An interview with South African/Canadian SciFi-Soul singer-songwriter-artist Zaki Ibrahim who is currently in South Africa, and already took the Littlegig festival by storm last weekend.
Zaki, I have loved your music, and we at AfriPOP! definitely have loved your work for a long time. How long have you been singing and what is the background that made you into the artist that you are today?
Wow, thank you for the support from jump. I really have felt the love from Afripop since the beginning. About ten years ago I met a lovely woman named Phiona Okumu in London, who I believe was the founder of Afripop magazine [along with Yolanda Sangweni]. She welcomed me into her home as a fellow African and as an artist she had been told to pay attention to. I was on a UK tour with a bus full of legends for a series called the Bass Festival. Black Thought from the Roots, Rich Medina, Lord Finness, Ursula Rucker from the United states and Ghanaian/British Tugstar, were among the cast and crew and how I found myself part of the story, a South African/Canadian, with no album out but a (promo) EP in hand, I still wonder… The stories and situations I have found myself in as an artist make for an entertaining tale and the music that has been made over the decade in this career path, in many ways, have shown these developments, laid out in an almost cinematic score of my interpretations of it all.
You’re described as a Canadian South African sci-fi soul songstress. Whew! That’s a lot of identity right there. What is sci-fi soul?
I’m not personally the coiner of the term, but I definitely didn’t deny the description and have used it in place of…”well, I don’t really have a genre, nor do I like to pu myself in a box”…instead, I’d rather put myself in outer-space. My Identity as a world citizen also doesn’t feel forced or frilly. I can safely say that its how I feel.
On that note what sci-fi are you most likely to engage with, read or watch? What is it about the genre, especially as a musician, that speaks to you most?
My life and music is very much like a movie to me, lol. I would say that the film I’m scoring through this life of mine is subtly elluding to something bigger than ourselves. I like to research the outer layers of what we can touch and see..I like the idea that we are yet to discover what we can really do as the human race and at the same time, I marvel at how tiny we are in the scheme of things. Tiny little viral creatures, philosophers, bankers, poets, capitalists, energy workers and the list of vocations can go on into nothing.
You’ve collaborated with DJ Kent and DJ Catalist, your music remixed by the likes of Culoe de Song (who was also at Littlegig) and Spoek Mathambo. What does it feel like to work with other South African artists?
It’s beautiful. I’ve done most of my collaborations here and they are the ones I’m most proud of. I recently did an EP with long time collaborator Maramza who formally went by Richard the Third, called “ORBIT, a post coital prequel” This was done days before leaving the country 8 months ago as I was heading back to complete the full length album. It had to be done, because the timing and energy was there and the writing collaboration with Lady Venom had been a long work in the making, as we explored the concepts around the timelessness, love, loss, slavery, binary star systems and the universalities of basically everything…the bits and pieces that made up my last three years and the album that came out of that. These sorts of collaborations happen often in South Africa. I would say my best work has been done on the continent. I just seem to open up to creativity in general and feel ever grateful for having been given the opportunity to call it home.
You have some of the most beautiful videos, in some ways light years ahead of the rest. What keeps you locked into the new, the different, the avant-garde?
That’s really kind of you! I work with really wonderful people and I flow with what feels right instead of seeking the next cool trend.
After sharing the stage with the likes of Erykah Badu, Young Fathers, The Roots, and Saul Williams, who else would you like to perform with and who would be your dream collaborator? I’m not sure I’ve met them yet…lol. Okay let me see…OH Bad Bad Not Good!! These young Jazz bucks from Humber College in Toronto have got the kind of chops that I believe Jay Dilla, Sun Ra and Miles Davis would want to jam with if any of them were alive today. I intend to keep following these unsuspecting band camp darlings until we eventually have no choice but to make a record. I’m serious, they really are THAT good. I also really wouldn’t mind touring and writing with Belgian/Rwandan artist Stromae…I think him and I might have a bit of a kindred spirit in music in a way. I should reach out to his manager. I never do that though. I could change that.
What are the most recent occurrences in your life that you are most grateful for and that make you richer and your music and art richer?
Well it sounds like you already have a pretty good idea lol …annnnd you are probably correct. Giving birth to my son two years ago has been by far the best thing that ever happened to me…and my art for that matter. I feel like I’m not afraid to go all the way in. The entire experience truly turned my inside out and now as I am taking shape as this mother figure, while continuing with my creative endeavours, I’m enjoying the growth toward my best self, the deepest love of all, the truest and most vulnerable. Conversations around the business of it become shorter and much more to-the-point. I am definitely richer for it and much better at self care as I live to care for my greatest joy.
I saw your Littlegig show, I really loved it and so did the crowd. What did you like most about it? Also, I know you’re playing in Jozi on the 4th of Feb, can you talk about that.
The Littlegig festival was fun! I’d have to say my favourite parts were the view, the vibes and the delight the festival organizers carefully orchestrated to make sure you have the best possible time. Every little detail was carefully thought out and prepared. There were entire sets of antique living room setups throughout the forest, the lounge areas all had different, beautifully draped themes and the food was off the chain. I’ve been privy to a bit of the history behind the vision, the hard work and research gone into the curation and Georgia Black had a dream and made it come to life. It was lovely.
My show on February 4th in Jozi will be the first in the city for almost 3 years! Between having a baby, completing a full length album and “prequel” EP, moving continents, it’s as though time sped up, fast forward to this weekend. It will be nice and intimate, emotional and comforting. My musical path through Jozi has been both incredibly nurturing and, at times, necessarily challenging at the same time. The fans who have stood by me from Johannesburg, are loyal and they let me know where I stand.