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Meet beautiful South African singer, songwriter and radio host Mia Verdoorn Shammas and find out what is it about Lebanon that makes her tick!
When we first met Mia, it felt like talking to an old friend…and for good reason. You may have been stuck in traffic with her on more than one occasion and not even know it. Perhaps you know her as Mia V, the soothing afternoon voice that accompanies your drive home from work every afternoon on Light FM or perhaps you watched her perform and witnessed her passionate singing firsthand. Mia Verdoorn Shammas is a singer, songwriter and radio show host who refuses to be labeled or put in a box. However gilded. She discusses her beginnings and upcoming plans in the music industry, her radio segment and her soft spots for Lebanon- beyond her husband.
SoBeirut: Tell us more about how you came to be a singer.
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: It started at a young age – pretty much since I could talk. My dad still has old VHS tapes of me at around 3 years old prancing around the swimming pool in a bikini with a hairbrush as a microphone singing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” at the top of my lungs. I always participated in school plays and musicals, but I started taking it very seriously in High School, studying both piano and vocal training, and then ultimately decided to make it my career after graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA.
SoBeirut: How would you describe your musical “style” if any?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: There’s definitely a mix of a few different genres in my musical style, from jazz to blues, to rock and soul. I don’t like classifying myself under one specific genre, since I find that to be quite limiting.
SoBeirut: Who are the singers you admire/who inspire you?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: Pretty much anyone who is a successful musician. It’s a really tough business to be in, and I take my hat off to anyone who is doing it for the love of music, yet still manages to make a career out of it. If I had to pick a few artists I really admire: Melody Gardot, Brooke Fraser, Sam Smith, Sara Bareilles and John Mayer.
SoBeirut: Where can we see you perform?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: My current residency is at The Angry Monkey in Gemmayze on Wednesday nights. I have a few other independent shows around the city of Beirut as well.
SoBeirut: You also host an afternoon show on Light FM. Can you tell us more about that?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: It’s called “Jammin With Mia” every weekday from 4-7pm. It’s all about the music. After people have had a long day at work and they’re stuck in traffic for hours on their way home, they want to just chill out and listen to good music, so that’s what the show is all about. I tell you stories and interesting facts about some of the artists and bands, and generally try to make the time fly by with great songs.
SoBeirut: You have a “positive Lebanon” segment on your show. What is that about?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: It’s based on the “Positive Lebanon” book published by Tamyras and it features some amazing local initiatives and people all doing positive things in Lebanon, from artists to NGO’s to journalists – you name it! Every week, we feature one of these initiatives on the show, either as an interview with a representative of each of them, or as a report where we tell you all about the great things they are doing. In a country like Lebanon where it’s really easy to be negative about some of the daily trials and tribulations, this segment comes as quite a breath of fresh air to remind people that there are some wonderful things going on that we don’t necessarily even know about.
SoBeirut: From South Africa to the US and now to Lebanon. That’s quite a journey! What brought you to Lebanon?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: It was all for love (she says with a smile) I met my husband in Boston – I was working there after I graduated, and he had also finished his post-graduate studies. After we got engaged, he moved back to Beirut to be involved in his family business, so of course I came too! It’s been two years already and the time has just flown by!
SoBeirut: Any symptoms of culture shock? I know I occasionally have some and I grew up here!
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: It was quite a big adjustment in the beginning – as with any big move of this sort. Definitely the way people drive and handle waiting in line – they don’t seem to know how to! And people’s generosity when you first meet them, it’s quite overwhelming and at times you feel like it’s impossible to reciprocate it.
SoBeirut: What has been your most memorable experience In Lebanon so far?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: Being able to have breakfast on the beach in sunny pleasant weather and then having a full ski day in the mountains 45 minutes later. It’s like there are multiple countries all in one and I love that.
SoBeirut: What do you like most about Lebanon? And least?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: I like the amalgamation of different cultures the most. So many interesting people from various backgrounds living together, and you’ll always see something new in Lebanon that you’ve never seen anywhere else before.
The thing I like the least is the feeling that there is no system in which you can trust – if you have to get something done, you always have to “know someone who knows someone” or have “WASTA” as they call. It’s not fair on the general population.
SoBeirut: What are your favorite spots in Beirut and beyond?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: The coastline of Jounieh is definitely a high contender – so beautiful. The downtown Beirut and Ashrafieh areas are great for finding hidden gems like the old buildings in between the sky scrapers, and of course the Lebanese mountain ranges.
SoBeirut: What’s next for Mia V?
Mia Verdoorn Shammas: Perhaps a new album in the next year or so, many more shows and much more travelling. I’m having so much fun doing what I’m doing at the moment; I want to stretch it out for as long as I can.
We hear you Mia! Stretching the fun for as long as we can is certainly our motto here at SoBeirut.