Marwa El Charif: Finding artistic expression through song and ink

El Charif's environment has been flooded with support on multiple fronts of her family, friends and loved ones, yet the main question on all of their minds was Where are you going with this?
28 March 2017 | 18:19

BEIRUT: For Marwa El Charif, a 25-year-old singer and tattoo artist, "pursuing one art isn't enough."

"I've always been inclined toward arts, even as a young girl, but it first manifested in music and singing, from a young age and up until now, it's what currently drives me to keep going regardless of the many challenges I face," El Charif told Annahar.

The performer kicked off her musical experience by taking part in school musicals, as well as joining various musical groups and clubs during her adolescent years, which later evolved into joining multiple bands in the stretch of her university life.

"After finishing school, I started to experiment more with different styles and bands, although I've always be drawn to rock music, joining and leaving roughly around 13 bands until I bumped into Iklil, where I found it to be the most original of them all," she added.

The creation of Iklil – Arabic for ' Flower Crown' – came at random, where three of her band members, who knew each other from the underground music scene in Lebanon, decided to join forces to create the first all-girl dance rock band in the country in September 2013. "The creation of Iklil was very spontaneous, we just met up together, took the decision and directly started playing together after a short period of time," El Charif said.

Iklil’s band members pose for a grouped band photo.

The band's name is derived from historical background, since kings, queens and clan leaders of old wore natural crowns of various types, "be them flowers ...or designed with precious stones, while also resembling four flowers coming together, four forms of majesty coming together to create a very beautiful crown, one that holds with it a lot of responsibility," she added.

The singer has been with the band for almost three years now, letting go of other projects and jobs to pursue her dream with the newly formed female band. The band took a while to be properly formed, however, with a wide exchange in band members at first depending on if they fit Iklil's profile and character until it finally clicked.

"She just brings a lot of motivation to the band, she constantly pushes us which is necessary from a musical perspective in order keep our creative flow going; she always has a goal she wants to reach with us," Lea Haddad, Iklil's bassist told Annahar, adding that when the band practices without her, it feels as if the soul of the group is deeply missing.

Iklil performing during Fete De La Musique at C U Next Sat.

Haddad finds inspiration when looking at her band mate describing El Charif as a "crazy person, but the good kind of crazy."

The band has performed in many locations across the country, such as Radio Beirut Mar Mkhayel, Music Hall, and the Grand Factory to say the least as well as multiple music festivals in both Lebanon and Dubai.

El Charif's environment has been flooded with support on multiple fronts of her family, friends and loved ones, yet the main question on all of their minds was "Where are you going with this? And how far do you think you can reach?"

The singer's additional artistic love emerged when she was receiving her second tattoo at the age of 16 by an up-and-coming tattoo artist. "As he was tattooing me, the art triggered my fancy and decided that I want to learn how to tattoo, although the tattooist didn't take her quite seriously at first," El Charif said.

But later her tattoo artist gave her lessons of circles and lines to practice on, making her used to those basic notions of the art. Days went by, and the hopes of becoming a tattoo artist had become a distant dream.

That didn't hold her back for long.

"After graduating with a degree in Marketing from the American University of Science and Technology, I realized that I've become a singer now, thus one of my dreams has already been achieved; then it hit me, dreams really do come true if you point in the enough effort, time and will into it," she said.

El Charif signed up for a course at the Lebanese Academy of Beauty for three months in April of 2015, followed by training alongside veteran tattoo artist Elie Rahme. "Being a tattoo artist is a double-edged sword, it's beautiful and tough at the same time, I love it especially since it's an ongoing process of always learning, since you learn from yourself and each tattoo is a different lesson for you to do better and enhance your technique while developing your own style," El Charif told Annahar.

This photo shows a tattoo done by El Charif.

"She really has an artistic touch to her work, usually I judge if a tattoo artist's work based on their ability to sketch and be creative and I thought El Charif was a grade A artist; I loved her work, her signature, and her finishing and so did everyone that saw it," Jad Abi-Akar, a British Council employee by day and musician by night told Annahar.

Akar highlighted her keen ability to improve and grow her skills in such a short period of time, which really pushed him to recommend the young artist to his friends. "In times such as these, one must always be up to date with the latest international trends of the business they are working in and El Charif always is which make you feel reassured that someone that passionate is inking you," he added.

The tattoo and music artist currently runs her own show, working from her apartment in Beirut while marketing herself on multiple social media platforms.

Regarding her decisions of being a tattoo artist, many underestimated El Charif capabilities and were skeptical about her ability to become an artist at her age, especially since she didn't study arts at university. "A lot of people said that I was crazy and wouldn't make it, but I didn't care since it was what I wanted and persistent about it, but support rained over me from my family," she added.

This tattoo done by the young tattoo artist using invisible ink.

When it started to kick-off and things were going her way, past cynics visited her apartment-based workstation and got tattooed by El Charif. The artist notes however that juggling both her musical path alongside her tattoo business is no easy thing at all, but she found that "I'm enjoying everything I'm juggling, they both bring me joy, thus when you're working with passion the rest doesn't matter."

Looking toward the future, El Charif has the goal of expanding the reach of Iklil by touring across the Arab world, Europe and other countries while having a team of supporters, an agent, and sponsors; while in her tattoo journey she wished to become more veteran in the craft.

"I want to experiment with all forms of art, be it music, cinema or painting, basically everything or anything related to the arts, while making time for them regardless of the million little pieces you might be juggling within your own world," El Charif told Annahar.

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