Carol Souki: Artiste Profile
Written by: Ashley Alleluya
Photography by: Sara Souki
Mohamad Chehimi of MAC STUDIO
Fay Al Homoud
Art Direction: Adel El-Assaad // A.EL.A Communications
Carol Souki has a presence that is anything but demure. You know the minute she’s walked into a room. You can pinpoint with accuracy which group at a party has been graced with her company. You will feel the energy level in a social setting rise, simply because she’s chosen to attend. I’ve experienced this firsthand on more occasions than I can remember. Even on the evening of the interview, I arrive at a friend’s house to meet Carol, all of us equally exhausted from a day of work and yet, within minutes of her arrival, we’re all sitting up straighter, laughing more heartily and even displayed post-nap refreshment levels. You hear her before you see her – her greetings are melodious, her laughs are loud and deep and her sentences have the tendency to end in song. But speak with her for more than two minutes and another layer of Carol emerges. Underneath the carefree, two-steps-away-from-a-hippie personality, lies a character that reminds me of everything strong and purposeful – like steel or silk.
We settle down in a quieter space off our friend’s house, among cushions, and start at the very beginning.
“My parents used to sing to me when I was a kid, especially to calm me down or help me do things, but nobody in my family was particularly musical,” she tells me. “My mother, however, was a dancer and actor, so I probably got some elements of that from her.” Which, if you watch any of her live performances you know is true – they are definitely performative.
She credits her music teacher at her elementary school and her band and choir experience at her high school in Kuwait with bringing her musical talent to the forefront.
“I entered a choir at Delhi Public School since the teacher liked my voice. After that it was plays, contests, anything music-related and the flute at my American International School during my middle and high school years as well.” It was a school journey that allowed her to travel to countries like Bahrain and Cyprus to perform, and propelled her admission into the Berkeley School of Music in Boston, the United States.
“Berkeley was a slap in the face,” she laughs. “Imagine going from Kuwait, thinking you have a good voice, you’ve had some solo sections with the choir, you play the flute, and then find yourself among thousands of people from around the world – Tanzania, India, Pakistan. You feel like a tiny little dot who has nothing to offer.” So she did what anyone in her position, with about ten tons of determination and drive, would do. “I was that kid who took a lot of classes, and asked a lot of questions, because I didn’t even know what a chord was!”
It was during this period that she stumbled upon Music Therapy.
“I felt like I now had a career path in front of me,” she tells me. “I always wanted to make my own music, but if needed a Plan B, then music therapy would let me work with people, especially children, and give me the opportunity to help out and make it a rewarding experience overall.”
When Carol speaks about her time spent developing her music after her Berkeley graduation, there is very little talk of luck, or being at the right place at the right time – everything comes down to the work put in.
“When I returned back to Kuwait, I started taking up gigs at the Starbucks at Fanar mall through Mike Hayat, a friend. I also met Daffy and the rest of Army of One, with whom I continue working – Daffy, in, fact, is a producer on my tracks. The rest were events at restaurants, shows wherever possible, store openings, performances between Lebanon and Kuwait; whatever works to support my music therapy job and the eventual goal of releasing the album.”
Working on her album was a long, sometimes testing process for Carol.
“This album was supposed to be ready three years ago, but I had to learn how to be patient and have everything come together perfectly.” She wrote the lyrics to one of her first songs during a songwriting course at college. Lyrics for the others, however, came from times of solitude, when she was going through emotional times and needed words and music as a form of release. “I’m an okay songwriter who’s gotten better with time and practice, but when I write, it has to come from something I feel.”
The music and production was a collaborative effort with Outlaw Production and Daffy . “Daffy took my songs with simple lyrics and a basic chord structure and made them beautiful. He even featured one of the first songs that I wrote on this mix tape as the only female RnB track on a cassette full of male hip-hop songs with a political theme – that was something!”
She came up with most of the lyrics and melodies on the album except for one song that she worked on with Aziz and Issa from Jukebox. “They had a sound and beat that was very Maxwell-ish, and I love Maxwell.” Carol also mentions that is was also the help of her friend’s poetry, Fay Al Homoud that gave this collaborative project a dreamy and mystical flow to end the song.
The first track from the album that’s been making the rounds on Kuwaiti FM stations and social media, I Want You, is written from personal experience.
“It’s about a guy I liked who probably didn’t feel the same way. It wasn’t the first song I wrote for the album (that would be Don’t Belong), but it’s the one we all knew should be the first one to reach the public.”
Get the track here.
And to bring this track to the public, she needed a music video.
“Shooting the music video was emotional, chaotic, stressful, but so beautiful,” she gushes. “We wanted to shoot by the beach at a bed and breakfast run by a friend in Lebanon, but her boyfriend suggested the highest peak in the Middle East about two hours away from the beach. Alan James (the video’s Director from from 44 Films in London) and a dear friend Adel El-Assaad (the video’s Art Director from A.EL.A Communications in Kuwait) came to Lebanon and joined me after a shoot for a TV show I was a part of, and we jumped straight into the action. My sister Sara was also on board handling the photography of which I used in the campaign to promote the video.”
It speaks of Carol’s assertiveness that she still found a way to incorporate water into the video as she had originally planned.
“I wanted the beach to be featured somehow, but then we found these lakes by our new location and I knew I had to use them.” It was the same with a background in the video. “I knew the coloring of it would work perfectly with my aesthetic – many people told me it would be too cheesy – but some of the most positive comments for my video were about that background, thanks to Aida Al Zanki and her fabulous editing and the help of Moe Al Saeed,” she smiles.
While she reiterates how releasing this first single and still completing her album is a test of her patience and the health of her skin, going through the stressors was important to her personally.
“It helped me in ways I didn’t imagine. Everyone told me to wait it out, work and get everything together. I can only see and understand today how right they were.” As we speak and raise our coffee mugs to an album with potential, she tells me she still hasn’t found a title for it yet.
“Maybe during this, we’ll come up with something,” she laughs (we don’t). And this is Carol’s way with those around her. She engages with every person she meets, draws them into her life through deceptively futile interactions, and etches herself into your memory. I want to ask her what she thinks will make good memories, but she interrupts me.
“Don’t ask me where I see myself in five years, because I honestly don’t measure life like that,” she confides. “For me, being happy is important. I dream big. But realistically, I look for what it takes for me to be happy. I knew I would be happy if I released my own album. Now that I have started with the release of my first single, I’ll see what dream comes after that.”