When Jasmine Safaeian moved from Iran in 1994, she was seven years old, didn't speak a word of English, and slept on her aunt's floor for nearly a year after arriving in America. She came with her mother, an electrical engineer, while her father, a civil engineer, stayed behind for two years until the family could be reunited in California.
When she was just old enough to feel the overwhelming excitement of tasting the “dream life,” she entered second grade, a time that's a struggle for most kids trying to figure themselves out — let alone one who just moved from 8,000 miles away.
“I came in and wrote down my name, my birth name is Yasaman. The teacher sat me next to this girl who was half-Persian and kind of spoke Farsi, so she could help me out if I needed it. She spelled out my name and immediately began saying 'Yasmine,' and I was like, 'No!'” she remembers with a laugh. So she started writing her family-given nickname, “Yasi,” instead.
Eventually, Safaeian legally changed her name to Jasmine. “I moved around when Aladdin came out, so everyone was familiar with the name Jasmine. So I was like, 'Just call me that.'” The choice to name her DJ project “Yasi” is an ode to the struggles she faced trying to establish herself, both in a new country and on a more personal level. “It's kind of the process of coming back to that and my own person,” she says. “It's literally me challenging myself and being like, 'Can I do this for myself?'”
So far the answer to that question seems to be a resounding “yes.” Since taking up DJing late last year, she has already had a mix premiered in Vogue magazine, and she's performed on Holy Ship! and back-to-back with the likes of Skrillex and Baauer. But her bread and butter is photography. She's shot for fashion brands Everlane, Dikotomy and Knitted Dove, and for television with The Voice. In the music realm, she's shot Purity Ring, Portugal the Man, Escape the Fate, Charli XCX and Banks, the latter of whom she also tour manages. And of millions of photographers on Tumblr, she was the one selected by the multimedia blog platform to shoot for them at this year's South by Southwest festival, where she was also on duty snapping shots for Flood magazine.
Oh, and she also double-majored in film studies and psychology, because why would she take random electives when she could just get a second degree?
“I want to be a human conglomerate, ” she says. “My family struggled so much to bring us here. I'm not going to sit around and twiddle my thumbs.”
Following her seemingly endless passions can be a bit confusing to others. “When I released the Yasi project, people were asking me, 'So are you not taking pictures anymore?' I said, 'Why would I stop anything?' There's still 24 hours in a day, you know? I have the same amount of time in a day as Beyoncé.”
From start to finish (though there's no real end in sight), Safaeian is carving out her niche in every corner of the entertainment industry, with a do-it-yourself attitude that won't stop at anything, including taking her own press photos. In fact, that DIY attitude is what led her to photography in the first place. Though she majored in film studies in college, she started taking photography classes out of curiosity. “I realized I could pretty much do all of that on my own. If I'm a photographer I can run the whole shoot, whereas with film you need a team of a million people.”
She didn't completely abandon cinematography, though. She makes music videos, too.
She plays her DJ mixes — which she describes as “hip-hop adjacent, with little Middle Eastern sprinkles in it,” featuring artists like Drake, Djemba Djemba and TroyBoy — at her photo shoots, which is what led to her DJing professionally. By her standards, she's stepping into music at a gradual pace: “I'm just tip-toeing into this to make sure I'm taken seriously.”
Towards the end of our interview, which she squeezed into her one day home in Los Angeles, between SXSW and Fool's Gold Miami, we listed off her involvements — you know, just to make sure we got everything. Fashion and television photograpy… check. Music photographer and video director… check. Tour manager and DJ…check. “Did we miss anything?” we ask.
She laughs. “Just building my empire.”
Check out Yasi's mix below, made exclusively for L.A. Weekly and carefully curated to make your drive to Coachella as bangin' as possible. Yasi will be DJing a handful of Coachella parties this weekend; more information posted here. Check out the mix's complete track list here.