Introducing Maria Taktouk

This one is for people who had to build a home away from home. Regardless of your relationship status, finding your community in a city as big as London can be exhausting and discouraging, but as Lebanese singer/songwriter Maria Taktouk suggests, you need to put yourself out there.

Maria Taktouk’s third single, ‘always go back, ‘ addresses longing for belonging and the feeling of being lost. Her unique blend of melodic Arabic instrumentation and moody pop beats beautifully captures the song’s essence—the importance of staying true to oneself.

“I want to be the artist that the little me needed and embrace my culture and experiences as a Lebanese who’s built a home away from home in a couple of different cities growing up,” Maria Taktouk announces, putting honesty in the center of her artistic manifesto.

Born in London, then raised in Nigeria, Taktouk moved to London at 10 years old and lived in Barcelona and France as a teenager. In our conversation, she opens up about the importance of showing up, self-identity outside of her community, and what makes a home home.

What’s on the agenda for you this week?

This week I’ve been in rehearsals, preparing for my first festival in Indonesia called “LALALA” which I’m so excited about. I can’t wait to perform my new music. We’ve also been preparing for my next single “always go back”, which will be out by the time this interview comes out! This song means a lot to me and has been something I’ve been wanting to write about for the longest time. I’m so excited for finally share it with the world and dedicate it to those who have built a home away from home. 

When did you begin thinking about pursuing music professionally?

I always knew I wanted to write and perform music. It was always a confidence thing and it took me a second to build up the courage to do this properly. After a lot of introspection and self-confidence work, I knew it’s what I needed to do. It’s something I do for my younger self and for my future self. Being able to write and sing my own songs is one of my biggest dreams and I’m so grateful I get to share that with people who can connect to it. 

Before releasing your debut single, listening to your favourite artists, was there anything missing for you in the music that was trending?

Yes, I think more so growing up. I looked up to so many artists but none that were similar to myself, who had a similar background and culture as I do. It’s so beautiful to see the rise of so many incredibly talented Arab artists taking over the music scene. It’s an exciting time. I want to be that artist that the little me needed & embrace my culture and experiences as a Lebanese who’s built a home away from home in a couple different cities growing up. 

What were some non-negotiable for you and your music?

Honesty. I write true to my experiences and true to what I feel. I know if I can relate to it, someone else can – that helps me build a closer relationship to the person listening to my music and that is the most important thing to me. 

You’re currently London-based. What helped you find your community when you moved over? Why London?

I was born here and raised in Nigeria before moving back to London at 10.  If I’m honest, it’s actually been really hard to find my community here and I think I’m not entirely sure where I fit in – yet. 

One thing I know, is that the more I’ve put myself ‘out there’ and the more I’ve chosen to involve myself with the city and people around me, the closer I get to finding my people. It’s so important to show up. I’m just grateful for my family and support system for being such a big and important part of my life that it doesn’t feel like there’s something missing. 

What were some challenges of moving to London in the early days?

London is such a beautiful city, it’s so full of life, love and dreams. I built a second home here & even though I struggled to find my place or community here, staying true to myself has allowed me to have some of the best experiences and relationships with people. That being said, the first year I moved here (when I was 10), I remember I used to constantly over explain in conversations & conscious of myself – from my curly hair, to my accent and everything in between. 

When I look back at those times, I feel sad that I felt that way but I’ve always been very proud of who I am and where I’m from, I just wanted people to understand it too. These experiences allowed me to grow into the best version of myself. I hope that my music can help any person feeling that way, the way I did, feel less alone and especially those who live away from their home countries. To know that as long as they are true to themselves, they will always have a place. 

You also lived in Barcelona and France as a teenager. How did living in these places influence you? 

Barcelona was so beautiful, I felt the warmth of the people in a similar way to the warmth of Lebanese people. I’m from a village in the mountains north of Lebanon, and where we lived in Barcelona was reminiscent of that. The culture, the music, the weather – it was all there. France, as well, I’d been learning French my whole life through my family and school. Being in France really allowed me to put that into practice and I think without having lived there, I wouldn’t have been able to be as comfortable in the language as I am now, which I am so grateful for. I met some of my closest friends in these cities as well. 

What places do you gravitate towards when you’re feeling homesick?

The mountains, the sea, anywhere that has the food but most importantly being around my family is the biggest remedy because home is wherever they are. 

Last year, you dropped your debut single ‘Shadows.’ How does an artist pick a track that will essentially introduce them to the music scene?

The same day I wrote shadow, I knew I wanted it to be my debut single. I wanted my first track to speak more lyrically than anything else. It came from such an honest and raw place and It’s a song that truly captures the feeling of doubt, the journey of working on myself and my insecurities. I wanted to show the journey from feeling that way to growing into myself as the artist I am now and will continue to grow into. 

How did the picking process look like for you?

At the time of recording shadow, I had another competing song that was also personal on so many levels. Shadow felt more aligned with where I wanted to start my narrative.  The other track is done, though – maybe I’ll release it later this year.

Could you tell us more about what initially inspired your new single ‘always go back’?

It came from a place of longing to belong somewhere and feeling lost. I wanted to write this song as calling back to who I am – that no matter how alone I feel, as long as I’m true to myself, that’s all that matters. I’ll find my place and my community. It’s a song for those who have built a home away from home. 

On your new single, you use the lyrics to express your longing for belonging. Could you share how you make a place your home, when you’re away from home? Do you have any sentimental trinkets that help you feel more grounded? 

Home for me is wherever my family are. They feel like home, the food we cook, the music we listen to, the language we speak – especially with my mom, we could be anywhere but the way we interact with each other and the world around us is so Lebanese (haha). You can take the girls out of Lebanon but you can’t take the Lebanon out of them. 

On a sentimental note, I have a lot of books from Lebanon, especially poetry that I read from time to time. One of my favourite Lebanese poets, Kahlil Gibran has a beautiful poem called “To Young Americans of Syrian Origin” and my favourite quote from it is: “Here I am, a youth, a young tree whose roots were plucked from the hills of Lebanon, yet I am deeply rooted here, and I would be fruitful.” 

I hope to honour that through my music. I’d say my favourite part of all is a little piece of a fallen cedar tree branch that I took back with me in 2016. Whenever you light it up a little, it gives out the most beautiful smell. It’s so nostalgic. I’m a highly sentimental person, I’ll hold on to anything I can. Maybe sometime I can show you all the things I’ve kept as memories haha!

What other rising artists are you inspired by?

I’m in awe of all the rising artists from my region and what they’re doing. I also look up to a lot of artists here in the UK and their journey and have been watching a couple from the very early days and see how far they’ve gone 4/5 years down the line is so fulfilling and beautiful. They’ve all been exactly who they are and never swayed away from it and all in totally completely different ways. I think it’s so beautiful because it shows that there is space for everyone. 

Could you share any details on what you’re working on and what you have coming up this Summer?

I’m currently working on more singles and my first project – I’m so excited to let these babies out into the world. I’ve got my first festival this August, LALALA it’s in Indonesia. It feels like a dream. I’ve been rehearsing for it and building the set has been such an experience. It’s special. It’s a lot of introspection and constantly working on myself. I can’t wait to share and experience this moment together.

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Words: Karolina Kramplova