LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Medina Whiteman
‘’But most of all the barriers have been in my mind, you know being frightened of appearing publicly and publicising my work because I didn’t want to receive negative attention.’’
So, here we are with the first ever blog where we at LYRA interview inspiring women all around the world, ordinary people doing extraordinary things; just the kind of women we love to support here at LYRA. Medina Tenour Whiteman lives in Orgiva, Granada, and is a singer song-writer, artist, poet and multi instrumental musician. Today we caught up with her in her hometown of Orgiva, over a cup of English tea in the Alpujarra Mountains!
LYRA: let’s start off with a little bit about you…
Medina: I’m a writer, musician, and singer. When I say I’m a writer it means I do this in lots of different ways, it’s the only category I could find that covers lots of different things - I write songs, poems, stories, essays, articles and at different times of my life I’ve done more of one then the other.
LYRA: Being a musician and travelling around the world to perform and showcase your work, have you ever felt there were any barriers to getting your work out there or any restrictions as a Muslim woman trying to make it in such a competitive industry?
Medina: it’s funny because I don’t really feel like I have been restricted. There is this one time though I remember going to a conference at Friends House in Euston road and Anas Canon was there…and he was doing lots of hip-hop at that time, and we knew people in common and I approached him and was like ‘listen I’d really like to sing with you’ and he turned around and said straight up ‘we’re not working with women singers at the moment’ and that to be honest was a blow at the time. I started to think; maybe this idea is too far out for people…I mean for them to imagine listening to a Muslim woman singing? Even though it’s something that is really common all over the Muslim world, from Pakistan to North Africa…and even Iranian Classical music, that’s classy and often these women have a whole male orchestra behind them, there’s no weirdness about it at all. Their singing is their art, their skill, work and science, and people respect them for it.
A woman’s voice is a human instrument, so it’s quite distressing and sad that there are people out there who don’t want to hear women’s voices naturally, and that is sad. I’ve been very blessed in that I’ve had connections with people who don’t disagree with music, and don’t have a problem with instruments, because I also play guitar…but most of all the barriers have been in my mind, you know being frightened of appearing publicly and publicising my work because I didn’t want to receive negative attention.
‘’For me when I’m creating art for someone, Muslim or not, I want this to reach them at a very deep, profound, personal and spiritual level and benefit them in some way; whether that’s soothing or healing. I want people to feel better when they read my stuff, especially if they’re taking their precious asset which is time, to honour your work. That’s probably really ambitious but, that’s what I would like.’’
LYRA: And what is your mantra for dealing with negative attentions/comments?
Medina: Online can be really horrible, I’ve been trolled on twitter on the back of articles I’ve published and you can’t tag anything with the word ‘Islam’ which is horrible. Expected but horrible. If you want to make something beautiful to counter ugly narrative though it is an upstream struggle, it’s worth doing, but you’re working against the tide. Creating beauty I think is obligatory for Muslims, in our personal and work lives…even if you’re creating a business, you should make it beautiful, much like LYRA actually when I think about it!
LYRA: thanks! We think that too! In terms of inspirations then, what would you say your inspirations are for your art?
Medina: I have such a broad range of inspirations it’s hard to know where to start. In terms of poetry I think Sufi poetry always inspired me, even though I’ve always read them in translation, until more recently since I’ve started studying Persian I can actually look at Rumi’s poetry in the original language and actually understand words in this that just feels really magical. I was also bought up on qasidas (Islamic spiritual songs) which also really influenced me, it’s really unlike secular poetry or western poetry, it’s not about ruffling people’s feathers or making people uncomfortable, it’s the opposite, more like a healing balm, because I think as Muslims we already feel uncomfortable and at times can feel traumatised, so for me when I’m creating art for someone, Muslim or not, I want this to reach them at a very deep, profound, personal and spiritual level and benefit them in some way; whether that’s soothing or healing. I want people to feel better when they read my stuff, especially if they’re taking their precious asset which is time, to honour your work. That’s probably really ambitious but, that’s what I would like.
‘’Having a circle, whether that’s as a dancer, musician or artist, it’s so freeing, learning to jam with other people, finding you have those abilities all along, and can grow. If you can find a circle where you can share your work and yourself, you’d be surprised at how positive those things are.’’
LYRA: In terms of what the future holds for you, what would you say your hopes or fears are, as an artist and also as a woman, a mother, and everything else you encompass?
Medina: time! I need to find time to dedicate to my art; and a lot of time it’s hard because I have so much desire to make art and it’s frustrating not to be able to find the time to do this, and when I do have time, I also have to think about you know having provision and taking on paperwork and more formal work over art, which is always a fear. I am looking to finish my young adult novel, and also I would love to make an album too! So I hope to find the time to do those things.
LYRA: Seeing as LYRA is into fitness and lifestyle, are there things in your life fitness or activity wise which re really central and key to your wellbeing?
Medina: I don’t do enough of it but I absolutely love yoga and qi-gong, I would also love to do more martial arts. Having a toddler makes it a bit difficult because you need a lot of space! I love dancing too, I’m an avid dancer and I think it’s a huge discharge of negative energy. I also love being in nature, being surrounded by mountains and trees is really important to me. I also love gardening and I have to do this for my sanity, to touch the earth and be amongst trees and flowers!
LYRA: What advice would you give to women out there who really want to pursue something who might feel restricted because of any kinds of reasons, be it culture, religion, or anything else?
Medina: first of all you have to persevere, but it’s important to get through unpleasant moments where you think is it really worth it. I also find it hugely beneficial to find people who are in a similar circumstance and in a similar situation as you for example when I joined a women’s writing group a few years ago when i had a 6 month old and a 2 year old, and I felt very stressed and overwhelmed, but just that hour and a half every week was so liberating. As a writer your very solitary and can be very distant from people, which is why I guess social media is good because people can read your book, but having a circle, whether that’s as a dancer, musician or artist, it’s so freeing, learning to jam with other people, finding you have those abilities all along, and can grow. If you can find a circle where you can share your work and yourself, you’d be surprised at how positive those things are; and disregard the voice that says ‘this is going to be awful’ because that will rarely happen. Sometimes I facilitate creative writing workshops and I always tell people to be honest. Being frank will always read to people better. Stop trying so hard and just do it.
LYRA: What are you currently working on, and where can we find your stuff?
Medina: I’m currently working on writing a Young adult novel, and also re-publishing my poetry book called Love is Traveller and we are its path’ which will be sold via my blog so watch out for this! My blog is also a constant work in progress and you can find lots of articles and stories by me on there. I’m always doing music, whether that’s here in Spain or abroad, you can follow me on social media where I post updates about these. I think I will be recording an album when the time is right.
LYRA: and finally…three words to describe you!
Medina: complete, utter nutcase! (No just kidding) I would say creative, loud and driven.