If the phrase "citizen of the world" didn't currently carry a strong whiff of provincialism, that's how we would describe Raja El Madhun. Actually, it's enough to say that she is a very talented person who speaks four languages, studied finance at the University of National and World Economy and, fortunately for all of us, soon realized that her true calling is music.
If the phrase "citizen of the world" didn't currently carry a strong whiff of provincialism, that's how we would describe Raja El Madhun. Actually, it's enough to say that she is a very talented person who speaks four languages, studied finance at the University of National and World Economy and, fortunately for all of us, soon realized that her true calling is music. Thus, in 2013 her band Raja & the Band was formed, and after cellist Iliana Georgieva joined them, they changed their name to Dead Man's Hat. During the pandemic, they locked themselves in the home studio of bass player Hristo Mihalkov and recorded their new EP Never Gonna Let You Go. Two of the songs have already been released, and the big premier will take place in the next two months. At the end of May, Dead Man’s Hat released the song Summer Dream, the video for which includes digitized 8mm videos that captured the life of Raja's family in Kuwait in the 80s.
You are Palestinian, born in Kuwait and raised in Bulgaria. To what extent do the homelands we carry within us influence our lives in the globalized world we live in?
In my family, as in any other Palestinian family, the history and culture of Palestine are passed on to the next generation. This is the only way to keep our nation from being erased. Being from three countries at once changes how you see world. It also expands your interests beyond the continent where you are located.
What are the best and dumbest remarks people have made to you about your background?
Let's start with the nice ones: exotic, an amazon, the girl with almond eyes ... Or, for example, the fact that I smell like cinnamon (without eating apple pie, ha-ha). Unpleasant things are: Taliban, Al Qaeda, terrorist and all sorts of similar things, mainly related to political propaganda. A few days ago I spoke to my brother on the phone, he lives in London, we spoke Bulgarian and at that moment a Bulgarian woman who happened to be passing by muttered something to him, which ended with "hey, mangal [ethnic slur for a Romani person]". Unfortunately, we still face racism in our society, and even abroad – in a country where you can be fined for this.
You dove into the music after discovering the guitar. Soon after, you started performing your own songs in front of 500-600 people. How do you explain this rapid trajectory?
I think it was a time when people needed something new that got a little closer to indie culture. There weren't all that many girls then who played acoustic guitar and sang. But big Bulgarian bands also helped me gain recognition by a larger audience, they invited me as a guest at their big concerts (Ostava, P.I.F., Jeremy? And others). When I'm writing a song, I don't worry about creating something that a ton of people will like. I dive into the music with my whole being and just pour my emotions into a song. And this sincerity probably manages to touch the audience in one way or another.
A key factor in the creation of Dead Man’s Hat is your collaboration with Iliana Georgieva. What led to this partnership and what is distinctive about the work you do together?
As soon as we met, Iliana and I started talking about music. We talked for hours... A week later we were already in the rehearsal space, where we immediately felt the chemistry between us and the strong mutual understanding. A booking followed and that's how it all started. Work is a shared pleasure. Iliana complements the music I write in exactly the way I imagine it, without the need for words.
What's the role of art in social change nowadays, including in the dialogue on the topic of sexuality in today's world?
Art has always played and will always play a major role in the development of society as a whole and the various strata within it. If we look at the history of music, we will find a ton of examples of how it changed people's views: racism, homophobia, military conflicts and all sorts of pressing issues that were ripe for discussion and dialogue – and this is the basis of democracy. This is a very fast and effective way to accept what's different.
Photographer: Victoria Vivian
What are the attitudes of Bulgarian society towards LGBTI + people inside and outside your social bubble?
Everything is fine within it. There is understanding and tolerance for everyone. However, my bubble is very small, and when I come out of it, I see that homophobia, racism, and outdated "morals" still reign and drag us all backwards. That is why I believe that artists have an important role to play in changing society's views, be it to remove stigma related to sexuality, change the political elite or lay the foundations that lead to a better life for everyone.
One night, you close your eyes and dream of your personal utopia. What does it look like?
I do not believe in utopian societies. The world is what it is because we are constantly fighting the many injustices in it. This is what makes a person stronger and more developed. But it would be good to deal with more contemporary issues.
You were active in advocating for cultural policies during the pandemic. How should policies about the LGBTI + community change?
It is important to have laws that protect minorities, and in particular LGBTI + people. It is very important that the parties entering parliament are not afraid to start a dialogue and support this community, without worrying about how this will affect their ratings. This would be a clever move, because we already live in a modern world, and as part of the European Union, people must have equal rights, no matter who they are. This is the number one law in all advanced democratic countries.