Mariam Sawires wrote her debut album in a French chateau, because she could

Words by Maeve Kerr-Crowley

A debut seven years in the making.

Not many artists get to say they wrote their first single in a castle in the French countryside. But Mariam Sawires is dead-set on taking a unique, 100 per cent Mariam approach to making music, wherever in the world it takes her. 

The Egyptian-Australian singer was raised in a large family obsessed with music, and has now valiantly picked up the talent torch to launch her own career.

From an early age, she was bombarded with a mish-mash of musical influences. Her mother introduced her to artists like Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder and Queen, her father – a professional tabla player – taught her about traditional Arabic rhythms. Add to that a formal music education with a heavy classical focus, and she had most of the necessary bases covered. 

With all those influences in the bank, she finished school and took off to travel the world alone. She casually rattles off places she’s called home since 2012 – like Berlin, France, Columbia, and Japan, just to start.

Each part of the globe had its pros and cons, to which she happily credits her personal and professional growth. France was historical and inspiring, but lonely. Berlin was a hub of creativity and musicality, but intense and easy to get lost in. Japan, however, was the most centring, spiritual experience she’s had to date.

Wherever she settled down, she took the opportunity to workshop her ideas and hone her sound, finessing her personal approach to the field she’s always known she was meant to work in.

“It took quite a few years,” she admits. “And now I’m accepting all those experiences and putting them into a melting pot like okay, this is who I am.”

Our first look at who Mariam really is comes in the form of her debut single, ‘Choose’.

Simultaneously smooth and upbeat, the track leans on electronic beats and sugary pop vocals, bidding listeners both lyrically and sonically to chill for a minute.

The single was written in France, where she had the opportunity to live in a beautiful chateau in the middle of the country. She set up shop in one of the castle’s three libraries, with nothing but the forest in sight. Surrounded by books, with Napoleon’s signature on a desk beside her, Mariam gave herself the mission of writing a song.

In the end, however, inspiration for the track took a surprising form, when a family member – studiously unnamed to avoid making anybody feel bad – came to visit.

“I realised that this person was always stressed and avoiding their own problems, but dealing with other people’s problems so they didn’t have to face anything they were dealing with. They were always trying to keep busy,” Mariam explains.

This made her reflect on her own anxieties and similarly avoidant behaviour that was preventing her from being present and slowing down.

As both Mariam and her visitor spent time in the castle, letting its tranquil magic work inexplicable wonders on their moods, she channelled that reflection into writing large chunks of ‘Choose’.

The rest of the single was written in Egypt, where Mariam headed after her stint in France. Although the purpose of the visit was to stay with her grandparents, finishing her first song was a welcome bonus. 

“My grandparents are very spiritual,” Mariam says. “They’re Coptic Orthodox, but they really believe in trust and faith in life. That kind of completed the song, just having faith that you do know what’s best for you and you can deal with anything that comes. That problem’s not really external, it’s all about your way of addressing it internally.”

Representing all these experiences and revelations, ‘Choose’ has dropped today. There’s also an accompanying music video on the way, and new songs in the works.

But, despite her instinctive approach to music, Mariam admits that writing is a lengthy and often confusing process.

“I’m trying to write right now and I’m like “Oh my god, where does a song even come from?” Because it just kind of comes to you, right? Then you realise afterwards, oh this is because of this thing.”

Releasing ‘Choose’ is exciting, putting out her first video – a process she found new and daunting, as an artist who thinks purely on a sound level – is exciting, and working on new material is really, really exciting. But what Mariam is most excited about is the chance to perform her songs to an Australian audience – like, say, on stage at Bigsound on September 3 and 4.

“I was used to performing in Berlin and Europe because I was there for so long, and I didn’t know how it was going to go here,” she explains. “So for me to get into Bigsound, and be able to perform and release the music now to the people here, I’m so happy. Because I’ve always felt like I’ve had to go somewhere else to share my music.”

You can listen to ‘Choose’ here.


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