'Our music is art therapy': Healer Twins
It may have been a coincidence that Georgian twins Liana and Thea Shengelaia went on to study medicine before forming a musical act called Healer Twins but, today, they have found a way of marrying their education with passion. Their music, the duo contends, is a form of art therapy for their listeners, and hence 'healing' remains at the core of what they do. Dividing their time between London and Dubai, the sisters have created quite a mark for themselves in the city's music scene in a career spanning 10 years, with eight singles and multiple collaborations. We speak to Liana and Thea about the evolution of their music and why Georgian influences make it stand out.
What drew you to music?
Liana: Since childhood, we'd been singing, recording songs on a boombox, doing gigs for our neighbourhood and performing in different schools and universities. Nothing could stop us. I was an overly ambitious kid. When I was 16, I learnt the guitar; before that, I'd been playing piano. As family, we grew up listening to the music our parents loved - essentially '70s, '80s and '90s music. Our mother, who has learnt piano, is a clinical nurse, while our father, who is an ophthalmologist, had a massive vinyl collection.
Thea: Even though our parents were into Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Doors, The Beatles, Patricia Kaas, Ace of Base, we would sing and dance to Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, Avril Lavigne, Green Day, Linkin Park, Evanescence and so on. We had a room where we'd listen to tracks and record our vocals on cassette tapes. Because of this, we always believed music would lead us to something special.
You have a background in medicine.
Liana: I've continued gaining clinical skills and decided to join the academic field. I really enjoy my lecturing job and the research environment. One of my favourite professional experiences was with Genomics England in London, where I was part of 100,000 Genomes Project.
Thea: It may sound obscure, but we've combined medicine and our career in arts (which included some acting as well) successfully. We did our masters in global public health at Queen Mary University London and shifted to clinical trials and public health, because we thought it'd be more interesting and less stressful than being an on-call doctor.
What sort of platform has the Middle East offered you? Does it allow you to be experimental?
Liana: In 2011, when we formed Healer Twins, we were one of the first female duos specialising in the fusion genre. We had multicultural members and each of them added their flavour to our music. Our co-lead vocalist was Indian classical musician Mulkraj Gadhvi, who performed with his harmonium. The very first track we made was called Snake in the Desert, which was about women empowerment.
Thea: The UAE gave us complete freedom to do whatever we wanted and to experiment as much as we wanted. This was due to the rise of special low-key, unplugged live platforms for up-and-coming independent local musicians. We had different international musicians in our band with varied instruments and it made Healer Twins really unique.
What is the story behind the nomenclature 'Healer' twins?
Liana: We decided to name our duo Healer Twins because music can really heal and have a therapeutic effect; scientific research backs that claim. I'd recommend a book by neurologist Oliver Sacks Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.
Thea: As mentioned before, we thought of combining medicine/healing and music/arts and decided to form a duo band, under Healer Twins. We believed that our music would be sort of an art therapy for our listeners.
How easy or difficult is it to carve an independent identity for your respective talents when you're twins?
Liana: Ironically, we've always been told how different we are. We have some things in common but our characters, behaviours and tastes differ.
Thea: I'd just say that our taste in music and our clothing style don't differ much. However, we don't eat the same food; I'm prone to eating less healthy.
When you think of music scene in Dubai, you begin to think of big names from the West coming and performing here. How would you describe the evolution of the local music scene? What are the real challenges?
Liana: Since we started 10 years ago, more and more independent female artistes have begun appearing on the line-ups. Back in 2011, there were only a few. Currently, independent artistes are more valued. However, there are some challenges in reaching out to the audience and creating a stable fan base.
Thea: The music scene had a great start at the beginning of 2010s. Unfortunately, it hasn't change much since then. There should be more producers who can learn about the musical tastes of local audience. I think local artistes should also think about what the audience likes, and not just what they like because then you live in the bubble of your own 'fame'. This, of course, is challenging, since the local community is full of expats who do not reside in the UAE permanently.
You come from a conservative family where pursuing music wasn't encouraged. How did you break away?
Liana: Our family didn't encourage us and never believed that musicians could ever have a stable income. Regardless of confrontations, I didn't give up and eventually worked hard on making new music and releasing our debut album.
How do your Georgian roots influence your music?
Thea: Since Georgia has a rich history in music and arts in general, it is very essential for us to incorporate our roots into our music. We are very proud of being Georgians. While we used to be a fusion band in 2014, we even contacted a local ethno-jazz band through a very famous folk musician Giorgi Ushikishvili and recorded a cover of a famous song Gelino, which we improvised a bit and translated into English.
How important is social media to artistes today?
Liana: It's the best way of communicating and sharing your music with your audience. There are many platforms available for artistes to command a wider fan base. In order to achieve that, it is important to work hard, be consistent and committed.
Thea: It is important, since it's the only way to reach your audience, especially if you're an independent artiste. Music platforms have become accessible and, nowadays, you don't need to be signed on by a label to distribute your music internationally.