Musician and artist Khadija on empowering others by turning her identity into a superpower - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

Musician and artist Khadija on empowering others by turning her identity into a superpower

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Surrounded by Eritrean and Sudanese music and TV, Khadija has been embraced by a variety of sounds from an early age. She does not remember a time when music and performing were not part of her life. It comes naturally to her—a result of her parents’ daily rituals: listening to music, dancing, clapping, and singing together. In Pforzheim, her family was one of fifty Muslim-Eritrean families and despite the systemic barriers built upon them, the now Berlin-based composer, DJ, producer, and creative director turned her cultural background into a superpower to forge her unique rhythm of life.

Through creating music and experiencing her artistic path as an endurance sport, Khadija has grown to love her process. Transforming her idea of what it means to be an artist and the concept of failure, she’s learned to trust her intuition and to become more patient—with herself, her art, and her journey.

After joining Khadija on a tour of her favorite spots in Berlin, we sat down and spoke about her childhood memories and cultural upbringing. More intimately, she shared thoughts on her community, daily routines, and how staying active keeps her inspired.


This interview is a collaboration between Friends of Friends and the Swiss running performance brand On. In this portrait, we introduce you to cultural leader Khadija, an artist that empowers herself and others to pursue their artistic dreams.

“I don’t feel like an outsider in Berlin, you can be whoever you want to be.” Khadija brought us to Körnerpark and cultural center Oyoun, which she frequents.
  • You were raised surrounded by an assortment of sounds, what were your first memories of encountering music?

    In our Eritrean household, music was always playing the entire day. We would listen to cassettes in our living room and if you put on Eritrean or Sudanese TV, it is 60% music. In our culture, we express our feelings through sounds, be they happy or sad emotions. We used to sing and make sounds with our feet and our bodies. I am a huge fan of strings, the piano, percussion sounds, and all the guitars. All of these instruments are used in Eritrean music which highly influences my work.

Khadija grew up surrounded by music; its presence in her household contributed to her passion for making her own.
  • How has your upbringing in your family shaped you and your relationship to work?

    It was very tough growing up. People were finger-pointing me because I looked different, be it in school or even in the community. I am also the darkest in my family… and not only were we a Muslim family of about 50 Eritrean families in Pforzheim, but we were also Arabs who spoke Arabic and went to an Arabic school. I asked myself “How can we fit in?,” and internalized that question until I was 19. I was living a completely made-out-of-people’s-perception identity. I started playing basketball and singing, things that are very cliché for Black people, as it is being in the entertainment industry. So, I started questioning if that was something I actually wanted to do.

    The older I get, the more I feel like it’s a superpower: being a Muslim Black woman is a superpower. I’m very thankful to be Muslim, to be Black, to be a woman. In my work, I think of art as a free space. When  I was younger, I was very punk-minded, and I felt intrigued to become a professional artist because of what I symbolize. Society does not want me to be in the artistic space, but I’m proving to myself that it is possible. That drive comes from my upbringing. My parents taught us discipline: how to sit, how to talk. Everything was structured but at the same time, we talked about philosophical topics, too. I was given a lot of trust on an intellectual level. This is because the tribe my mum comes from is very open and has a very collective approach to raising children.

“The creative journey is like an endurance sport. I fell in love with the process and it teaches me a lot of patience.”

  • What has been the most significant challenge in your artistic journey? How did you overcome it?

    It is a mental thing and it is super challenging. I never went to a university that told me what to do as a musician. So, you learn by failing a lot, there is no blueprint. I have gone through phases where I doubted myself. It’s very evil what can come up from that. What I have learned throughout the process is to not take things too personally and to not one hundred percent identify as an artist. Developing the mindset that I’m so much more, and being an artist is one tiny part of my entire existence, has helped me a lot. The creative journey is like an endurance sport. I fell in love with it it teaches me a lot of patience, and it teaches me to be prepared. I also learned that I should trust my intuition. One day, I would love to give workshops for young musicians, to share my story with them and tell them that they will fail. That it’s part of the process no matter how long you have been doing this.

  • Now you have taken a leap of faith, how has this transition from being employed to pursuing music been for you?

    I really want to be comfortable with the uncertainty. It’s the first time that I don’t have a one-year plan. I thought to myself: “Khadija, it’s time. You have no children, no husband, yet (laughs), and your parents are healthy.” So I called my former boss to quit my job and she was very supportive. In the past, it was important for me to have a part-time job and a steady income. And now… there’s no stability, but this is the right time for me to focus completely on myself. I don’t want to lay in my bed when I’m old and say, “Oh, I wish I was doing this or that.” So I will give it a try.

     

  • What is your routine like? How does physical activity keep your creative energy flowing?

    I start my morning by drinking water and a cup of lemon juice. Then, I do yoga, which I started seven years ago. I also do kickboxing. After that, I write and read. For me, to keep the creative energy flowing is essential to have discipline and the energy to be interested in the world and yourself. Having a routine and being active are very important for that.

    Whether I play on a weekend or not, I always sleep eight hours and exercise, and  make sure to nourish my plants and relationships. I believe that all is one. The body, the mind, and the energy are all connected. So I enjoy structuring my days at my own pace and being consistent with what is important for me and my spiritual and creative journey.

Khadija is pictured here with her kickboxing trainer and friend Yannik.
We visited Tempelhofer Feld with Khadija and she showed us some of her kickboxing moves.
To Khadija, being active is vital for nourishing her creative energy. For her, body, mind, and inspiration are all connected.
  • What is your creative process if you want to produce a piece of music?

    I have this very intuitive side when something comes up from nowhere. I take my phone and speak into my voice memo before I forget it. You have to acknowledge your ideas. You have to put it on paper, and write the ideas down because it’s a muscle that you train. 

     

    The other side of me is more project-focused. I am trying to think of my current EP. I start with a softer practice, where I write down what I feel in the moment. I then continue with the piano. Sometimes a melody comes up. Sometimes I just mumble the melody. Most of the time, several words come out, sometimes a sentence, and then I go from there. I create a basic chord progression and an arrangement and I see what comes up. As soon as the production and the rhythmical elements develop, I adapt my voice to that flow. I like it when the vocals and instruments are married.

  • We have spoken about your family, but what role do your community and Berlin play for you in your creative process?

    Berlin people are very open. It can also be very anonymous. There are times when I regret living here because it can be dark and weird. At the same time, it is flexible and it has helped me a lot. What I gravitate toward are the conversations. For example, I sit outside a club, and then a stranger sits next to me and we talk about philosophical topics. Here, I don’t feel like an outsider in Berlin, you can be whoever you want to be. Although there is a lot of energy, there is still space. I have found people around me, Hamdulillah, that I can call family. It took me some time to really open up but for around five years now, I have people around me who are steady: a supportive community, and people to be vulnerable with. 

“The older I get, the more I feel like it’s a superpower—being a Muslim Black woman is a superpower. I’m very thankful to be Muslim, to be Black, to be a woman.”

  • And how does your community influence your creative process?

    My community represents equality, balancing female and male energy, we are emotionally open, and supportive and try not to envy each other. My friends come to every gig I play. They stand with me in the DJ booth and animate people to dance. Afterward, they hug me, salute me and give me so much love. It can be 36 degrees or a rainy day and they are there. If I need anything, they are there. My friends are very loving people, and I love to be around love because I’m a very sensitive person, I can be very emotional and insecure. When I’m surrounded by my community, I can be myself and I can express my needs. They welcome you the way you are, which is brilliant.

  • Let’s speak about spirituality. How does it keep you grounded as you go through the ups and downs of your journey?

    God is no person. No man, no female, it’s an energy source where everything comes from and everything goes to. God has been the most stable. The book I am reading “Praktische Selbst-Empathie” (Practical Self-Empathy) talks about understanding what our needs are. Not to put our interpretation into somebody’s words. I love the combination of spirituality and science because, for me, it needs to be logical, but I believe we are spiritual beings. Right now, I’m understanding that I need to place myself in the middle of a circle of life. Life has a spectrum, it’s not just black or white, it’s all colors, with depth and width on the right and the left. I have reached this point by reading about science but also reading the Quran. By practicing meditation, journaling, feeling thankful, and having a reminder on my phone, that pops up every hour with “remember.”

     

    In Arabic, the human being is called ‘iinsan.” The definition is “the being of forgetfulness,” which means we constantly have to remind ourselves who we are. When my cup is not full, I cannot give something out. God has been playing a big role, it all started with spirituality before I even understood science. 

Khadija is grounded by her spiritual practices, such as meditating or journaling.
  • And what keeps you motivated to continue your practice?

    I love to prove to myself that people like me can exist in the artistic space. I also believe that God gave me this path to create, and to show a little child that is interested in production or Djing, that it is important to express her needs. I would love to show girls and women everywhere what is possible.

Khadija is an Eritrean-German musician and visual artist currently living in Berlin. Supported by the love of her community as well as her spiritual practice, she is more than an artist; she is a spiritual human being first, who strives to create cinematic sounds and show other girls and women that a career in the arts is possible. To visit one of Khadija’s gigs and find out more about her, visit her website and her Instagram page.

This interview is a collaboration between Friends of Friends and the Swiss running performance brand On. In this portrait, we introduce you to cultural leader Khadija, an artist that empowers herself and others to pursue their artistic dreams.

Special thanks to Refuge Worldwide and Oyoun for welcoming us into their Berlin headquarters, and to private coach Yannick Garling for supporting the production.


Interview and text:  Thị Minh Huyền Nguyễn
DoP and Editor: Kimani Schumann
Photography: Kristin Bethge
Art Director: Lucy Pullicino
Executive Creative Director: Frederik Frede