YAS (Yasmeen Al-Mazeedi)
1. What is your name and your profession(s)? Yasmeen Al-Mazeedi “YAS”. I am a full time violinist and artist. Nice to meet ya :)
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? I am half Japanese, a quarter Egyptian, and a quarter Kuwaiti. I am a US citizen and was born in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? Neither of my parents are musicians or involved in the music industry.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. I grew up as an AAPI smack dab in the middle of a white suburb. I was also located on the east coast, where there weren’t that many half-asians around me. My identity was constantly being divided by my cultural background and my longing to fit in with everybody else around me. My parents were incredibly strict on me growing up; I couldn’t stay out past 10, I was never unaccounted for, there was no going to parties. My parents would always check in with the other parents to confirm my whereabouts. On top of that, my mom was the quintessential tiger mom, and unleashed her wrath every time I was disobedient or unengaged from whatever task she assigned to me. Looking back, I am grateful that my parents raised me the way that I did, but I do believe that kind of rigidness can lead to various problems as an adult.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? Very! I identify more as Japanese than American. I grew up with very Japanese values so I inherently carried them into adulthood. No shoes in the house. Eat every single piece of rice on your plate. Always wash your dishes at your friends houses. Beat your friend to pay for the check. Be polite to anyone and everyone. The majority of my close friends also have Asian backgrounds and I’m sure our connection has everything to do with the similar experiences we all went through.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? 6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? There was a girl in my kindergarten class that taught me how to tie my shoes. She happened to play violin and I thought she was cool at the time, so I asked my mom if I could play cello. My mom’s car wasn’t big enough, so I settled for the violin. I majored in violin performance as well as political science at UCLA. Around graduation, I remember dreading the financial instability of going into music full time. My parents cut me off as soon as I graduated so I didn’t have the cushion to explore different options on my own timeline. If I wanted to stay in LA, I had to figure it out. After a few months as a host at a god awful restaurant, I decided to work at a full time job at a philanthropic advisory firm. The work was important; I was helping facilitate multi million dollar grants to non-profits that served a multitude of different low-income communities. However, my role was administrative and I found myself not feeling fulfilled with the security of a full time job with benefits. I was trying to do music on the side, but it left me so exhausted on a daily basis that my boss eventually let me know that she had noticed. “You’re so tired lately.” she said. She told me something had to change. So I decided to finally quit after a year and a half. The first year of being a full time musician was ass. I remember longingly staring at fresh pressed juice in the grocery aisles because I couldn’t afford it. I taught students 4-5 days a week, which was equally unfulfilling. I feared that I switched one nightmare for another; that I traded security for freedom, and at the price of every day comfort. When was my next paycheck coming in? Would it cover rent? I think I caught my first break after 8 months of being a full-time musician. I got my first major recording gig. And once it started, it never stopped. I was being called often. I’m finally at the point where I’m starting to feel comfortable saying no to gigs that I do not feel are worth my time. But it took me a long time of kissing ass, biting my tongue, and just accepting every opportunity to get here. My parents expected me to do something with my music. They had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on me playing violin; whether it be the private lessons, the orchestras, the auditions, the international tours, whatnot. At first, when I decided to pursue my artist project, one thing I did notice is that they only supported me on their own terms, in an extremely conditional way. “Make sure to leverage your classical background. Make sure to stand for something bigger than you in your music.” I see now that it was coming from a place of good intention; although it was the push I needed it was not always the support I was looking for.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. I have had the opportunity of playing violin alongside some of the biggest names in music, providing me with an array of experiences that have allowed me to craft my own sounds. I’ve worked with the best of the best and I aim to join them down the line in my career. I have played on tracks for Selena Gomez, John Legend, Big Sean, Kanye West, NAS, Lil Nas X, Finneas, Teyana Taylor, Sabrina Claudio, Sinead Harnett, ASAP Rocky, JoJo, Desiigner, to name a few. I’ve also had the opportunity to perform at Coachella and the Grammys along Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus. Being able to put out my projects this year has been an incredible experience for me as I finally have the chance to put out something that is 100% me; reflective of who I am and what I’ve been through. It is a powerful feeling and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
8. Describe to me your dream project. In another world, I would say just doing whatever I feel. But at the end of the day, that is what I am doing now. So as long as I continue to get to do this, I am happy creatively. I think my ultimate dream is to create a theme song for a classy action movie.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? Up until recently, AAPI artists have been overlooked in the music industry. I think they’re constantly underrated when they are seen. I am excited to see the shift in years to come as some of the most interesting musical artists have been of asian descent. As a multi-racial individual, I have always felt like neither race fully accepted me as one of theirs; to this day I am still responded to in English when I clearly ask questions in Japanese. I think this is a common experience; to feel like you are not enough of either half to be considered part of either community.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? 10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? My favorite APPI artist is Rei Ami right now. She is such a badass bitch. I respect her a lot because she doesn’t conform to the stereotype of being a “sweet well behaved” Asian girl. My hope is that AAPI continue to be amplified and to show the world that we can equally be creative and beat the stereotype of us also being sweet, quiet, smart, and good at math.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? Dear lil yazzy bear, if you do decide to take the music route. It is a marathon, not a race. You’re going to start comparing yourself to other people, but don’t. The grass is always greener on the other side. Just keep looking forward.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? This year I have been putting out two track mini EP’s based on color and mood. I released the first installation RED. in February and the second BLUE. in April. The next one is PURPLE, with my R&B joints in June. After that comes YELLOW, which is genreless and the most challenging, followed by my debut album COLORS with four additional tracks. This project is incredibly time consuming, emotionally taxing, and a great deal of work; but I am proud of the fact that I am putting together a portfolio of this caliber to showcase what I am capable of.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. I love love love spending time with my dogs. I have two- one thicccc beagle and one runt German Shepherd. They are both so derpy and being their mom gives me a whole different kind of purpose. I also love eating in general, especially expensive sushi meals. Food makes me happy. I also like hiking, biking, and the ocean... and watching impossible stunts in the Fast and Furious Franchise, or watching Jason Statham take out a whole death squad with a fire hose.
14. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? No
Photos provided by Yasmeen Al-Mazeedi (@yasmeenx)