Photo Credit: Shelby-Duncan
Born into a family that loved the arts as much as they yearned to make the world a better place, it wasn’t a shock to anyone when Ariana Delawari pulled from each of those aspects. Today, Ariana is a proud activist as well as a seasoned musician whose new album, ‘I Will Remember,’ is out now. We talked about that, what keeps us going in life, and more in this wonderful exchange.
Kendra: A lot of art throughout history has been inspired by activism, but for you – what entered your life first?
Ariana Delawari: Both entered my life simultaneously. My parents were very dedicated activists, so I was immersed in a family belief system that we are here to serve the whole. My mom was very passionate about art, showed me classic films, took me to the theater, played lots of music for me, and put me in all kinds of classes; dance, music, acting, all of it. She also worked in international film distribution, so she took me to work a lot.
My father’s activism was mostly regarding peace in Afghanistan. He was very very dedicated to Afghanistan, as dedicated as it gets. Every single day he did something for his people back home. He was also involved locally with projects for houseless people in LA, as well as projects for crippled children in LA. At one point, he had ideas for building individual housing units off of the 110 FWY (this was in the ’80s).
The subjects in our home expanded outwards with my mother’s activism to issues like immigration rights, working-class rights, and the dismantling of colonialism, imperialism, and patriarchy. My father was born in Kabul and comes from a long line of ancestors who were dedicated to civic duty in Afghanistan. My mom was Afghan and Sicilian born to an “illegal” immigrant father who snuck into the country hiding in the rafters of a ship for 33 days. Her dad married a Sicilian woman and they had 12 children.
Though American-born, my mom’s childhood was absolutely brutal in comparison to my father’s in a once peaceful Afghanistan. He was the son of a diplomat growing up when there was no war. My mom had no money, bed bugs in her home, teachers sent home notes that she was malnourished, and her family was ridiculed for being the only Muslim family in her town at the time.
Because of this, my mom became a revolutionary thinker with a deep appreciation of every freedom fighter and every freedom movement throughout time – particularly in relation to the global south. I was also a baby in a home of newly arrived Afghan refugee relatives and friends listening and dancing to Ahmad Zahir songs in our living room. Ahmad Zahir was a pop musician, but also very political. I was raised on a lot of protest music and art in general.
Kendra: Do you think it’s a missed opportunity when artists who have larger-than-life platforms choose not to get involved in the world around them; like in politics, human rights, etc.?
Ariana Delawari: I try not to worry about what other artists are doing. A younger version of me cared about this a lot, but these days everyone is waking up. I think each person has their own path. The important thing is listening to whatever we are called to be and sharing that from the heart. We do shape our world together, so I think it’s a beautiful thing to strive for a more just, healthy, and peaceful world.
Kendra: Musically speaking, it’s been a handful of years since your last release in 2016, and a lot in the world has gone in since then. What drove you to get back into that creative mode for ‘I Will Remember?’
Ariana Delawari: After my last release in 2016 I was focused on getting my documentary ‘We Came Home’ out into the world. There was a lot of re-doing deliverables, all kinds of technical stuff, and finally releasing that via TIME Magazine fall of 2018. That was right after my mom was diagnosed with Kidney disease, so I was caring for her and also writing two different projects about Afghanistan.
In the midst of all of this, I sat down and started writing more personal songs about losing her. COVID-19 hit, she died in April 2020 and my brother-in-law died 12 days later. I kept making demos at home, and then I started recording ‘I Will Remember’ about a year later during quarantine. We laid down drums, percussion, bass, sitar, and most of my parts in the studio – everyone else tracked remotely at their homes.
Just as I finished recording the record, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban and the two film projects I was writing made absolutely no sense anymore. I could barely process the sadness and rage about what had happened with Afghanistan, so I still haven’t revisited and revised those scripts. I also knew throughout that whole time that my album was what I really felt I was supposed to make right then. So I think some part of me knew how this was gonna pan out.
Kendra: Listening back to it now, do you feel what initially drove you to start writing and recording is still very much the foundation of the record, or did you start to get inspired by other things once the wheels got rolling?
Ariana Delawari: I was initially writing about losing my mom and lots of the themes that I was working with as an Afghan American activist. When Mark died, my brother-in-law and Afghanistan fell, and I realized that these events were also part of the message. I added some lines about the fall of Afghanistan in “Tread Lightly,” I say in Pashto, “Someday Afghanistan will be free” as well as, “freedom” over and over again. Those lines were added after the fall of the country.”
Kendra: One of the songs that caught my attention was “Tread Lightly.” You seem like someone who does not do that, you feel like a charge ahead and get things done. In a world that can feel so hopeless at times, what keeps you going?
Ariana Delawari: I wrote “Tread Lightly” from the viewpoint of a refugee child. I was imagining the refugee children in boats like my grandfather once was on – searching for a new land and a new home. Only their story isn’t just a story of immigration, it’s also a story of displacement and their land being destroyed by so many political agendas.
I think that’s why you hear softness in the song. It’s true that, personally, I do charge ahead, but I am also very very sensitive. I feel everything deeply, and I often feel the weight of hopelessness along the journey. I’ve had multiple challenging moments about this over the years where I completely broke down, and I have had to dig very deep within myself to find that hope again. For me gratitude, love, family, and friends keep me going.
My friend and mentor Dr. Jane Goodall once said to me when I was crying to her about Afghanistan, “There can’t be rainbows without rain.” I always think about what she said. She also told me once that monks spend time belly-laughing together. I think she sensed that I needed to be reminded of some levity.
Kendra: Time for a side note – August is a huge month for me, with so many loved ones’ birthdays being celebrated, so I’d love to know what song you’d dedicate to your loved ones, be it friends, family, or both…
Ariana Delawari: Awe this is so sweet…what a cool question. Lemme think… maybe “With You.” I was thinking, “What if I make a song about love in the midst of war and climate change and the whole world unraveling”. So “With You” is a love song about love, community, and staying united through it all. Maybe that’s a good one to dedicate to loved ones.
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘I Will Remember’ out on August 4th, what else can the people out there expect from you as 2023 rolls along?
Ariana Delawari: Oh man, I’ve been through a lot. Hugs and dancing sound good to me! I wanna play live shows, and I’m sure I’ll also start creating new work again soon…