Different Voices, Similar Dreams

R&B Artist Imon Soleh reflects on the early stage of her career.

In August of last year, two women left the clouded skies of Seattle, Washington to chase one’s dream of becoming a renowned singer. Marlena Daryousef and Imon Soleh, mother and daughter respectively, crossed the continental United States by car to get to none other than the Big Apple. Music satisfies a special place in Daryousef’s heart, so much, she headed across the country to support a version of a dream she once pursued herself. An unlikely injury cut her career short, but upon seeing that same flame in her daughter, she packed her bags and headed east.

Soleh’s decision to take-up singing was not only the beginning of a strenuous journey for herself, but the culmination of her family’s background in music. Her entire life led to the moment she arrived in New York, and now it is time for her to make the most of it. Though the city can be massive and intimidating to newcomers, she is fortunate to have her mother by her side. On a chilly day, sitting on the vacant benches of East River State Park, the two spoke to HangTime about Soleh’s humble beginnings, and her time in the city of insomnia.

Hangtime: When did you first start singing? And who did you take after?

Imon Soleh: I started singing ever since I was a kid, when I was real young. My mom was an aspiring opera singer, so just watching her jam out in the bathroom, in the car, it just inspired me. I started taking it seriously in 2016, I believe I was 18 or 19. I grew up on Prince. I love Prince, because he didn’t put himself in one genre. I also listened to Patti LaBelle, Mariah Carey, I’d have to say those are my biggest influences.

HT: Oh really, an opera singer. That’s pretty neat.

Marlena Daryousef: Well an aspiring opera singer. It goes back because my great-grandfather, my grandmother called him ‘Professor Music,’ because, I believe in Mississippi, he had his own school in which he taught music to maybe about 30 kids. My mother was in a little group, but my grandmother twisted her arm and didn’t want her to pursue that. Then my mom saw my passion for music, so I took lessons from the late Maestro David Kyle. Unfortunately, [there was] an incident with my jaw being dislocated so I could no longer pursue it. But that musical flavor is in the blood, so it’s like Imon has taken the torch and moved it along.

IS: It’s funny because my mom had the incident with her jaw where she couldn’t sing any more, and I had the same incident at the beginning of last year. But I told myself I still need to sing. For the first five months, I couldn’t really open my jaw as much. They took out my wisdom tooth, but they messed my jaw up. It’s still kind of messed up but I’m pushing through it.

HT: Did you ever push for Imon to get into music?

MD: I didn’t even know, cause there was a period of time where she stayed with her dad. As a baby she was always dancing and singing to the radio, but to take it seriously as a profession, I didn’t know how passionate she was about it. Imon is more focused. I can see the passion and the energy that she has because it is something that she loves to do. And she’s matured in a lot of different ways, just by pursuing her musical dreams. This journey has been exciting. Imon has put herself out there, out of her comfort zone, out of the box. In Seattle, she got gigs with The Carbon Jones Band, Armon & Trey, and she even opened for Kirko Bangz.

Imon Soleh wearing a bright and colorful sweater on a rather cloudy day. Photo courtesy of Curtis Ashley / HangTime Magazine.

HT: So Imon, you came to NY to pursue this singing career: how are you liking the city so far?

IS: There’s so much culture here and I love that. In Seattle, the culture is kind of gone because of technology — well I guess that is the culture. Here, everyone seems so alive, they don’t take any mess, they’ll tell you how it is. When I worked in Seattle, I would talk to my coworkers but there wasn’t a relationship. I just started working here and I love every single one of them. I truly love it here. There’s so much to do in this city, and I’m excited to explore more of it.

HT: Did you come to New York with Imon?

MD: I did, we actually drove from Seattle to New York. We went from Seattle to Detroit. We stopped off because she has family there on her father’s side. We stayed there for a week, and then we drove here. It took a full day and 19 hours altogether. I wanted to rest, actually, but Imon said ‘No, let’s keep going.’

HT: Imon, can you tell me a little bit about the music scene in Seattle?

IS: It’s more of the grunge rock. Right now it’s coming up with R&B. I just love the East coast vibe. I used to live in Detroit as well. There, I used to just listen to hip-hop. The vibe there compared to the West side is completely different, you know that.

HT: From your experience: what are the ups-and-downs of being an upcoming R&B singer?

IS: I don’t really believe in competition. I think everybody is unique in their own way. I guess what’s really hard is the financial aspect of being independent. You have to provide everything out of your own pocket, so I work in a restaurant in East Village. I would have to say that’s really tough.

HT: Have you met any other R&B artists around here?

IS: Not in person. My manager has connections. I was introduced to an artist over Instagram, he’s like a soul-singer. Him and I are in contact.

HT: Focusing more on your music, I’m interested in what emotions you tap into to record your songs.

IS: This is how I write my songs: I listen to the beat, and whatever melody comes to my head, I just sing it and say any words. I was even telling my mom this the other day: when I write, I could be talking about one thing, but when I keep writing it can switch its meaning. Sometimes I pretend I’m one of my friends and I’m talking about their experiences because they have told me stories. It’s spontaneous, but it can change at the as well, if that makes any sense.

HT: What experiences of your own do these songs poke at?

IS: ‘Chandelier’ for instance is about a guy I used to date, how his mom didn’t like me (from the start). He started changing. It wasn’t because of me, it was because of himself. He had a brother that he looked up to and he followed in his brothers footsteps, which wasn’t good.

HT: What’s planned for this year?

IS: I’m actually working on a project right now, an EP. Hopefully I will be releasing that in March. It’s called Bronze based on a ‘penny for your thoughts.’ That’s all my thoughts — anything I thought in the past, anything right now. It’s bringing up family problems, all that. I have other projects coming up, I can’t say too much though.

Check out the rest of Soleh’s discography on her SoundCloud.

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