The World According to...
Ariana Delawari

The World According to Ariana Delawari Interview by Paula Goldstein

Ariana Delawari is a multi-media artist and most importantly to Voyage a curious and inspirational young woman who is an amazing representative of the idea of a global citizen. a musician, director, actress, and photographer. A graduate of USC School of Cinematic Arts, Ariana directed  “We Came Home”, a documentary about her journeys to Afghanistan since 9/11, the making of her album “Lion of Panjshir”, and her family story. The film won the jury prize for Best International Documentary at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival, was nominated for the jury prize at Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival, and had its LA and DC premieres at AFI FEST and AFI DOCS. More than just a debut album from a gifted young storyteller, Ariana Delawari’s “Lion of Panjshir” is a psychedelic folk journey with a very interesting story behind it. Recorded in both Kabul and Los Angeles.

This is a project about story telling, What is the story you wanted to tell with your film we came home?

“We Came Home” came about very organically.  I didn’t know what story I wanted to tell at first.  On my first trip to Afghanistan in October 2002 I completely fell in love with the country.  I fell so deeply in love that I had to document it.  Everyone in my life was saying “make a film !” because I studied film, but my gut told me to keep traveling there and allow it to happen organically. Then on a trip in 2005 I visited a refugee camp and that experience changed my life. I was focusing mostly on acting those days. And I was acting in exciting shows like The Sopranos and Entourage, but I couldn’t get the images of the refugee camp and the friends I had made there out of my mind. I thought to myself “Anyone in hollywood can play these parts. But only I can tell this story of Afghanistan”. So I started writing songs about it.  The response to my music was really immediate. The filmmaker David Lynch came to my first show ever and said he wanted to produce my album. I decided to make an album in Afghanistan with my American bandmates and three Afghan Ustads, or master musicians. So I did it. I took my bandmates there, we made an album and documented the process on film.  Then I came back and said to my producer Emily “oh yeah, by the way, I also have these boxes of 5 years worth of footage and photos from my trips to Afghanistan.”  As we watched through all of the tapes it became really clear that the film was about my journey. It was about this journey I have been on since my first trip, about my family story, and the music was the way to tell the story.  So we took another trip back and kept gathering the missing pieces.  I dug through boxes of family photos, old super 8 footage, VHS tapes of TV interviews my father had done since the soviet invasion. I wanted the film to feel like the audience was entering my journal and our home over the last three decades. I wanted them to see Afghanistan through our family, to learn about the conflict there in the most raw, personal way possible, and I wanted my music to weave it all together. It was a really collaborative process as well. My producers Emily and Yasmine (who is also my sister) weighed in very heavily as we edited the film. Our editors were also very instrumental in weaving together ten years of material. The editing process was a beautiful journey in and of itself.

We came home

The World According to Ariana Delawari Interview by Paula Goldstein

Do you think your fathers presence in Afghanistan politically made you more active in politics than your peers at school?

Absolutely. I didn’t realize it as a child growing up. It was just my reality. I was growing up making music videos dressed as madonna in our LA suburban backyard while my father was having meetings with Afghan Mujahideen members at our kitchen table. It wasn’t until I was in college studying film that I really began to understand the meaning of my life and why I was born into the family I was born into. Cause I’m definitely both – I’m an American artist with certain pop sensibilities, yet I’m truly Afghan in my blood and soul.  The more I traveled to Afghanistan my feelings grew stronger. My bond became really deep. Then in the last few years I am noticing how my international relations are expanding to the world stage. And I see my role deepening through both my art and activism.  I come from a long line of diplomats on my father’s side. So it’s in my blood, whether I like it or not. My mother was also a big influence on me in this way. She  is Afghan and Sicilian and speaks 6 languages. Her Afghan father spoke 10 languages. She raised us to always fight for the underdog. She met all of these revolutionaries in her life – Che Guevarra, Fidel Castro, Malcolm X. Malcolm X was actually her friend. Her story is a movie in and of itself. She grew up as the 6th child in pretty much the only muslim family in New Jersey in the 40s and 50s. So you can imagine the prejudice she experienced. My mom is like fire and my dad is like water.  Their approach to life is very different, but their hearts beat to the same drum.

Did you travel a lot as a child?

Yes, I was very blessed. My parents are very international people. Travel was always very important to them. I also have cousins all over the world. So we traveled to France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Amsterdam, and places within the U.S. as well. I distinctly remember how magical Portugal was when I was a child. I remember being so fascinated by the castles we visited there.  It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I started traveling to places like Afghanistan, India, the UAE, Africa, South America and so on.

 

Where do you call home ?

Los Angeles and Kabul. But I feel like it’s changing. I feel like I will be traveling so much in my life, and I hope to have a few different countries that I call home.  And I definitely want to make art in different countries. I really don’t want to live my life in one country. It seems really archaic to me. We are global now, its 2013.  In addition to Afghanistan, I am totally in love with Brazil. So I definitely see myself in Brazil a lot in the future. Paris as well. I hope to spend some time there as well.

 

You undertook this big journey to Afghanistan as a very young woman? What advice would you have to other girls wanting to undertake what some may see as dangerous adventures?

My advice is to follow your heart. Take big risks if they feel right. Ask advice, but don’t always listen. Whatever you do, do not spend your time trying to impress boys. They will be far more interested in you if YOU are INTERESTED in your life, the world, art, humanity, and the earth. Pop culture is awesome- music, fashion, and cinema are all beautiful parts of life – but don’t spend all of your time on the scene. You need to dig deeper into what is going on on this planet to have anything interesting to offer to that scene. It will push our culture forward into a more interesting future than if you just regurgitate what is around you. So spend some time alone, facing yourself, learning your journey. And when people say a place is “too dangerous” it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there. Just take precautions and set a good intention. If we were to all travel more to these places they would become safer sheerly by the number of people increasing. Life isn’t meant for us to just feel safe and be liked. We are here to learn, evolve, change things, and experience this world. We are here to move things. So dig deep and do the work. Shed the skin. And be reborn into something more beautiful. Then do it again… and again… till you leave your body.

The World According to Ariana Delawari Interview by Paula Goldstein

Is music an important tool in raising awareness?

Yes. Music speaks to our subconscious. It moves our hearts way beyond our intellect. The ideas can come from our logic, but change really only comes from the heart.

 

When did you first want to become a musician?

When I was four years old and wanted to be like Madonna. Then when I was 13 and started playing the guitar.  All I played were Jimi hendrix and Led Zeppelin songs.  I just wanted to be a guitar player like Hendrix. I didn’t even care about singing at that point.  I also grew up around a lot of Afghan live music and my father’s old Ravi Shankar LPs.

 

Do you consider yourself a director or was the film just a consequence of needing the medium to tell your story?

Yes I am a director. I don’t see myself making documentaries in the future. This film wanted to be born as a documentary in the interest of time. We knew there wasn’t a lot of time and that people needed to understand about Afghanistan right away. It also needed to feel really raw and personal. But my mind usually wanders into more surreal and fantasy worlds when I think about storytelling. I am definitely the kind of artist that uses whatever medium is best for each message or story.  If its a song, a film, a photo, a painting, a poem, whatever it wants to be, I will start to see it in my head and make it how it wants to be.

 

Music and the films success have both lead to a lot of travel for you? Is it something you endure or thrive on?

Yes I am in love with travel. I am a wanderer for sure. A wanderer with really specific intentions and missions, but on a quest to explore the earth through these intentions.  It is wonderful to share my art with others around the world, both performing and screening my film. And I am so inspired by what I learn. That informs my new projects as well.  Lately my travels have also been involving activism. Art and activism somehow intertwining always.

As a creative person do you naturally collect images and momento’s on journeys?

Yes I do. I just organized a lot of my mementos into like 7 big plastic box storage containers of journals, airline tickets, photos, negatives, undeveloped 35mm film, undeveloped super 8 film, hard drives, concert and film festival passes, welcome letters, so many things. I am gonna make scrap books of these recent travels and probably a book of my afghanistan archive.

The World According to Ariana Delawari Interview by Paula Goldstein

Do you have a stand out moment in these travels ?

Honestly, in the last year there have been so many incredible moments it is really  hard to choose.  I think that perhaps the moment we spotted lions on a game drive in Masai Mara, Kenya was the biggest moment for me. I was en route to Mogadishu, Somalia where I was about to play a music festival. We were the first group of international musicians to perform live in Mogadishu in 25 years. I had a few days in Nairobi on the way, so I visited the Jane Goodall Institute there. I met Jane in 2001 when she invited me to speak about being an Afghan American at a college summit. Jane has since been a dear friend and hero – actually she has always been a hero of mine since childhood. She is definitely my greatest living hero. When I visited her institute in Nairobi I made a friend named Linus there. He took my bandmate and I to Masai Mara where we camped overnight in a tent. We were literally camped in the park, so there were lions, hyenas, elephants, everything out there. It was quite exciting and frightening to be camping in such close proximity to African wildlife. There was no gate enclosing the campsite. In the morning we went on a game drive and spotted all kinds of beautiful animals, but no lions. I really wanted to see lions. First, because they are becoming endangered. It is very tragic and something we must change. They are being hunted for sport, poached, and in some instances their bones are sold in Asia due to some medicinal myths. Second, I never got to see any lions on my previous trip to Africa, and they are my favorite animal so I really wanted to see them.  We went out on one last game drive in the afternoon before driving back to Nairobi, and just at the very tale end of our drive we spotted three majestic female lions in the bush. It was SO exciting. A dream come true. And a moment that I will never forget. I felt like they granted me a wish in order for me to live up to my promise to protect them. We all really owe it to the beautiful animals of our world to protect them and tread lightly on their habitat. It is astonishing and tragic how many animals we are losing to poaching, hunting, bushmeat sales, asian medicinal purposes, and our general human over population and destruction of their habitat. It is alarming. And something every single one of us should be concerned with ameliorating before it is too late. We have already lost the black rhino. This magnificent creature just went extinct. I feel a deep loss and very ashamed that I didn’t know more about the problem before. So now that I do, I want to talk about it and make sure we all change it together.

What’s next for you?

I am getting ready to release a new album that I actually finished recording a while ago, but haven’t had time to release cause I have been so busy with touring my last album and my film.  This new one is something I’m really excited about. I’m also about to start a visual component to this new album which I will release at the same time.  I’m also developing some new songs and film ideas as well. I also started an art campaign with my producers called “Inspire Peace”. We want to inspire Afghan youth to create art and involve others around the world. 68 percent of the Afghan population is under 25 years old and nearly 50 percent is under 15 years old. So its all about inspiration, expression, and power in numbers.

Favourite things in the world

Favourite place?

Band-e-amir, Afghanistan. The most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life.

Taste? 

Brazilian Graviola smoothie. Graviola is an Amazonian fruit that fights cancer. It’s actually not the sweetest fruit, but it’s so refreshing.

Place to wake up on a Sunday morning?

New York. New York on a sunday when you have the day free and get to go get brunch with friends.

Place to fall asleep?

Paris

Temperature ?

A Brisk fall day

Place to write?

At home in Kabul when it’s snowing, Big Sur near the ocean, or in the old hidden libraries of Los Angeles.

View?

The ceilings of the mosques in Istanbul.  The view of Rio de Janeiro from high above the land. The Hindu Kush mountains as you look out of the plane before landing in Afghanistan. The sight of Giraffes in the distance while on a game drive in Africa. A Blue Morpho butterfly sighting in the rain forests of South America. The streets of Les Marais, Paris. And the Taj Mahal under moonlight.

Sound?

my twelve string guitar accompanied by tabla, rabab, dilrubah, and a string section

Smell?

Oriental Brulant perfume by Guerlain.  Also Afghan chai with cardamom.

On the following pages Ariana shares some of her most special travel moments touring with her music and film in some unexpected places.

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