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Individuals of all economic strata are shedding their jobs, hometowns, and lifestyle to embrace a wider experience and a more meaningful existence.

Rotana Tarabzouni

Rotana TarabzouniRotana Tarabzouni, born in 1990 in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia is a singer/songwriter with a Master's Degree in Communications Management. This 27-year-old is not driven for the same reasons most women like her in the music business seem to be. She sings her own songs such as "I Found God When I Lost My Religion" for the simple reason that in her home back in Saudi Arabia, such singing is not only forbidden, but punishable by law.

"If a woman decides to be a singer - you just can't do that in Saudi," Tarabzouni says.

As a girl, she'd grab a hairbrush and strain her vocal chords singing along to Christina Aguilera and Brandy. But her dream remained locked in her bedroom in Dhahran.

"Possibilities and dreaming in Saudi Arabia just isn't that easy," she explains.

"Your mind doesn't even allow it because it doesn't know of it. There's no frame of reference. Your mind doesn't have proof that the unimaginable can happen."

She moved to Los Angeles to earn a master's degree in communications management from USC, financially backed by her then-employer. But her keener interest was in the university's proximity to the music industry.

"This city has been so good to me," Tarabzouni says.

Rotana Tarabzouni"The best people have popped out of this place. I think there's something inspiring about living amongst a large population that is largely trying to achieve the almost impossible."

In the little over two years since she arrived, the exotic beauty has sung — often in hot stage outfits — at the Viper Room, the Whiskey and throughout other Los Angeles venues. She revels in the freedom she has just to drive her own car.

In October 2013, the Women's Driving Campaign in Saudi Arabia challenged the Saudi ban on women driving. Some 8,000 miles away, Tarabzouni backed them, creating a video in which she covers the song "Team" by Lorde.

She sang: "We live in cities you won't see on screen/Not very pretty but we sure know how to drive free."

Her L.A. video went viral, and scores of commenters praised her. Others sent her threatening messages. These messages filled her inboxes across social media.

Tarabzouni still contends with haters on YouTube and Instagram, but she does not let them get under her skin.

"I started to realize, me just singing on YouTube sent such a big message to the Saudi community, and it's a message that they've been waiting to hear for a very long time."

Rotana TarabzouniShe's worked with Los Angeles artists and even heard from female Saudi filmmaker-actress Ahd Kamel about a potential project.

Even though King Abdullah, who took the throne on August 1st, 2005, acts as one of the most liberal kings the country has ever seen, Saudi Arabia still divides along lines of gender rights.

Abdullah supports women's equality, and in his efforts to combat the gender imbalance, he made one of the most revolutionizing moves in the country's history, appointing thirty women to the governing body the Shura Council, also known as the Consultative Assembly.

The King also granted women the ability to compete in the Olympics for the first time, in 2012. Under Abdullah’s rule, Raha Moharrak became the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest, and Haifa Al-Mansour's film Wadjda was the first ever directed by a Saudi woman, and also featured an all-Saudi female cast and was the first movie filmed in the country.

Abdullah's boldest step toward equality will come to fruition in 2015, when Saudi women will finally practice the right to vote and run for elected office.

Yet despite these changes, Abdullah and the Saudi religious clerics still forbid Saudi women the right to drive. No written law prohibits women from driving in Saudi Arabia - they simply aren't issued licenses at all.

The protest against the ban on driving in October was the largest in history around the topic.

Rotana TarabzouniScores of men and women around the world voiced their support for the driving ban protest via social media.

Some Saudi men even cheered and waved to the women brave enough to take the wheel in the major Saudi cities, Riyadh, Jeddah and Al-Ahsa.

Tarabzouni knows that her YouTube videos protesting the driving ban made it into the offices of her former workplace - the oil company, which granted her the scholarship to study in the United States.

It damaged her reputation. Her American education and public speaking skills once had her on the fast track to management. But, the same job won't be there if Tarabzouni returns home.

Unless she finds other means of paying her tuition, she must repay the company, because she said the scholarship it offered was contingent on her working there upon her return, and otherwise will turn into a loan.

Tarabzouni aspires to record an EP for a label. She also knows fame might mean a revoked passport and rescinded citizenship, yet that doesn’t seem to sway her. She doesn’t want to go back home anymore.

"Who gives a shit if no one’s going to want to marry you?" Tarabzouni says of her country’s social mores. "Who gives a shit if people say that you're an abomination to Islam?"

Rotana TarabzouniRecently, Tarabzouni returned to the states after a holiday spent in Saudi Arabia - a place that, to her, no longer feels familiar. She scoffed at having to abide by the national dress code and rolled her eyes as she sat in the back seat while her driver took the wheel.

Tarabzouni finds trouble suppressing her emotion when she remembers the trip.

"I'm not sure if I'm getting choked up because I miss it or because I so don’t identify with it anymore," she says.

"We all have had dreamt of being something or someone special, but when reality hits, it seems that that dream gets further and further away."

"It's not for the lack of trying - life takes over and the path swerves to some place different."

"But there are those of us who do not give up, they go through numerous obstacles, struggle with the ups and downs of success and failure, overcome anxiety due to external stresses and the list goes on and on."

"As a kid growing up in the 90's in Alkhobar, I naturally sought after whatever record album was available in stores, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, divas of the era were the most famous of them all and I was hooked.

It would usually be just me, myself and my music in my room, that's how I learned how to sing, but due to lack of singing classes in Saudi Arabia, I wasn't able to nourish my singing."

Rotana Tarabzouni"At the time, I didn't see it to be a career path or dream or anything, so I did the normal thing - focused on school and hung out with friends.

I'm the type of person that would do my best, excel in school and go down the path into the corporate world, and be great at what I did."

"I was very satisfied with myself and felt comfortable in my society, so singing was pretty much not something I thought seriously about. Until I went to school in Boston.

All it took is one audition and everything I thought about singing singly took a 180 degree turn."

"I had just received my bachelor’s degree and was getting ready to head back to Saudi Arabia to work, so I decided to visit my friends one last time in Boston before I went back."

"We were driving around one night and I heard that there was an open casting call for a talent agency - with the excitement of that night, I said I'd go the next day."

"I didn’t even know what the casting call was for. I woke up at 8 a.m. and went to Kinko’s to print out my Facebook profile picture and by 9am I was in a room with 200 other people - all of them professional singers, dancers, actors and actresses with professional head shots - while I had shown up with my Facebook profile picture."

Rotana Tarabzouni"It was actually very funny. I decided to stay and not tether my vibe and once I was called upon, I sang to the talent scout for about 20 minutes."

"She cried, and it hit me that my voice was the reason this woman was crying - it was the first time I realized that my voice held a kind of passion that moves others' emotions. That was the most powerful moment for me and an itch began to develop."

"The itch grew and my curiosity peaked - I started to see signals or signs that were telling me I should be doing this and not that."

"It's very difficult to explain but they were there. I've always heard of the 'inner voice' but I had never heard it because there was simply too much outside noise engulfing me in its chaos."

"I decided to take time off of work and head to India alone for a month and a half to think things through. After so much thinking, writing and praying, it was beyond question that I needed to do this - that I needed to venture out and find myself as a singer and going back to the States was where I would find 'the other me'.”

"I felt a mixture of fear, excitement, a sense of loss since it's an adventure I'm partaking in, but I literally hit the ground running. I had good intentions and faith yet I would wake up every day scared of what is yet to come."

"I think because of my good intentions and faith, things started to take shape bit by bit and I was introduced to some very great people who know their way through the music world."

Rotana Tarabzouni"I'm very fortunate to have a good circle of friends, and I owe a lot to them for introducing me to three amazing people - Dave Stroud of VocalizeU, Will Wells and Alex Wong."

Their talent ranges from singer to writers to producers, vocal coaches and so much more. They each have their own range of talents that helped me understand and grow my singing. I owe them a lot."

"I decided to address an issue that has always been headlined in Saudi Arabia — women’s driving."

"It's a matter that concerns each and every woman living in the Kingdom, I chose the song and changed a few lyrics and melody to match my message - it's not just the issue of driving, but it’s the issue of individuality as well."

"Individuality is something we lack and we are hungry for it, I felt passionate about the message I was sending. And as for the feedback, I've gotten both negative and positive feedback but it doesn't matter really since it's already out there."

"I want my voice to be heard, if I can be a voice for a handful of women out there then I'm proud to have done it. Uniting our voices will have a major impact whether it's now or later down the road, it signifies that we are resilient and tough."

"I can pick any issue and pour my emotions onto paper - it takes time and energy but both are worthwhile."

"I sing about love too, I sing and write about anything that moves me and is part of the human experience. My goal is to help people live the most fulfilled human experience they possibly can."

Rotana Tarabzouni"I am not a rebel, and I don't try to be. If anything I was an over thinker, a pragmatic and logical woman who went through life as a river flows - I was very reality-based and can describe myself as someone who over analyzes the way I moved through life."

"I can be named any of these things but I know that all I am is a speaker of emotion, I voice ideas and feelings and if people want to call me any of these, it's their words not mine.

I am a young women that is looking to live true to myself by following my joy and inspiration, and hopefully inspiring others in the process to do the same."

Haifaa Al-Mansour is the first female Saudi filmmaker. Her debut feature, Wadjda (2013) - about a rebellious girl who wants to break societal laws and ride her bicycle- was a breakout hit, and the first ever foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia. As the country undergoes unprecedented cultural reform, which has recently seen women be given the right to drive and the first cinemas open to the public, Al-Mansour’s next film, The Perfect Candidate, will be the first feature to be supported by the new national Saudi Film Council. The comedy- drama follows a young female physician who dreams of participating in male-dominated, municipal elections.

Rotana TarabzouniSaudi pop singer Rotana Tarabzouni plays the lead character in The Wedding Singer’s Daughter, and composed the music with The Real Satta, describes herself and the women of her generation as, “the necessary and exciting growing pains of any society going through a reform and artistic renaissance.”

Al- Mansour believes that, “weddings are the actual mirror of society in Saudi Arabia: segregated, fragmented, along gender and class, and she wanted to tell the story of those people, and capture that tenderness.”

Rotana seems to have closed her Instagram account and canceled her website. This is troubling considering she has been the recipient of death threats since launching her singing career and championing the women of Saudi Arabia to recieve the right to drive in the Kingdom.

Follow Rotana on Facebook


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