Arab American Artist Ilham On Embracing Her Culture, Her New Music, & Taking TikTok By Storm

Throughout the month of April and beyond, social media platform TikTok announced they would be celebrating Arab American Heritage by recognizing the contributions and impact of the #ArabTikTok community. For National Arab American Heritage Month (NAAHM) specifically, they shone a light on the creators and businesses who uplift and champion the Arab community every day on TikTok, and within their local neighborhoods.

One of the artists highlighted in their #PassTheAux campaign is singer @ilham, whose videos and music have been highlighted on special playlists on the TikTok sounds page.

Ilham popped on the R&B radar back in 2018 with her debut EP 41-10. Since then the New York native has continued to make waves with her silken vocals and seductive hooks. 129K+ followers on TikTok can’t get enough of the “cycle of games” singer, and with co-signs from Dave East and Arin Ray, it’s clear she’s more than just one to watch. 

While we love the various cultural heritage months that are highlighted throughout the year, we believe in celebrating diversity all year round, especially at a time when we are seeing so much division, backlash and opposition to the push toward progress and inclusivity in the United States right now. We also believe there is no better way to create safe and inclusive spaces than by sharing individual stories, fostering dialog and creating representation along the way.

We had the chance to speak with Ilham about her music and why it is important for her to share her heritage with her fans and followers.

Can you tell us about your music background, and where your career began?

I’ve been making music my whole life, but it started when I was a teen in NYC swapping hooks and songs in exchange for free studio time. I couldn’t afford to record in a studio so I would write 6 songs for a studio owner in exchange for a one-hour session. Looking back, that was an unfair exchange, but I had to bite the bullet and find a way. I was always releasing and deleting songs on SoundCloud for years, but then I made a song called “say less” and followed it up with a song called “stuck in the past.” Those two songs really started my journey. Every label was calling, and my manager and I really started honing in. 

Social media platforms like TikTok have become a breakthrough way for so many artists and influencers to get their content out to the world. What changed for you as an artist once you saw your following rise?

I think people are slowly becoming in tune with my music on TikTok. As I grow, the comments are slowly shifting from “never heard of her” or “who is this” to “drop this asap” and “when is this dropping.” I’m able to see the progression in real time which is cool. But in all honesty, I still have tons of work and growing to do. I don’t see any dramatic changes yet. Check in with me in a couple of months!

@ilham @solblumefest ♬ gang signs – ilham

You were a featured artist in TikTok’s #PassTheAux campaign, and the platform has also been highlighting your work during Arab Heritage Month. What does it mean to you to have your work amplified in this way?

It means the world to me. Music is my life, it’s my baby, so having it amplified in any way is incredible. As a creative, all I want is for my music to reach, inspire, and affect the masses. I want the world to see, feel, and hear my art. It comes from a pure place, so I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.

Growing up in New York, a city that is such a melting pot of cultures and history, how did that impact your ambitions as a musician?

Being from New York has completely shaped me to the bone. Anybody who knows me, knows that my ambitions are extremely potent. I see no glass ceiling. I’m coming for everything; I am deserving of everything. That’s NYC for you, when you grow up with nothing, you want it all. And through hard work, talent, and consistency, I know Ima reach my goals. 

@ilham 🇲🇦 #ArabMusic #ArabTikTok #fyp ♬ original sound – ilham

What are your fave type of videos to create on TikTok?

My favorite videos to create are the “hood meditations” and lil advice/motivational quote videos. I think it’s refreshing to scroll through the sea of trends on TikTok, then BOOM! A lil uplifting advice video pops up. It’s a time to stop, read, and feel. You never really know what a person is going through and what type of words could help them. Receiving comments like “I really needed this” light up my day.

Why is it important for you to make videos talking about your Arab culture and sharing your heritage with your fans?

It’s extremely important because people who aren’t aware of the cultures in North Africa are now tapped in. They can learn or experience a culture just through their phone. And people who share the same culture as me will gain a sense of pride and belonging. It’s important to feel represented. 

@ilham y’all BIG big mad. (shoutout to all the positive bbys tho, ily) #fyp ♬ blood sweat and tears by BTS – Tik Toker

How do you deal with trolls or haters in the comments?

I don’t deal with it because troll activity is inevitable. I’m an internet baby, so I’ve seen it all. I see how people are wild to some of my favorite artists, so to think I’m exempt from that is OD. As soon as I see trolls or hateful comments pop up, that’s a sign that the video will do really well. In an odd way it’s exciting because it’ll boost my engagement and eventually the trolls will be outnumbered by the love. It’s all love either way.

Who are some artists on your wish list of dream collaborations?

I for sure have a list of artists I’d love to work with, but right now I’m focused on creating music and a sound that stands alone. 

If someone is discovering your TikTok and your music for the first time, what do you want them to know about you?

That I actually love music. I am a living, breathing example that no goal is unreachable. Go after all your dreams baby. 

What is next in the pipeline for you with music, performances, campaigns etc?

New music. Festivals. Big big tings. 

Make sure you follow @ilham on TikTok to get familiar with her music, her life and to support Arab American artists.

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