Rotana Tarabzouni is happy to be back in the Middle East. “It feels like home,” the LA-based singer, born and raised in Saudi Arabia, tells Grazia before setting the Fendi party - celebrating the opening of the new boutique in The Dubai Mall - alight. “It feels like a place that knows me without me having to explain myself. They call it The Motherland for a reason. I feel like I’m back in my mother’s arms, it feels so sweet.”
With her eclectic style and meaningful music talent, it’s little surprise the artist and songwriter was named within the BBC's 100 Most Powerful Women, but how does someone so, well, cool balance staying true to the traditionalist roots of her culture while also being a modern-day millennial?
“I think sometimes...” Rotana pauses, “...it’s impossible to balance it, as there’s a certain respect to my religion that will always be present. But the whole reason I’m an artist is to try to contribute to this sense of individualism that some women in the Middle East haven’t taken ownership of.”
The star adds, “I’d like to say I’m not vocal about trying to break stereotypes around Saudi women with words because I’d like for it to just come through with my art. My goal is to just be an individual that is moving away from societal conditioning. But I can’t claim to break the Saudi stereotype because I’m only one person.”
True as that is, Rotana is nonetheless making a remarkable impact on the industry and beyond. She’s also a super-stylish social-media star in her own right, which is another reason why she has been shortlisted as one of the Grazia Style Awards KSA's nominations for Emerging Talent. “I’m flattered and taken aback, to be honest,” Rotana admits. “I feel like a little bit of an amateur, but it feels awesome.”
Interestingly, Rotana did her plan B career first. She worked at Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world, but quit her role as an international media-relations officer four years ago and moved to Los Angeles to pursue music. “Now I’m an artist, there is no plan B. If you have a plan B that means you’re not very serious about your plan A,” Rotana laughs.
Will she stay in the United States forever? “No, right now LA is at the centre of my music career, but my dream is to be in Saudi Arabia for five months of the year and then spend the rest of the time in Europe,” Rotana replies.
Finally, what are her hopes for the future of women in Saudi? “Sometimes Arab women think if the government or their parents give them permission then they will be capable of doing something, but you have to give yourself permission. All the motivation and drive you need is within you.”