Interview with REHMA

Introduce yourself!

What’s good, Overachiever! I’m Rehma! I am a singer/songwriter based out of Los Angeles, CA. 🙂

How did you get into doing music? 

It’s definitely been a life-long journey for me. My mom always loves to tell stories of me singing in the backseat on drives, as young as 2-3 years old. Growing up, a lot of the greats and legends—Whitney Houston being one of them–were what I enjoyed singing. Their songs and expressing myself through them felt like a magical escape. Most of my days were spent trying to belt out the challenging notes or singing karaoke on my Nintendo Wii. 

The first time I sang in front of other people was on a family vacation—I went up to sing “My Heart Will Go On” during a karaoke night.

The restaurant became quiet and my family was so excited for me—they would volunteer me to sing it at family parties and weddings all the time. I began to take it seriously and joined the choir team which inspired me to start writing my own songs. 

Around the time I was 14, I was recording covers and songs in my closet on Garageband because writing and singing felt cathartic. I would post them on YouTube, SoundCloud, and Twitter which is where a lot of the people who first started listening and supporting me found me. It’s actually how I ended up meeting Haseeb—who produced and helped me release a few singles and my latest project Mercy!

Your debut EP, Mercy, came out last year. How has that been? What inspired that EP? 

It’s been beautiful. Mercy was a true labor of love and formative for me as an artist. I’m doing my best to remain present & continue to be grateful for all the people that are still listening to the project! To say that my first project got half a million streams is incredible, especially as an independent artist. We had a very small budget and a pandemic shifted a lot of my plans, so I’m really grateful people love it. It was all made possible by friends who were down with the vision and willing to collaborate, and the power of everyone who has supported us so far. 

The songs were all written over a span of 3 years, starting from when I was 17. Much of the EP was inspired by my lived experiences—real, tough things that were happening at that time in my life. The project felt like a spiritual release.

In a way, the project feels innocent because I was beginning to navigate things like identity, love, family, and all kinds of growth.

By the time I put the music out, a lot of the material that I had created around and represented had been processed, so it’s really beautiful to see it resonate with people who are similarly going through or have been through those experiences.

What is your favorite song off of the EP? What does that song mean to you?

It’s always changing & hard for me to pick a favorite. Right now, I’d say “Dreaming.” This song feels special to me right now because I’ve been reflecting on my journey as an artist and performer lately. It was the first song I ever professionally recorded & reminds me of that time in my life as I was going through such youthful, spirited emotions.

Do you feel as though you have found your voice with this EP? Do you think your future music will be sonically the same or have a new sound? 

Yes, I definitely discovered myself as a vocalist through Mercy. However, I know that artistry and musicianship is a constant work in progress. I’m going to keep evolving and breaking boundaries sonically and structurally, while holding on to my consistency as a vocalist.

A lot of newer artists are good at genre-bending and breaking the rules. It’s what feels true and authentic to me, so that’s what I’ll continue to do.

I won’t give away too much, but trust that it will be epic!

Photo credit:    @mangorehma

Photo credit: @mangorehma

As a Female Pakistani-American, how does your identity coincide with your music? Has your identity influenced much of your musical taste or upbringing?

Timing, places, people, everything plays a role in this universe. The reason I listen to the legends like Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson is because when my family immigrated here, that’s what was popular on the radio. My voice is influenced by the things I was surrounded by—a mix of surahs I would hear at tarawih, German Classical music in choir, or Bollywood disco on Sunday mornings as a cleaning soundtrack. It’s all made me who I am and what continues to inspire me. I’ll riff in certain ways or add specific instruments to pay homage to my South Asian roots. It’s a rich culture full of poetry, storytelling, melodies, and history that is important to me.

What does your musical process look like? How was being in quarantine this last year impacted that process?

My musical process is a mix of things—chaotic, peaceful, insightful, observational, etc. I’m constantly coming up with ideas and thinking about what I’m creating. It’s been hard in the pandemic, but also helpful because it encouraged me to spend time alone. In those moments I’ve been able to release and process all that I’m feeling and experiencing, which helps me dive into the actual acts of creating, writing, and collaborating. 

The most challenging part has been sticking to an idea and staying committed to it. It’s easy to lose interest or faith in something, but I always try to ground myself in what inspires me and why I do this.

I see that you love to post many TikToks. What do you think of TikTok’s impact on the music industry? Do you feel as though it has helped you grow? 

TikTok is wild. I credit a lot of the more recent success for my project to TikTok. Not only has helped so many musicians, such as myself, foster our communities and create in new mediums, it delivers music to the people that want to hear and support it. It’s allowed me to build a community that allows me to be myself without judgement, express myself in ways beyond music, while also challenging me to do more unique and fun things. 

Who are your biggest musical influences? 

This is such a hard question! I have a whole playlist of the voices that have influenced me to sing which you can find right here.

For an overall sonic influence, I lean towards Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Rihanna, Ariana, and SZA. That bad bitch energy encompassed across R&B, soul, alternative, and pop, etc. 

I am a big fan of your overall fashion and style. Where do you get your fashion inspiration?

Thank you! I owe a lot of that to my sister, Rumsha. She’s been my stylist from the beginning and on the Mercy project. My inspiration is definitely very 70s, it was a time full of colorful, funky tones with a little bit of edge and glamour combined. Also, Cher.

What advice would you give to other upcoming artists that want to get started in this industry? 

I would advise them to: believe in yourself and celebrate and express gratitude for every win. This is a tricky industry, but it’s important to remain authentic and hold onto your intentions. Be open to learning at every step of the way.

Can you give us any insights on what we can expect from your future music and any upcoming projects?

All I can say is, y’all ain’t ready. 

REHMA’s soulfully smooth vocals are woven in with jazzy and alt R&B beats, creating a dreamy experience that is transcendent and powerful

Growing up, life was nomadic and full of road trips across America peppered with a diverse soundtrack—from 80s pop to Bollywood disco and psych-rock to old-school jazz. Raised in a Pakistani-American household, she takes a deeply personal and curious approach to her music, creating a unique sound that balances the structure of classical training and a playful disregard of rules altogether.

REHMA released her debut studio EP titled “Mercy” in 2020—which explores the narratives of love, identity, and growth.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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