We're Inside Out
Miriam Aziz was born in England and raised in Brussels, Belgium to a father who was born in Tanzania but whose parents came from what is now Pakistan, and a mother who is Austrian. (English is her mother-tongue but she also speaks fluent French, German and Italian). As a child, she studied the piano and sang in the school choir as well as playing the percussion for the school orchestra, band and jazz group. She started writing songs at 11 and by the age of 15 she was writing and performing her material as part of a band called "Foreign Affairs" (each member of the band came from a host of different countries). When it came to deciding whether to opt for a career in music, Miriam ducked the issue, took a year off and travelled and worked in Europe and the United States and then went to England where she enrolled as a law student. "Perhaps I should have gone on to study music," she says. "But I was never very good at theory, I enjoyed listening and playing all sorts of music, it was hard to know where to go to learn what I felt I needed to learn. I looked at a few university courses in music and some music schools but I felt that I didn't really fit in. I was always a bit of an autodidact. And then I had competing interests and passions. I wanted to write, I wanted to travel, to read, I was politically very aware, and I felt that I needed time to acquire some skills that would enable me to be economically independent so that I could live the sort of life that I wanted...which was the life I had when I used to skip school." She smiles. "I spent my days reading, writing in note books, going to the cinema, the art galleries in Brussels, I would sit in cafés and observe and then I would walk through the city. I didn't like school, I hated the pressure, it always felt like you were being pushed around. It was hard to hear yourself think, and to distinguish what you thought from what you were encouraged to think...I was good at school but there was something - or someone - missing..." She passed her final exams, took a year off and travelled, promising her parents to return to start a law degree in Manchester, England. "I still kept up with music. In fact, the hall of residence I lived in had a grand piano in this dining hall with high ceilings which was the main reason I applied to live there. I stayed for three years. That piano was the main reason!" Every now and again, she would play piano and sing in the odd concert. She also sang in a choir. "At university, I read, I listened to a lot of music, went to concerts, to plays, I thought that I'd get back to music and writing after my degree...but I got sidetracked...!" She went on to qualify as a barrister and then moved to Edinburgh to do a doctorate. "I know, I know," she says a little sheepishly. "I started to enjoy the law. I wanted to be the best lawyer I could be which meant practising and then doing some research. I worked in Berlin, in Florence...the years just flew by! Do I regret it? Not really. I have a passion for analysis, I enjoy research and I love teaching. I do feel a little sad though that I was so consumed by the law that I started to sing less, to write less and I stopped progressing, I stopped evolving. I only realised how painful that was years later when I started to work on my first album." She had, she confesses, a bit of a crisis. "I woke up in the middle of the night, I was half asleep actually, and I felt as though I could see someone at the foot of my bed. I heard this nasty voice saying that I was wasting my life. The voice belonged to someone I used to know who died. He started to say how he was angry that he couldn't live the life he wanted, but he had no choice..." I woke up in a cold sweat..,that's where the lines in "Gypsy" come from, and that is why it's the first song from my album "We're Inside Out". Though I started to write it about two years after I had that dream...!" She was living in Florence at the time, working for a research institute. After her contract ended, she packed up her things and went to live in France for what was supposed to be for a few months. She ended up staying a little longer... She smiles broadly, "I wrote a novel, in French, I started writing songs, I took up dance, ballet, jazz, I was fencing, meeting all sorts of people who would tell me their stories, as though I was a stranger in a train that they would never meet again...I was living by the sea, I fell in love with a charming Frenchman, I decided to stay!". In the meantime, however, she had been awarded a teaching post at the University of Siena, Italy. She hesitated a little before accepting the post. "I love teaching, I enjoy research, I don't think that you need to seek out absolutes. I have many facets, I write music, I dance, I have a novel coming out in France in a few months, I fence and of course I am a lawyer too! I conduct research, I teach law, I sometimes do some legal consultancy...it's all me! Though it does get a little tiring at times and can be stressful". She laughs and says "But that's me, I have always been like this. It would be difficult to just do one thing, just like it would be hard to pinpoint my style of music...I love all sorts of music, and I think you can tell when you listen to my album." You can also hear the different cultural influences which come through, leading some critics to say that she might need to concentrate on a particular style. She sighs and says, "That doesn't make sense to me. Each song on that album is made up of a different persona, a different story. There is a little bit of me in those songs mixed in with stories that I have collected along the way during my travels. My father is passionate about music. I grew up in a household where we listened to just about everything...classical music, jazz, Indian film music, opera, world music, rock, reggae, pop, French chansons..." So why the hesitation when asked to explain to pinpoint her style? "Because it's my music, and the categories out there just don't fit all that well. It's a real fusion of influences, of colours, of styles, technique, it's a bit like my background...!" Her debut album is quite a mixture..."I know! It wasn't intentional, but it just came out that way. I was lucky to work with a producer (Malika Makouf Rasmussen) who understood where I was coming from and where I needed to go. I had come across her work through a friend of hers and we started to exchange emails. She sent me one of her albums, "Exit Cairo" and I knew immediately that I wanted to work with this woman. She is also someone whose origins are mixed, a Norwegian mother and an Algerian father, now based in Oslo. She really pushed me to find my own voice, something that I was sure, all those years ago, I couldn't find in a music school. Perhaps I was wrong, and also, perhaps I just wasn't ready..." Encouraged by her partner, the Frenchman who inspired her make France her home, Rasmussen, her parents and some friends, she started to record her debut album. "When I started living in France, I started going to this dance studio in Hyères (Studio Danse Passion), which is near where I live. They would put on great music, especially in the jazz and the contemporary dance classes. I started bringing in music for them to work with. Then one day, one of the teachers asked me why I didn't bring in my own work. That I had to own up and commit to being an artist sooner or later...That was a turning point. I went home and ordered software, a microphone and a keyboard and started to record sketches...Malika invited my to Oslo, we hit it off, both as friends and in the studio. She introduced me to a fantastic engineer who is also a great guitarist (Tommy Berre), we took it from there. I am responsible for alot of the instruments and the arrangements, but I was privileged to have Malika on board not only as a producer, but she also helped me with arrangements and then she plays a mean bass not to mention the gimbre...! Tommy also played the guitar on a few tracks and we had Bugge Wesselthoft in for "Letter Home"...I was extremely lucky as I was working on a tight budget, and I didn't have much time either, given my commitments in Siena... She doesn't have a label, so she had to finance her own debut album. "It was a choice I made. I contacted a few record companies, some replied saying that they wanted to see how the album would evolve...It was a bit depressing for a while and then I decided to save as much money as I could, to incur a few more debts which gave me the freedom to do this my way...I have learned so much..so much so that I am releasing this album on my own record label, "Rock Pixie Records". Why not?!" I have a fantastic production company, Woman's Voice Productions, based in Oslo who are supporting this record. I love their work, I believe in the vitality of their project, I feel honoured that they believed in me at a very crucial stage of my career. And then there's Oslo...there is such a fantastic vibe there, there are so many talented people, of all colours and creed, in this one city...I could not have recorded this album anywhere else. I think it brought out a lot of sides of me that I had hidden or just wasn't conscious of...so that's part of the reason why it's called "We're Inside Out"!" She sits back and sips her coffee. "And then there's this sort of split personality ordered life that I lead...all those facets that sometimes seem to have their own persona...I spent so much of my life in hiding, afraid to show that I had different interests, passions, talents, gifts...and I was, and am, criticised at times by people who seem to be determined that I need to show loyalty to one cause, and one cause only. Logistically, it can be a nightmare...well not really. Put it this way, it's a nightmare if I don't live the way I do and if I don't honour all of the sides that I have. I just got tired of hiding and I definitely felt that I shouldn't wait for permission from someone else to be me...waiting around for publishers or record companies to get back to you feels a bit like that...I was tired and I was starting to suffocate...almost as though if I didn't find a publisher or a record deal, that meant that I was neither a writer nor a musician." "We're Inside out" is released on Rock Pixie Records with Woman's Voice Productions this autumn 2007. "And then...", she says, "We're going to take this show on the road! But I have to finish a few research projects first, I still have a few classes to teach, I have also started working on a new law book...But it'll happen, it'll happen! In my own time..."