When expat and singer/songwriter Jessica Gibson packed her life up to move to Qatar, she wasn’t sure what was waiting for her on the other side of the world. Now, after a year and a half in Doha making music at The St. Regis and Kempinski, Gibson is honouring her newfound home through her art, with a homegrown music video for her song ‘Where I Belong’. ILQ sits down with the talented songstress to go behind-the-scenes.
ILQ: Tell us a bit about your background as a musician and how you found yourself here in Qatar?
JG: My father is a musician, so I’ve been around his musical influence all my life. My Mom bought me a guitar when I was 12 years-old. I immediately began using it to map out my own songs, and play my favourite covers as well. Creating and appreciating music has always been both my comfort zone, as well as my escape from the familiar.
Throughout my life, a strong passion for music and exotic cultures has been the driving force behind most of my decisions. For many years now, these passions have been leading me all over the world, and have exposed me to experiences that no school could ever teach.
One day in June of 2015, during a music contract I was on in Macau SAR, I received a job offer in Doha, Qatar. I didn’t know anything about Qatar at the time, so I did a Google search, and what I saw really intrigued me. I’d been all over the world, but never to the Middle East, so I accepted. I came to Doha to start working at The St. Regis in September of 2015.
ILQ: As a singer-songwriter what has been your experiences here Qatar, and how would you describe Qatar’s burgeoning musical community?
JG: At first I felt that there was no nurturing support system here for musicians –especially singer/songwriters looking to create and share original music. As a traveling musician, when I arrive in new city the first thing I do is start looking for public jam nights, open-mic nights, and songwriters’ showcases. These types of events bring musicians together, and it’s how we can manage to land in a completely new place all alone, and still have a familiar, supportive community.
Qatar doesn't have this ‘jam night’ culture. In many ways this place forces us out of our comfort zones, and makes us think about things differently – only with patience, persistence, and gratitude comes reward here. I’ve been in Doha playing music for a year and a half now, and I’m just starting to find opportunities to create, develop, and share my original music. It’s been well worth the time spent.
It’s hard to see at first, but Doha is actually bursting at the seams with young, enthusiastic artists, and art appreciators. It just takes a little patience and enthusiasm; enthusiasm not only for the celebration of our own work, but also enthusiasm for the work and creativity of others! The Doha music scene is what we make of it. With every concert we play, every song we write and record, and every round of applause we give, we breath life into our growing local music scene.
ILQ: Tell us more about ‘Where I Belong’. Was it important to you to showcase your new home country in the video, and why did you decide to film in Zekreet?
JG: The song featured in the video ‘Where I Belong’ wasn’t written here in Qatar. I wrote it a few years ago and had it produced in Brazil by Rodrigo França. When I started working with Mr. Mahdi Ali Ali of the Doha Film Institute, he asked me to send a few of my original songs to him. We both agreed that this song was musically fun and uplifting, so we chose it for the video.
The concept and location for the video came from Mahdi. He had the vision to film in Zekreet with [artist] Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East steel towers. When Mahdi and I went to Zekreet for the first time to do some test shoots, I was immediately very impressed and thought the location was perfect. The steel towers placed so curiously in the middle of the desert, coupled with the intensity of a setting Arabian sun was so magical and mysterious.
The song is about being lost and confused about what direction to take in life. Although I don’t feel lost or confused about my life here in Qatar at all, I do think the imagery created by Zekreet’s exotic landscape complemented the song very well. The vastness of the desert represents feeling lost and alone, while the steel structures represent a mental block or an inability to see a way beyond one’s difficulties.
At the end of the video the ‘mental block’(steel tower), without changing in any physical sense, transforms from being an oppressive obstruction in my path, to becoming a clear, peaceful open road for me to walk along to my future. This represents our ability to change negative life circumstances into positive ones using the gift of perception. By changing our perspective, we manipulate the world and the difficult situations life presents to us.
ILQ: What do you hope people who view the video will take away from its lyrics and imagery?
JG: I would just like people to take whatever they want from the song/video. I want them to interpret it in whatever way they need to…whatever satisfies their soul.
ILQ: What are the challenges of practicing your craft as an artist and singer/songwriter here in the Gulf, where the industry is still growing?
JG: There are always challenges in the entertainment industry. However, referring back to my theory on perspective, it’s all what we make of it. Yes, being an American singer songwriter in the GCC could be perceived as difficult due to the cultural differences, and undeveloped music industry here. But it can also be viewed as an exciting, brand-new blank canvas for artists to paint their future upon. There’s so much beauty and excitement in developing industries. Even with all of its challenges, I’m so grateful to be a singer/songwriter in Qatar right now.
ILQ: Do you have any suggestions that might make live music more accessible here in venues throughout Qatar?
JG: I really believe the local community would benefit from having open-mic or jam nights and songwriting competitions. This would give aspiring singer/songwriters an opportunity to display their work in a low-pressure environment in front of a real audience – and possibly get some constructive feedback. When songwriters know they have a place to go display their original songs, it motivates them to write and create.
ILQ: Are there any local musicians here in Doha who have inspired you?
JG: I’ve had the pleasure of working with and meeting lots of musicians here in Doha, and they’re all amazing!
ILQ: During your time in Qatar, has your exposure to Qatari culture and the culture of the GCC influenced your music-making as an artist? If so, how?
JG: Since I’ve been in Qatar I’ve been exposed to lots of new, amazing music. I took a few ethno-musicology courses in college, so I can’t say that the music of this region is totally new to my ears, but I’ve truly enjoyed learning about it more deeply. So far, my exposure to the ever fascinating Qatari culture hasn't influenced my original music, but I plan to start incorporating some Khaleeji musical elements into my future recordings.
ILQ: What’s next for Jessica Gibson in Qatar?
JG: I’d like to keep this original music ball rolling! I’m working on new music all the time, and I’d like to keep meeting and working with local producers, musicians, and songwriters. Qatar’s been amazingly good to me, and I will keep working hard to spread the joy and fun of music to the people of this city.
ILQ: Where are you currently performing, and where can people come to check out your music and sound?
JG: I’m currently performing twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays at The Lounge in the Kempinski Residencse and Suites, twice weekly on Wednesdays and Thursdays at Antica Pesa at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski, and on Friday afternoons at the Sawa restaurant Friday brunch at Marsa Malaz.
Follow Jessica’s musical journey on Facebook @jessicagibsonlive, and on Instagram @jessicagibsonsworld.
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