Zaki Ibrahim

Zaki Ibrahim is a natural. Her genre-breaking music is a reflection of the diversity, artistry, and raw emotions that have lead her through life. Brought up within music and sound between South Africa and Canada’s West Coast, Zaki is now based in Toronto working with the cultural collective known as D6. After releasing her first EP “Shö (Iqra in Orange),” the young songstress continued garnering attention, sharing the stage with artists such as the Roots, Bedouin Sound Clash, Toots and the Maytals, K’naan, and Erykah Badu. With her latest EP, “Eclectica (Episodes in Purple)” being distributed by Sony/BMG, Zaki has taken her craft to the next level. Format sits down to talk to Ms. Ibrahim about her lineage of sound and expression.

“As a person, if you are going to go through your life not caring, not really understanding, kinda having this complex of ‘yeah, I’m ignorant, but…’ You’re like a loaded gun.”

Format: What are some of the areas your influence comes from, geographically, culturally, and musically speaking?
Zaki: I think it comes from a whole lot of different stuff. I listen to a lot of different music influenced by my parents, so like blues, jazz and afro beat; stuff like that.
Also hip hop, my dad used to listen to hip-hop. He was someone who pushed me in the hip-hop direction at the time. So there’s a bunch of different influences — like different sounds. But there’s also the influence of, um, when you hear a sound, you give your own rendition of it.

So like when Michael Jackson came out with “Thriller,” there would be the family rendition of it, you know, with all the cousins. I guess I don’t think too hard about what the influence is. I just try to be me, myself, and make the sounds that come out naturally. Over my musical lifetime, this last chunk of years, and [by using] my understanding of music, I’ve been trying to make it my own science, in the way that I’m super, super particular about rhythm; like polyrhythm kinda stuff, and [regarding] harmonies [I’m] particular to the point of being like, “ No , actually, it has to be like this, it has to be this minor.”

Format: Your music has generally been thought of as hard to classify into set genres. Is that a reflection of your self?
Zaki: It’s gonna be harder and harder for the media to classify things, because I think it’s gonna be a reflection of that person, and because so many of us in this generation have so many influences. For instance, I’ve been called a hip-hop artist, like “[a] new hip-hop artist” on the CBC and stuff like that, or for certain festivals and things, because they needed to have the hip-hop or ‘urban’ [element] or whatever. I wonder what it is about hip-hop that comes through… but I guess that makes sense, ‘cause the way I followed the musical path was through hip hop, or the formula of what hip hop is in a way. But then there’s this whole other side, like this electronic dance music. When I was a really little kid, I would watch my big cousins dance to house music and break-dance. Like mid-tempo house; very minimal kinda stuff that people are now calling ‘hip-hop electro’ or whatever. So I remember being like seven or eight years old and like, ‘Holy, this is so exciting.’

Format: Do you still feel like hip hop is within your music?
Zaki: Yea there must be, because it’s there. I’ll be writing a ballad that sounds maybe a lot like a folk song, and I’ll be like, ‘I absolutely can’t pronounce those two words together. This rhyming couplet has to be the way that I learned to rhyme and add.’
The way I actually did learn how to MC; how to put rhymes together, was through people like Rakim. I’d actually break down people’s rhymes, listen very carefully, try to write my own in different ways, and try to rhyme without rhyming; that kind of thing.

Format: These last few years have been pretty big for your career. What’s it been like on a more personal level?
Zaki: It’s been a crazy couple of years…a lot of fun, and a lot of learning. That’s where the eclectica of the album came from. [Then there is] the purple [aspect] – purple is kind of a grown up colour to me. It’s like the difference between just trying your luck and seeing, and just going out for sheer experience. Orange represents love and sensuality, and “Iqra [in Orange]” means “to read or seek knowledge,” or just stay open and keep learning. So “Iqra in Orange” is learning [about me and my music] and doing it with love. Purple represents coming of age and self-confidence, so putting to work the things I’ve learned and continue to learn, with each ‘eclectic episode,’ so to speak.

Format: The new LP, “Eclectica,” has a more experimental vibe to it compared to your previous EP. There’s a lot more detail in the sound. Did you feel a personal onus to push the boundaries in your music?
Zaki: I found that there were challenges in trying to put across the sound that I had in my head, and not have it be too much, because there’s a lot of stuff there. Sometimes I write songs over a two-year period, or six-month period, or sometimes 45 minutes, you know what I mean? But when it’s that one-year or two-year period, it’s a lot of different things, a lot of different concepts. So it was a challenge for me to not get too busy. But I don’t think it was me trying to push the boundaries, like, ‘This has got to be some new shit.’

Format: Your stage shows are almost always themed in some way by the outfits or attire you and your bandmates rock. Where did that come from?
Zaki: I love visuals, I love art, and I love fashion. I think visuals sometimes gotta be as expressive as the music in its own ways. I really like the idea of having this visual component. When I dress up, I get into character, and I get comfortable being in that character. I think that a group of people that are dressed for the occasion gel more easily in some ways. It’s just fun to be a crew, and be like, ‘Yeah, we’re in this production.’ There are so many ideas I haven’t got to flex yet. I’m just a fan of the showmanship.

Format: You’ve always been active and exploring within the community in which you make music. How important is it for you to have this sense of community behind you?
Zaki: There’s a sense of community of a bunch of levels. There are my friends, aka my family, my support system; people who are giving me encouragement when I see them. Over the past few years, it has been really busy, but I’ve always felt like I need to touch in with my community, friends, and like-minded people.
It’s always been important [to me] to have a sense of community, but there’ve been times that there’s this kind of feeling like, ‘I can’t very well go and do this thing, because it’s just not within what the community is doing.’ I think it’s important for everyone in the community to be going at their own pace and in their own direction.

Format: Cool, on a similar tip, artists in an ideal sense can be the voice of the people, or a certain group. Who do you feel you speak to, or for?
Zaki: Okay. During my childhood, I experienced poverty, extreme poverty. I’ve also experienced being very comfortable, in the same kind of stage of upbringing. So I had an understanding at a young age of what it is to have, and what it is to have not. But then as I grow, being of mixed heritage, I’ve had to figure out where this anger and animosity is coming from, from both sides of the spectrum. Like from, ‘You’re too light skinned, you’re too white,’ or, ‘You’re too brown, exotic looking or whatever,’ all sorts of stuff. I’ve had to sort that stuff through [while] growing up.

When I’m speaking to my people, I’m speaking to a lot of different groups. All of whom need to, in my mind, understand that there is a responsibility to understand the other side. Otherwise, you’re fucked. As a person, if you are going to go through your life not caring, not really understanding, kinda having this complex of ‘yeah, I’m ignorant, but…’ You’re like a loaded gun.

Format: Do you ever feel in danger of being preachy?
Zaki: There are some songs [that I’ve written] that to me are a little too preachy.
I wasn’t meaning to be preachy at the beginning, just wanting to get a feeling across…when I listen to music, I don’t want to be preached to. The thing I like to work on is the metaphor and simplifying the lyric; so there are certain words [within my music] you hear and can hold on to, the lyric that resonates within you.

Format: What’s next for Zaki?
Zaki: Work, world travel, tours, concerts, developing music, writing and producing with my girl Tanika Charles. Babies. Tons of kids.

Kit Weyman

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2 comments

  1. aloxtheteacher says:

    please dont kill me im 3069 years old if looks could kill that lady would punch me with a tear drop ……………..touch of tear drop get it word

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