May/June 2023

by Richard Thorne

Fresh Talent: Sabreen Islam

by Richard Thorne

Fresh Talent: Sabreen Islam

“These six songs are like an introduction to the inner workings of my brain; they lay bare how I think, love, dream and hope.” That’s emerging Bengali-NZ artist/singer-songwriter Sabreen Islam talking abut her sparkling, and evidently candid, indie-pop debut EP, ‘Room Service’, released in March.

“I hope that people take away some piece of it that they can relate to, a particular part that can sit with them and what they’re going through. That’s what music has been for me my whole life – a companion. I hope my music can be someone else’s companion too, whether they’re dancing, reminiscing, crying or hoping. I hope it feels like a hug.”

Her 6-track EP includes previously released singles You Will Never See This, Still Love You and Victory, the latter comfortably proving that the central Tāmaki Makaurau artist has a voice of lively interest, such that only minimal backing is required to decorate her disarmingly simple yet likeable songs.

Wafts of childlike naivety play in the rhymed lyrics, as well as the now 20-year-old’s unpretentious vocals, but within that there is an appealingly honest charm. High in register, her unfussed, sometimes semi-broken voice hints at the sound of Liz Stokes of The Beths, or a number of other pop contemporaries, moving without effort from poetic flow into high floating notes.

“Bengali music was the first music I ever heard, and according to my parents, the first song I ever sang as a toddler was a Bangla song. We have a beautifully rich musical culture that goes back thousands of years. Music is a core part of our community, and it endlessly inspires the music I make. My singing style actually is moulded after traditional Bangla singers, though nowhere near to the same level! I try to emulate the ornamental way that they sing as much as I can, and am always looking to see how I can incorporate that style into the music I write.”

Sabreen worked on her EP with musician, songwriter and producer Sophie Bialostocki (Lévyne). NZ On Air’s New Music Development funding helped pay for studio time at Parachute Studios, and also allowed them to bring in session musicians to play on some tracks. Hina Beaming added strings to Victory.

“I put the songs together as a set around February last year. They seemed to fit really well together, and all had similar themes. I met Sophie at Making Waves in May and we had our first session in June. I also did a fair amount of it at my home studio, sweetly named Sunflower Studios by my Instagram followers! It was about six months of wonderful collaboration, and we finished the final song Victory in January this year.

“As soon as I wrote Room Service I knew I wanted it to be the title track. It’s just such a funky name! To me, it also serves as a sort of metaphor; I wanted my first EP to be a collection of six distinct songs that were sort of an introduction to me as an artist. If the listener is a guest, enjoying a beautiful, lavish hotel, I wanted this EP to be – room service! It’s sort of me saying, ‘Hey, hope you’re enjoying your stay. I hope me and my music can be of service to you somehow.’”

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