Eurovision's DiHaj talks music-making, gigging and being on the biggest music TV show in the world
Azerbaijan's stunning Eurovision 2017 entry DiHaj went all the way to the final this year with emotionally heavy hit Skeletons – Mandy caught up with frontwoman Diana Hajiyeva.
So Diana tell us when you started making music and how you went about becoming a front woman?
I started making music using software at the age of 16 but for a long time it was only heard only by friends. After experiencing a lot of music genres it came to me to make my own band. I cannot say that my intention was to become a front woman but I might say it’s quite pleasant.
I was singing for 10 years in jazz/folk vocal ensembles and when I quit, I realised that I really missed this feeling of playing in a band. Playing in a band and making music together is a chemical reaction that cannot be achieved while doing it yourself.
You studied and were engaged in jazz?
A lot of jazz experience I got from my vocal ensemble. It was called "BaryBakh". There I heard jazz standards, bebop, count basie blueses for the first time and there I got that swinging feeling. When I decided to sing by my own I started singing in Baku Jazz Center. I was called a “jazz singer" but to be honest didn’t feel that way.
Being a jazz musician means a lot. You have to be devoted to such a kind of music; practicing, taking workshops and developing the specific way of singing it. If you feel jazz music that doesn't mean you are already a professional jazz musician. Deep inside my mind I knew that and one day I decided to stop "lying" to myself. I still sometimes sing jazzy stuff but it depends on my mood mostly.
When did you start Dihaj? Who’s in the band, playing what? What type of music do you play?
The project Dihaj started in 2014 with a song "I break again" featuring Isfar Sarabsky. Me and Ali (drummer) already knew each other. Anar was playing with Ali in another band. And at some point we gathered together and started making music. We all came from different genres and maybe that is one of the prettiest things we got from it. Ali used to play funky rap core, Anar was playing in a metal band before.
We call it experimental doom pop. We don’t make frames for ourselves just trying to keep it changing.
Who are your musical influences and which contemporary artists do you like?
For Ali the main inspiration as a drummer and educator is Mark Guiliana and his projects. For Anar it is David Maxim Micic. For myself I am really in love with Active Child and Rhye at the moment. The inspirations for our band are Moderat, Radiohead, Mehliana and Now vs Now.
What is your musical process from coming up with an idea to release?
You know it's like waiting for your love to appear. To meet finally and be happy. It so happened to us. Tracks from our album are all the conclusion of priceless thoughts of being loved and being free. We got an opportunity to put it all together in Autumn 2016 and we released T.E.O.S in July 2017.
For young musicians with no experience, can you explain the realities of demoing, recording and playing shows/touring? There is a pop cultural conception that entertainment is all glamorous.
Attend proper events. Try to find out what you want and do it everyday step by step even if it seems that you're standing in one place. It sounds epic but it really works. For us it works.
You were Azerbaijan’s entrant to Eurovision – and a finalist – this year with the amazing song Skeletons. Tell us about how you became involved and what the process of preparing and competing were like.
I consider Eurovision Song Contest a good school for an artist. At least for me it worked. I liked the idea of playing a role, you know? It's the biggest music TV show in the world. But first of all it is a huge concert – artists have to perform, not compete.
Tell us about your record T.E.O.S
Our first album is a child that was born from love at first sight. It came from complex emotions that we gave each other when we met. I don't know if you get me but I hope so.
What was the most challenging aspect of making the record?
Our sound engineer lives in London and to work on sound production distantly was a bit of challenge. But it made us find another way of describing musical "things".
You are also a mother. How do you find managing the band’s work and family life?
I might say it’s not easy sometimes but its more than possible. The main thing is love. Only love. The only thing I am sure of is my love to Savi and back.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians hoping to make albums and play shows?
Make music and play shows! Of course, looking back, things could have been better but don't stop. Of course, develop your skills and know what you're playing. It makes working with you so much easier when communicating.
If you had to recommend several artists from different genres to someone who had never heard music before – what would you recommend?
Johann Sebastian Bach. That's it. There are too many artists but Bach can say it all.