DFW Music News

Yasmeen Nasir Is Breaking Stereotypes As a Muslim Afghan Pop Singer

YASMEEN is coming up in the world of STEM and music.
YASMEEN is coming up in the world of STEM and music. Maia Tharp
Yasmeen Nasir lives her life in two different worlds. By day, she works as a project engineer for the aerospace company Lockheed Martin Corp. She’s also an up-and-coming musician.

Some may wonder how an engineer has time to pursue pop stardom, but the Fort Worth resident says she’s living her dream pursuing two things she’s been passionate about her entire life and that those interests blend seamlessly.

“I am who I am because of music, and I am who I am because I do engineering,” Nasir says. “It’s not like one or the other. It’s completely mixed.”

The singer, whose artist name is “YASMEEN*,” will release her debut album Pure Bliss on Oct. 15.

Although she’s finally starting to get her all-caps name out as a musician, pursuing a music career wasn’t always easy for Nasir.

“I also come from a Middle Eastern background, so going into music primarily wasn’t something that was an OK thing," she says. "It was kind of taboo, really.”

As a Muslim Afghan woman, Nasir says it was tough to pursue a career unrelated to engineering or law. Middle Eastern culture, she says, has an “old-thinking” way that prioritizes well-paying jobs that will ensure financial stability.

Although her father wasn’t that involved in her life as she grew up, Nasir says he did enjoy that she was interested and involved in the arts. Her mother, on the other hand, came from a stricter background and didn’t approve of what she first deemed as Nasir's hobby, strongly advising her daughter to pursue a career in STEM, not in music — though she did attend all of Nasir’s concerts.

The artist says she had to “push the envelope” to get her mother to eventually come around and fully support her. Nasir felt she had to prove herself by taking AP classes in high school, majoring in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degree and becoming the president of the Society of Women Engineers in college. Even now, she’s enrolled in graduate school, studying engineering management.

It's a difficult career, but, like music, it's something Nasir wants to do

“I’m very passionate about women being in STEM, and I was very passionate about being a part of music,” she says.

Once Nasir started gaining a bit of traction and coming out with her own music, it was easier for her mother to see that a career in arts might be worthwhile.

“Music is something that I knew was going to stick with me like the rest of my life,” Nasir says. “And I think now she finally understands.”

Nasir's interest in music and singing was piqued when she was in grade school. During a sixth-grade talent show, she realized how much she loved performing. Then came more talent shows in elementary school and choir in high school.

When the time came for college, Nasir decided to major in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas-Arlington. At that point, she wasn’t ready to pursue a career in music, but she continued to sing in choir.

Eventually, she heard about RISE, a pop acapella group made up of students on campus. She joined the group in fall 2016, and it quickly became successful.

In its first year, the organization was able to compete in the finals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. The competition, which is a renowned national event in the acapella world, was also depicted in the comedy Pitch Perfect.

The group advanced to the competition finals twice, and Nasir served as the group’s president from 2018 to 2020, when she graduated.

“I kept trying to have music alongside of my engineering career,” she says.

By the time she earned her bachelor’s degree, Nasir still hadn’t really done any solo music, aside from the occasional solo with RISE. She started recording voice memos that she thought would make cool songs.

After graduating in May 2020, Nasir got a job at Lockheed. Although she now had a secure job in her field, she still had another dream to tend to: branching out as an individual artist.

“I had done so many group ensembles — and they were fun, don’t get me wrong — but I really enjoyed being in creative control or just having my own ideas,” she says.

In May 2020, she started writing her first single, "Pure Bliss," before finishing a handful of other songs.

“Then, I didn’t really have any concrete plans," she says. "Like, I knew I wanted to release music, but I didn’t know if that meant an EP, an album ... "

COVID-19 was still new and becoming prominent, so she was worried about where she’d be able to perform or how to get her name out, but she kept writing and recording more music and booked a few local gigs.

Releasing five singles during the pandemic was a challenging experience and far from ideal, Nasir says. With social distancing restrictions, she wasn’t able to book as many shows or collaborate with as many artists as she wanted.

Grand Prairie resident Alexis Galindo, who was a member of RISE with Nasir, says Nasir’s passion for music was undeniable from the moment she met her, but watching Nasir's growth since 2016 has been astounding. Nasir has always had a “loud personality,” but had to find the confidence to put herself out there as a solo artist, she says.

“As a singer, she’s definitely come into her own groove,” Galindo says. “She knows what kind of sounds she’s going for, but she doesn't want to limit herself to that, either.”

Now that pandemic restrictions have loosened, Nasir is finally able to get her footing and recently performed at several local venues.

Arlington resident Lesley Cruze, a fellow UT-Arlington alumna who has known Nasir since middle school, says Nasir has always clearly been obsessed with music — and the TV show Big Time Rush, at least during middle school.

“Everyone knew [Nasir] loved Big Time Rush, that was kinda like a thing,” Cruze says.

As they grew up, Cruze says "everyone" would tell Nasir she should put her musical aspirations on the back burner to prioritize STEM, but Cruze would encourage Nassir to pursue her other passion.

Cruze says Nasir’s success in engineering is a testament to her hard work and helps her stand out in the music world.

Galindo says Nasir stands out as a musician because of her joy for entertaining, her ability to convey her message to her audience and getting everybody involved.

“That’s the whole point of performing, like you do it for yourself but you also do it for the people you’re performing for,” Galindo says. “You want your music to translate, what you wrote it to be for them, and hope that someone can feel what you felt when you first put that pencil to that paper.”

“Justin Timberlake was a huge influence, but I mean he’s a white male in pop — those are not hard to come by.” –Yasmeen Nasir

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With every song she writes, Nasir shows new growth and emotion, and “Pure Bliss” will be a manifestation of the last five years of personal growth, Galindo says. The album is unapologetically personal. Nasir doesn’t write music for the mainstream, Galindo says — she writes what she feels.

Regardless of the initial pushback from her upbringing, Nasir says her nationality and heritage are major inspirations in her music.

One of the songs on her upcoming album pulls inspiration from an Afghan folk song that her mother would sing to her when she was baby. The song is a staple in Afghan culture, and Nasir says she likes the idea of paying homage to her country.

Nasir wants women from underrepresented ethnicities to be able to see themselves represented in pop and R&B and to know that it’s possible to make a name for yourself in the genre.

“That’s definitely a big motivator for why I do what I do,” Nasir says. “Not only do I enjoy music, but that would have been great for 10-year-old me to be like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool, she looks like me, she knows what I’ve been through, and she’s been able to create music like this.’”

Growing up, she never saw anyone like her in music.

“Justin Timberlake was a huge influence, but I mean he’s a white male in pop — those are not hard to come by,” Nasir says. “You can see them and there’s another one like them.”

Now, Nasir’s biggest inspiration in the industry is Sno Allegra, a Persian-Swedish R&B singer and songwriter. Although she’s not quite widely famous, Allegra has collaborated with the likes of Tyler, The Creator and Pharell Williams, and Michael B. Jordan has appeared in her music videos.

“It’s fantastic to see somebody who kinda comes from a similar background as me and be able to be somewhat mainstream,” Nasir says. “There’s not a lot of representation when it comes to Middle Eastern or Muslim music artists in today’s pop music.”

That reality motivates her every day to become the representative she wants to see. Nasir wants to change society’s perspective of Middle Eastern women.

“Everyone thinks ‘modest, covered up, not educated, they don’t have any rights,’ blah blah blah,” Nasir says. “But no, that’s not an accurate representation of the Middle Eastern woman.”

People rarely think of pop stars when they think of Middle Eastern women, and Nasir hopes to be living proof that it’s possible. Just like she is Middle Eastern, but also Texan. Just like she's an engineer, but also a pop artist.
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