Artist of the Week Fouad Dakwar on The Political Nature of Art

“I have this notebook from fourth grade, my songwriting notebook,” Fouad Dakwar ’22 recalls. “I didn’t know how to notate [songs] or anything, it’s just lyrics, but ever since then I’ve been making melodies.”

Fouad Dakwar, a music and theatre honors special major, is a musician here on campus with a focus on songwriting. Having written music since the age of ten years old, Dakwar was greatly inspired by his musical theatre roots. Throughout high school, Dakwar was constantly involved in theatre productions, and he quickly learned the power of storytelling and music. Sitting down with me for an honest and open conversation, Dakwar opened up about his start writing music.

“I really started in eleventh grade when I wrote my first musical. Musical theatre was my starting point and my roots,” Dakwar added. “Lyrically, I think that’s where I’m strongest, because in musical theatre you have to tell a story using lyrics. That’s helped a lot in the storytelling aspect of my music. Now, I want to take that storytelling aspect of musical theatre and the preciseness of lyrics and put it into music we listen to more.”

As a member of the a cappella Mixed Company group, I can testify firsthand to Dakwar’s love for storytelling. Singing with him last year, it was evident that Dakwar was most moved by pieces with an intrinsic feeling or idea. However, Dakwar’s passion was clearly for writing music of his own. Sharing his own music with us regularly, he was open and excited to get feedback. He even arranged an original piece of his for the group to sing, which everyone supported and enjoyed.

Dakwar explained that he particularly liked telling stories of marginalized voices within his music. Leaning back on the seats of Danawell lounge, he expressed the therapeutic and empathetic nature of music, which he hopes to imbue within his own songs.

“A medium like music, which can connect to so many people and can really touch an emotional side of people, that’s what I want to utilize to spread empathy for people.”

When looking for inspiration, Dakwar often looks back through history, finding compelling stories often overlooked in traditional environments. Perhaps the best example of this is Dakwar’s rock opera “Radium Girls,” a performance that took the campus by storm last semester. Based on the true stories of four women who were routinely exposed to toxic radium, “Radium Girls explores themes of inequality and mortality through rock music. 

“I read about this tragic event that happened and the very brave and strong women that fought against it. And I thought, hmm, why haven’t I heard more about this?” Dakwar said. “Another rock opera I wrote was about Harry Houdini at first, but in my research Bess Houdini kept coming up. So I started doing research on her more, and it turns out she was this badass woman. And I was like, she’s awesome, but I’ve never heard of her!”

It’s stories like those of “Radium Girls” and Bess Houdini that appeal most to Dakwar. Through his musicals, he hopes to highlight the struggles of those oppressed and unheard. 

In addition to historical influences, Dakwar is often influenced by his Middle Eastern roots. Reflecting on the emotional poignancy of Middle Eastern music, Dakwar hopes to incorporate more Middle Eastern influence into his music.

“As an immigrant, it’s always this struggle — you have this constant influence in your music and in your life. So, I think it’s always there,” Dakwar explained. “I think the scales of the Middle East are always in my head, and the emotional nature of it.”

As far as his creative process, Dakwar explains that it often depends on what idea he starts with. He smiled, saying that his creative process is always changing.

“It usually starts with a melody in my head that won’t stop playing, and then I have to record it in my voice memos. Sometimes there are words attached to [the melodies], and if there aren’t, then I go back and think, ‘What words could I hear here?’ Sometimes I’m writing for a specific thing, so words start it off.”

Regardless of how his creative process begins, Dakwar’s goals remain the same: to send a message in a way the audience can enjoy and understand.

“I have always thought that all art is political, and I want to use that as a point of departure. I want all my art to really have a direct message. There’s always a way to tell a fun and exciting story while also having [a direct message] either at the forefront or as a backdrop. I think Radium Girls was me trying to push that in the form of a rock opera.”

Though the year has just begun, Dakwar already has several projects in the works, including more songs and a new band. 

“I want to start up a new band on campus with that sound I was trying to explain —  a pop/punk/rock sound. We’ve got Samantha Ortiz-Clark [’22] on lead vocals, Peter Wu [’22] on lead guitar, and Michael Alonzo [’22] on bass. We’re trying to be one of the bands on campus that does predominantly original music.”

With several upcoming performances, you’re sure to see Dakwar around campus. When you do, be sure to stop and listen, for you’re certain to hear a part of history you’ve missed and enjoy a stellar show. 

(You can find Dakwar on Spotify, Apple music, and SoundCloud under his full name, Fouad Dakwar. You can also come see Fouad perform this Friday at Olde Club and in the new band he referenced on October 10th.)

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