GuilFest 2011 - Lineup


Imagine Lily Allen dipped in Stevie’s Motown soul. Add the playful grooves of early St Etienne, dashes of disco, handclaps, perky piano and acoustic guitar. Set it off with lyrics that always have happy endings and a voice so sunny it’ll make you smile. You’ve entered the wide-eyed world of Rokhsan.

Her music is modern, but Rokhsan’s songs have an innocence that harks back to the days when manners mattered. She opts for optimism over street smarts. Even her slow songs are upbeat. In Rokhsan’s world, it never rains.

Her joyous sound she puts down to her pop-free childhood. Or rather, remembering the euphoric feeling when, aged 16, she first discovered pop – a feeling she sets out to capture in her own songs. Brought up between Bedford and Bahrain by a Persian dad and part-English, part-Indian mother, Rokhsan reached her mid-teens without ever hearing the charts. When friends talked about boy bands, she had no idea who they meant.

“Music was a huge part of my childhood, but not pop music,” she explains. “My parents listened mostly to Iranian music and occasionally Whitney Houston. My dad played Tar and Tombak. I started piano lessons aged six. I longed to learn drums. I wasn’t allowed a drum kit, so I’d bang pots and pans.”

For her 16th birthday, Rokhsan was given a CD player and started buying her own albums.

“I discovered Carole King, The Carpenters, Dusty Springfield and Stevie Wonder. I heard The Beatles for the first time. I fell in love with Michael Jackson. I couldn’t get enough of pop. A few months later, I borrowed my boyfriend’s guitar and started writing songs.”

By 18, Rokhsan had also taught herself drums – real ones – and violin and begun a music course at a local college. She quit when she wasn’t allowed to perform her own songs, enrolling instead at Surrey’s acclaimed Academy Of Contemporary Music (ACM), which had just spawned a star in Newton Faulkner.

Rokhsan was singled out as one of ACM’s most promising pupils. When Radio 1’s head of live music came to visit the school, he was so impressed by Rokhsan, he immediately offered her a slot on the BBC’s stage at Glastonbury. Just four days later, she was in a field playing to the largest crowd of her life.

A year ago, Rokhsan started writing the songs that will be on her first album. In the summer, she teamed up with writer/producers Julian Simmons and Paul Cook to begin recording. The results include sumptuous first single Your Time, on which Rokhsan’s bright vocals breeze through light layers of funk drums, handclaps, acoustic guitar and piano. Soldier is shimmery, sun-soaked soul-pop with nods to 70s disco and the heyday of Acid Jazz. I’ll Be Your Lady is a romantic, mid-tempo ode to old-fashioned relationships that tips its hat to Carole King.

“I don’t always set out to write happy songs, but so far, that’s how they’ve turned out,” says Rokhsan. “I think it has something to do with the way words sound when they come out of my mouth, but I could be wrong. Maybe I just don’t do sad.”

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