When I first discovered 20-year-old Dounia a year ago via Instagram, she was a Queens, NYC-bred teenager posting bedroom recorded tracks to Soundcloud, an outspoken advocate on feminist matters and a curve model driven for wider representation and inclusivity in the fashion industry. Instantly I was drawn to her online presence because despite her obvious destined star power, she felt real and attainable. And with her debut independent EP Intro To it sounds as if Dounia has found a middle ground where these passions can all exist and empower each other at once. Claiming unconformity in her sound and self, she chooses to use it as an asset to her allure.
Coming from a Moroccan family who immigrated to bustling New York, Dounia has clung to unconventionality with pride for as long as she’s known. As a young girl growing up in Morocco while her parents worked in the US to better her future, she would immerse herself into a world of books and words, teaching herself both English — and before she was even aware of it — how to be a lyricist. She honours her hustle on mellow hometown titled ‘Casablanca’, (“I’m a non conformist/shredding the to do list”) always more concerned with selling her own standard than buying into unrealistic ideals. Her own standard is set in the form of a dreamy, soulful alt R&B/rap-sung divide, crossing bridges between both cultures she’s grown to know and love the same.
Dounia’s subject matter revolves heavily around introspective musings on modern love, but her songs are much more love letters addressed to herself than they are an outward gesture of romantic love. Carried by a charmingly soft-spoken flow and accompanied by tongue-in-cheek poetic wit, she counts her burnouts as blessings on ‘Dressed Up’ (“Ain’t play hard to get I just am”, “said he lost me to the hustle, well I’m humbled, amen”), romancing herself before she graces anyone the privilege of swooning her. Lead single ‘Shyne’ matches the same sense of immeasurable worth over tranquil instrumentals, finessing self-love and all those who doubted her all in one swift tidal wave.
It’s hard not to absorb the relentless confidence that rolls off Dounia’s tongue, even exuding through her moments of transparent vulnerability. Eloquent and gracefully spoken but always with the attitude, low tolerance and expectations of a young, self-made Queens girl. With Intro To Dounia’s only just getting started, and judging by the moves she’s making, girl is here for the long haul.
Words: Laura McInnes