I Thought I Recognised Her - Soraya La Pread

SORAYA LA PREAD: Producer, DJ and song writer on her Iranian and Alabama family history, her love for music and NZ. 

I’m Persian, my Mum is from Iran. My Dad is African American, but I’m from New Zealand, I’m born in New Zealand. So I say [I'm from] New Zealand, but then people go, ‘Is that what people look like in New Zealand?’ So I have to explain. I just tell the whole story of my life basically, every time, the whole family heritage.

One cool thing was when I was younger, because my Mum is from Tehran in Iran, and my Dad is from Alabama, two opposite places – I got to travel a lot ... So I would go to India, Afghanistan, Dubai, Hong Kong, all these amazing places from a young age. And then I would go to Alabama where it’s just an all Black, Southern, Baptist, Christian Black town, which is amazing as well, all the cultures. So I just got to see so much.

My Mum went to school in Boston, she went to Harvard, and she met a New Zealand boy who had a scholarship from Auckland Boys Grammar for physics, he was like a genius, that’s a once in a lifetime kind of dude. She moved here and she had my brother, and they ended up getting a divorce. So she was travelling, went on a trip to Hong Kong with her girlfriend, and was coming back. My Dad who is a musician, he is in the Commodores, he was on tour coming to New Zealand, and they met on the plane coming from Sydney to New Zealand. I was wondering what plane that was, because that’s never happened to me on a plane. They met on the plane, she wasn’t into it, she was playing real hard to get. He said, ‘excuse me, what’s your name?’ Her friend was like, ‘yo, that’s the Commodores, they’re so tight, I saw them in London, we’ve gotta talk to them.’ Mum was like, ‘don’t talk to these musicians.’ She was such a snob. He said, ‘What’s your name?’ She said, ‘I have no name.’ She just ran game, he followed her around, they talked, they hung out, and two weeks later she went to America and they got married after two weeks. They’re still married. It was actually their 30th wedding anniversary in March.

One cool thing was when I was younger, because my Mum is from Tehran in Iran, and my Dad is from Alabama, two opposite places – I got to travel a lot. My Mum imported Persian carpets, that was her business for a while. So I would go to India, Afghanistan, Dubai, Hong Kong, all these amazing places from a young age. And then I would go to Alabama where it’s just an all Black, Southern, Baptist, Christian Black town, which is amazing as well, all the cultures. So I just got to see so much. Then I’d come back to New Zealand which is so unique as well. I feel like I got a lot of experience being able to see so many different things.

Growing up here, because I didn’t look like everyone, I always felt like I wasn’t from here. But going to LA actually made me realise, through and through I am such a kiwi girl, such an Auckland girl. I’m so proud of this country. The older I’m getting, the more I’m appreciating how New Zealanders are so great. It’s such a small country but we go out and achieve so much. We’re known in all the fields, we’re in every field high up everywhere in the world. I just think I’m fortunate to have grown up here, and not grown up in America or Iran because I’d be a completely different person. I think I’m way cooler because of New Zealand.   

In America, I’ve met the nicest people, and I’ve also been put in handcuffs at a 7/11 buying M&Ms, because I fit a description of a robbery ... They had me in handcuffs for an hour with no evidence. I hadn’t done anything, and they had me in handcuffs on the side of the road, and I looked like a criminal. I was really embarrassed ... You know, if you’ve been there, if you’ve experienced it, if you’re Black, you know. But people here, I just think they didn’t know.

I make music, I’m a producer, that’s what I do. But I DJ as well and I write songs, and play piano. Actually, my Dad didn’t want me to do music, and he did everything he could to make me not do music. When I was seven, I saw someone playing the piano, I said, ‘I wanna do that, I want to play the piano.’ He always had a studio at home, but he never encouraged me. It would be more like, 'Don’t touch that, you’re going to mess it up, don’t touch any of this, it’s all sensitive.' I think I got to 16, and I got into making beats, and then I’d break into the studio, and then he’d come back and I’d messed everything up. I would have recorded over his MPC and stuff, he just couldn’t stop me.

I kind of started late, when I was 21 I went to LA to do music school. I had to beg. Dad was like, no, go and be a teacher. They just tried everything, because he thought music was quite hard, it’s a hard life to choose. You’ve got to be tough, he didn’t want me to go through all that.

His first world tour, Dad had a wife and she got ovarian cancer. He had to pay for the chemo, so she was getting [chemo] while he was on tour, he came back, he had one day with her, she passed away and then he’s like, back on the road. There’s a lot of shit that people have to go through, and the show has to go on. I just feel like, if I don’t make music, I feel like I might die. Even though it’s hard, I just have to keep going.

Growing up here, because I didn’t look like everyone, I always felt like I wasn’t from here. But going to LA actually made me realise, through and through I am such a kiwi girl, such an Auckland girl. I’m so proud of this country. The older I’m getting, the more I’m appreciating how New Zealanders are so great. It’s such a small country but we go out and achieve so much.

My Dad converted to Islam, and I grew up in Islam too, so we’re like, the most hated bunch of anyone right now. I think a lot of it is to do with just being educated, and aware. I moved to LA when I was 21, and I’d watch the news with my brother, and I’d just be laughing. We thought it was a joke, the reporter would be like, ‘They did a bomb over here, they’re blowing these kids up, that’s not good, these Muslims just don’t like us.’ It was just such propaganda. In America, I’ve met the nicest people, and I’ve also been put in handcuffs at a 7/11 buying M&Ms, because I fit a description of a robbery. There are good people and bad everywhere you go in the world. And in Iran, there’s some of the most educated people I’ve ever seen speak French, Spanish, English, they’ve been to Harvard but they just can’t go anywhere because their country is sanctioned. They can’t move away. It’s more about us learning about what it is that we’re scared of, instead of just being scared of it.

When I watched the news over here, I just buzzed out at how they [US cops] shot a guy on the street in front of everyone. I have been put in hand-cuffs and I know what it feels like. I was in 7/11, I bought M&Ms, I came out and cops said, ‘excuse me, can we talk to you?’ I said, sure, what’s the problem? They said, ‘turn around and face the car and put your hands behind your back.’ I freaked out. From New Zealand, I’ve never experienced anything like that, I was so scared. They had guns, it was another level of fear. They had me in handcuffs for an hour with no evidence. I hadn’t done anything, and they had me in handcuffs on the side of the road, and I looked like a criminal. I was really embarrassed. Automatically, I look like a Black kid in handcuffs who has done some shit on the side of the road. You know, if you’ve been there, if you’ve experienced it, if you’re Black, you know. But people here, I just think they didn’t know.

So [last year] I just wanted to throw a Black Lives Matter party to say, ‘this is happening’ and as New Zealanders we don’t stand for it. It’s something we want to talk about, it’s not our country, it’s not our politics but maybe if people around the world paid attention, it will make them have to look at themselves.

There were a couple racists, but what surprised me the most was the overall positivity and how all my friends came together, so many people, Jeremy Toy, P-Money, all the musicians, all the music community came out. My friend made a print to auction off, all my friends came together to stand behind me, and then they learnt something, that was the cool thing for me.

Having my Dad perform there was awesome, he did a good job. He’s from Tuskegee Alabama where Rosa Parks was born, he marched in Selma, he integrated a High School in Alabama, he’s from the Civil Rights time so I thought he would be a good person to speak on it, because of his experience. But you know, he’s my Dad, so you’re always like, oh Dad, go away! Everyone loved him though.

All images by Brendan Kitto.

Photo: Brendan Kitto

Photo: Brendan Kitto