Name: RUSNAM aka Gülin Mansur
Occupation: Producer, sound artist
Current event: RUSNAM is presenting her new audiovisual performance ctrl.xx.tension at Oyoun, Berlin on 1st October. A critique and deconstruction of female stereotypes in pop music, it will feature Nora Amin, Valentina Bellanova, Lynda Menoueri, Azin Zahedi and Syrtha.
[Read our Azin Zahedi interview]
[Read our Valentina Bellanova interview]
Recommendations: When I recommend pieces, I want people to learn, listen or act.
The movie Wadjda, a Saudi Arabian drama, the first feature length film made by the female Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour, is based on an easy topic, a little girl that wants to have a bicycle. But riding bicycles is frowned upon girls in Saudi Arabia. The images are minimalistic and at the same time so powerful. This movie shows issues that people living in Western countries would never think about. They forget about countries where women have less rights. For me this movie reminds people of their privileges.
A second film that inspired me in my work as a musician was Sonita. A young Afghan living in Iran who wants to be a rapper. In Iran as a female you need an official permit to make music. Her parents want her to marry, like Sonita says, the girls get sold like merchandise. The film is more a documentary and shows the reality. Sonita makes her first video during these film recordings. It inspired me so much that I started with music empowerment workshops. I got fundings for workshops focused especially on young girls and women from conflict areas. I wanted to give them a safe space to try out different music tools and to express their experiences - fears & wishes & their past - all through music as a connection between their hometown and their new home.
If you enjoyed this interview with RUSNAM and would like to know more about her work, biography and goals, visit her official homepage. For a more direct interaction and updates, check out her profiles on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and bandcamp.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
As a baby / little child when I was crying, the only way to calm me down, was my father singing for me. Every family event was accompanied by music, my uncle playing the Saz and singing traditional Turkish songs.
Processing emotions and the past through music was and is very important for me as a Turkish girl, growing up in Germany, where my father never allowed me to be German. To deal with difficult situations I started writing my own lyrics and singing when I was 14 years old. By the age of sixteen I recorded my first own tracks at home with slightly no equipment, just a little mixer, a cheap mic and magix, a free music software. The songs were heavily influenced by hip hop and rnb of the late 90s & early 2000s - Timbaland & Missy Elliott were my biggest influences. In the same time, as a singer, I featured different rappers in their studios.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
When I started to sing I mostly imitated the music I loved and the female vocalists I looked up to.
When I started to work with producers I was quickly sick and tired of being dependent on and at the mery of someone else. So I tried to learn from them how to produce, but I’m mostly self taught. It was a journey with different projects through different genres: From hip-hop, rnb, to blues & funk with Turkish vocals to Berlin electro & techno.
As RUSNAM I combine my Middle Eastern roots, the music I grew up with, and my personalexperiences with Berlin techno.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
As a PoC, a Turkish woman born and raised in a country that doesn't give you the feeling of being home, for example because of not getting accepted as a German by the people surrounding me in school, outside of school and society ... nor as Turkish in Turkish societies. It gives me the feeling of being split into two minds.
This is my identity and my perspective on the world. It is part of my whole work. To know and understand that is a strength makes my music unique.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I see no challenge in creativity. I see a challenge in converting your creativity into professional work, when you struggle financially and have to build up your name on your own without professional help in marketing and distribution.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
The first equipment I got was a little mixer I could plug a cheap mic into and connect it to my old Windows '98 computer with a free version of Magix music maker to record vocals on top of beats. The first instrument I got was a guitar as a present from my aunt, which I used to compose the first songs of my band “Gülina”. I then got some more acoustic percussive instruments.
Later on, I worked a lot with different producers in their studios and just got my own Shure sm58 mic and a loop station for vocals. I got the DIY Ableton live and started to record my musical ideas through a mic and played with the controller Akai APC – blending 40 different samples into each other trying out how to play tracks live.
3 years ago I started to set up my own studio. By developing myself as a producer I got some essential equipment to record and process voices and analogue instruments. I use a Midi controller and a Native Instruments Machine to accompany my process. Mostly, I develop the sound that I use in my tracks out of the original recordings of analogue voices and instruments.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
With Ableton live, and learning how to use it, I got the chance to work and produce my music independently without depending on other musicians or an outside producer. As I had many bad experiences in working with other producers, this was a profound change for me in making music.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Jam-sessions in my studio with different people helped me to find my own voice, even if it sounds a bit contradictory. But by listening to others and broadening your horizon and perspective, you quickly develop a feeling for your own style, how you want things to be and where your own strengths lie.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
It has never been the same, everyday is different and interesting.
During school holidays I do workshops in different refugee camps. So I wake up, get ready and work with different kids & youngsters from different countries. Every time a different work flow and exciting workshop. Mostly after these workshops I come home, have to do some organizing and then I work either on music I produce for different projects or have rehearsals. It always blends seamlessly.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My current project: “ctrl.xx.tension” is such a breakthrough work.
It is an audio visual performance I've worked on since March 2021. It is the first time that I work as the musical producer & director, combining my roots and my influences and the music I love.
It's a very personal project for me as a Muslim woman raised in Germany. It wasn't easy being the only Turkish girl during my time at school among Germans. Trying to fit into their images while my father would pray every day: "We live in Germany, but this is NOT our culture!" In the meantime, I was listening to the music of Britney Spears, Destinys Child, Christina Aguilera ... wanting to be like them and not being aware of how antifeminist this music during the late 90s / early 2000 was.
So I created music detached from the stereotype of a pop icon beyond the borders of my origin. I want to make visible the discrimination experiences women* go through, so I invited 8 queer / BPoC / female* artists to join. We talked about these topics, about their personal experiences and transposed these, related to the feelings they had, into music.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Mostly I start singing melodies and get new ideas while I do daily work. I have many ideas but my creativity gets cut by not having enough time to release it. The ideal state of mind is a clear mind and time, without the struggle around.
To specify: I am responsible for a lot of things. I do music-empowerment workshops in refugee camps, I play gigs with my band and manage everything, all the paper work for different projects and my personal life, networking, trying to get support and pushing my own image. Sometimes I do the work of 5 people at the same time.
The struggle with money, organisation and the work load are unfortunately the biggest distractions for me to enter my ideal state of creativity.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Whether music heals or hurts is heavily dependent on your own state of mind: Are you still hurting or ready to heal? Either way: it is a way to cope and to endure for me personally. An outlet for my feelings and emotions. Without music, I couldn’t heal.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
That is a complex subject matter. No matter what: know your history (for example, techno wasn’t invented in Berlin) and use your platform to support and empower less privileged groups.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
The sense of hearing for me has a direct connection with the sense of feeling and seeing while making and listening to music. While Iistening to music I always connect it to pictures that come up in my mind.
The main sound that gives me a lot of different feelings is the bass. It can let you feel every state of mind. My music is focused on dark basslines, mostly I use more than just one bassline to create tensions and tell stories. It also seduces me and plays an important role in terms of experience, feeling and releasing sexual feelings.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
It was never something I separated: activism and art.
As a female and PoC producer, you can go through a lot of frustration that I process in my music. Doing my workshops with people from conflict areas helps others to do the same. My aim is always to empower people to create and use different tools of making music as an outlet to process the past and get strength and power to go on, making it a bit easier to live in a world that mostly acts unfair.
Further art can share different perspectives of the world, and can make you understand through feeling the music, the perspective of someone else, it can teach you empathy.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
To me, music is a form of expression that overcomes both the body and words. Its the language of your soul.