words by Marianna Michael
Photo Tiffany Dawn Nicholson
Fashion Diana Qerimi
Dafina Zeqiri is living a somewhat peripatetic life. From Sweden and Kosovo, she now resides in New York. It's a place she has fallen in love with and somewhere to call home as she navigates the rest of the world with her music. But America was always on the cards for Zeqiri. During her schooling in Sweden, differences between British and American English became a fascination. She stood by the fantastical inclination that she was “half-American”, and became adamant, and correct, that she would end up living in America. She’s quick to add “I love to hear different accents. I love to imitate people.” Accents, aside from music, are her forte. Of course, the optimism of this young girl is something I quickly realise has followed her into adulthood.
Finding the time within her busy schedule to talk to me, I, within seconds, found Dafina Zeqiri mesmerising. Perhaps it’s the euphonious tone of her voice or the pattern of her speech, but what becomes instantaneously apparent, is Dafina’s passion. Indistinguishably, it shows in her music. This month alone, she has released her latest EP- 'King', sold out her show at New York’s Mercury Lounge and played in Detroit. “It was my first time in Detroit and it was so nice to see the crowd. They were going crazy!” Surprised that such a large crowd would demand to hear 'Told Ya'- a song that she hadn't prepared to play from her latest album; It’s hard not to notice her growing popularity.
A strong work-ethic is merely one of the elements carrying Dafina through her successes. After three years of making music, filtering it and consequently removing some from her repertoire, 'King' came together. She says that her music now grows “organically” and aims to use the studio twice weekly. But just as easily as creativity can flow, she understands how it can become easily stifled. She doesn’t however, believe that creativity disappears, but subscribes to the idea that a change in surrounding generates development. And hence, she finds studios along her travels for the “unique emotion and atmosphere” they, along with the people involved provide. “I feel at home when I make music”. It’s perhaps one of the most fundamental sentiments a musician can make. Comparably, Dafina acknowledges that music is also more than “winning awards, it’s way deeper”.
Dafina breeds positivity and she shares it not only by her music, but also with messages of empowerment and influential quotes that she shares via her social media channels. Her worldwide following responds, exhibiting just how far Dafina’s music has already impressed upon. And as our conversation continues, her enthusiasm and positivity grows. She expresses the joy and solace that comes from her music. “You feel lost, or depressed but music has helped me a lot.” Something Dafina mentions frequently is her success. But it is met with gratitude at every mentioning. It is both captivating and striking- like methodically delivered life-lessons.
To be admired is the way she speaks about herself. Not only does she recurrently mention that she’s talented, she expresses an enthusiasm that she has about her own work. It’s inspiring and uplifting, and somewhat unusual to hear a woman not only recognise her talents, but to sing her own praises whilst remaining modest. It is something that women are often taught not to do, and yet something that especially today, more young women need to hear- that it is okay to take credit where credit is due. And like one should, Dafina doesn’t sell herself short. Nevertheless, she is humble. “It’s amazing that people thank me for my music”, she continues.
It wasn't an easy journey. As she imparts her life-story, it’s easy to see how a “really tough” childhood has helped mould her into a powerful, conscientious and equally modest young woman. One barely hears an inkling of bitterness. Instead, she possesses pride. “We’ve been through stuff so for me having big dreams and encouragement around me was important.” She continues to tell me of the hardships she has faced but her words, no matter how unsettling, are layered with optimism. She speaks highly of her mother who remains her strongest inspiration. “It’s unbelievable how strong she is. Her strength and her power have inspired me the most”. Dafina was granted a freedom dissimilar from what her mother was once allowed. She recognises the sacrifices that her mother has made for her own daughters. “Growing up, my mum was my biggest inspiration. She raised us independent.” And though Dafina followed her own heart, albeit, a path emulative of her mother’s dream, the seriousness she has taken it with is apparent. “For as long as I’m alive, I’m going to stand up and run for it.” Her awareness of those who don’t succeed in this industry, is perhaps what grants her the permission to be so self-assured. She credits those around her saying that she is “grateful to be in an independent label. It’s a 110% me,” from her sound to her style, attesting it to be a “huge blessing”.
Outside of her family, Dafina’s inspirations came from a variety of musicians. For two hours per evening, her bedroom was off-limits as she would emulate Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, Lauryn Hill, TLC and “even the Spice Girls”. From their vocals to their style, one could say that Dafina has become an amalgamation of her idols. Despite planning for this moment in front of an audience of teddy-bears, hearing her music on the radio is still “surreal” and “magic, like a dream come true”.
“Dreams are actually a reality”, she tells me, and I’m easily convinced. “I’m doing what I’m born to do”. But again, she recognises that the importance of making “sure your circle are the right people”. Her moral is to surround yourself with people who share only “positive vibes” and I’m in complete agreement. Though positivity seems to radiate from this young musician, she accepts “moments” of worry, doubt and sadness. “We all do,” she says, but she continues in telling me her secret, “I always talk to my inner-child, she knows me the best.” With Dafina’s inner-child waiting in the abyss for when she needs her, she prepares for the chance to have a small tour with her EP. Next year, she looks forward to taking her music to festivals, but she seems most excited for the prospect of collaboration, to“bring together a variety of artists”.
The one sentiment to take away is one she said with verve: “It will happen".
Listen to Dafina's latest EP King available now on
Apple Music and Spotify