but it just means I have to really commit to staying in touch with people.
I feel like we all have this responsibility for ourselves and our own wellbeing, for me it was like: in order for you to be the person you want to be, you have to do this. And luckily, you know, I come from the kind of family where everyone is like: “we know what you need to do, we know what type of person you are and we’re not gonna stop you from doing what you need to do”. It doesn’t make it easier though, it’s f***ing hard as s*** to be away. My father has had issues with his heart his whole entire life, and more than once I’ve wanted to just drop everything and go home, so yeah: being away from family is definitely the biggest sacrifice.
What do you admire the most about other creative women?
I admire the fearlessness that I see in other women, I admire women who are proud of themselves and who… it’s so weird to say, but women who ‘dare to be themselves’. I feel like in this day and age we all hide behind filters, you know, it’s just what we do now. It’s so refreshing to see women be honest and vulnerable, yet strong, on Social Media. You know, if someone posts a picture without makeup, no filter and you can see all the bumps (on their faces), that makes me think: WHY are we hiding that?.
I admire women who choose to be brave like that and their brutally honest courage. Sometimes I haven’t been wanting to post for example videos of myself singing if they weren’t “perfect”, but lately I’ve been more of in this kind of “f*** it” state of mind where I just post whatever I feel like posting. We’re not meant to be perfect.
Where and doing what do you feel most inspired?
It varies, but good conversations really inspire me. I will leave a conversation that’s just been very genuine, raw and honest feeling like I’m not alone, you know. And then I try to find out what can I do with this information/inspiration and how I can use it to create music. And that includes listening to my dad talk about his life too. When he tells his stories, I’m like: How is that even possible?. I think it’s very easy to for us to get too comfortable in our lives and our lifestyles and have fear stop us from doing what we want, and so conversations that bring out the realness of the world really inspire me. I can also be inspired by having a really shitty day and just sitting with my guitar. Whatever comes from it is just real.
How do you pick yourself up and keep going when you feel discouraged?
I simply allow myself to feel discouraged. I think a lesson I’ve learned is that whenever I push these feeling of discouragement away, and whenever I’m dishonest with myself or tell myself “you’re not supposed to feel this way”, is when i end up staying discouraged. You can’t help feeling a certain way and you’re never gonna be able to stop feeling because life will keep throwing shit at you, that’s just reality. And depending on what you’ve been through, you’re gonna react in a certain way or feel a certain way, but you can always choose how much you’re going to let that emotion dictate your life. So I allow myself to feel sad whenever I’m sad and then I do my best to come out of that state of mind by doing something creative; I write a song or I work on my vlog – whatever it may be. For example right now that my boyfriend just left to go back to Los Angeles, I feel very sad because I’m not gonna see him for god knows how long, but I love the process of creating and so I love putting those feelings into work. I guess whenever I’m feeling discouraged I really try to think: allow yourself to feel this way and find out what you can do now, with this, with what you’re feeling, that can help you with either your career or the vlog or, you know, whatever. I really just try to make something positive out of the discouragement.
Which of your personal traits are you most proud of?
I’m so Swedish, I want to say; “I don’t know”. You know what, I’m proud of my willingness to try.
Since you’ve lived in LA for quite a while, what do you think is the biggest difference between American women and Scandinavian women?
I perceive American women as women with a great deal of confidence that they display more openly than we do in Scandinavia. I think that Scandinavian women probably have the same amount of confidence, but there’s a huge difference in the forwardness, and Scandinavian women are often much more reserved. I don’t want to label any of the two good or bad, but the differences are probably most prominent in terms of forwardness and how they approach things, it’s a cultural thing.
What do you think that we can learn from each other?
Oh yeah, I think there is a balance between the two that could be good. As much as it’s important to be forward, confident, stand strong and keep your head high, there is a time and a place for everything. There’s an art to being humble with your confidence. If you feel the need to tell everybody how good you are all the time, you’re probably not really that confident. In the music industry, some people are like: “I’ve worked with blah blah blah…”. I think it’s so much cooler when people just introduce themselves by their name and leave it up to me to do the research. I’ll go home and be like; “WOW this girl or guy worked with so and so…”, but they didn’t feel the need to inform me. That speaks a great deal of a person, I think.
Early on when i moved there, someone would give me a compliment and I would almost be apologizing for the f***ing compliment. In the industry when people were like; “oh so you’re a singer?”, I’d go, “… uhm, yeah”. And I could talk about this forever, because I had such a hard time calling myself a singer, but I got to a point where I realized that I was holding myself back and I needed to find the confidence and start believing that I am a singer. Luckily, I have been fortunate enough to work with some really great people and managed to bring out some of the american forwardness in me. One time I was out with my boyfriend and he was just being the lovely person that he is, and he introduced me to some people, and said: “she’s a singer, a really great singer”, and I’m like; “ohh…” and his friend (whom I’d just been introduced to) calls me out and he’s like; ”don’t do that BULLSHIT, just say ‘thank you”, you just need to say ‘thank you’. And it stuck with me because that’s what you’re meant to do, just say ‘thank you’.
Name any woman, past or present, whom you look up to and please tell us why:
Well, the number one woman that I admire is my mum. She’s taught me so many lessons on how to be kind and I just want to be as kind as she is. This is a woman who is a muslim and has spent her life in a previously all christian country, and still, with all the negativity surrounding muslims, she’s just the kindest person I know. She has so much respect for all different cultures and I just hope to be a fraction of how kind she is, you know.
As a singer, my first influence was Whitney Houston. I grew up listening to her and Mariah Carey, and Robyn – which to me, is someone who’s really built something from the ground up, which I admire. Seinabo Sei too, especially since she’s representing and speaking for the minorities. I just saw her on a Swedish talk show where she talks about body image and minorities and why we’re not seeing as many coloured people in advertisements etc. She’s not afraid of bringing up big and difficult issues and I really admire her authenticity. She also speaks about her insecurities, which is so refreshing in this day and age.
I also love Kristin Wiig, I think she’s friggin hilarious and I feel like she’s genuinely one of those “what you see is what you get” kind of women. The same goes for Jennifer Lawrence – when you see interviews with her she’s just so goofy and childish and I love that, I feel like she’s just being Jennifer Lawrence. There are so many women who are like that, but essentially I’m just a fan of women who are unafraid to be themselves.
Do you have a personal or professional motto?
Well, something I’ve just been using lately to inspire myself, is that I want to live a fearless life in order to reach my full potential. In this day and age we’re just constantly comparing ourselves to others, and no one else is gonna be me, so why the f*** am I competing with other people about things that I can’t control? I just want to be the best version of myself that I can be. And I say ‘fearless’ because I think fear is just something that will often stop us from doing the shit we really want do. I just want to reach my full potential, I don’t wanna look back in regret.
Tell us one thing people would be surprised to know about you:
I think people don’t know how much of a child I am. I’m super goofy and really enjoy bringing out the kid in me. People who know me well know that I have this childish side to me, but I think that a lot of people don’t. I’ve heard in the past that I come across as reserved and that I have this wall up, but I’m really just a kid in a 33-year old body. I am very easily humored, I just enjoy life.
Do you have any advice, big or small, for all the ambitious women wanting to take the leap and head for their dream career?
I would tell them to ask themselves; why not? Why are you not doing what you want to do right now? And if it’s out of fear, then you need to just do it. I think a lot of times we worry too much about how and what we’re gonna do when really it’s about why. Having a clear purpose will make things easier, I would say go for it and don’t let your fear stop you. That’s what the people you look up to are doing, the difference between you and them, is that they went for it and tried.
[Please feel free to share your thoughts and reflections in the comments section]