You wouldn’t think that South Africa, Canada and England have much in common musically but in Zaki Ibrahim’s songs, the Vancouver-born, Cape Town-raised singer manages to fuse the best elements of these diverse cultures together. Part poetry, part spoken word, all drenched in layers of assorted sound, Ibrahim’s name has been mentioned alongside Jill Scott and Erykah Badu following the release of her EP, Eclectica (Episodes in Purple). Having received rave reviews in all the right places, Ibrahim is one to watch. In 2009, the singer-songwriter unleashes her creativity full scale with the release of a full length album, which promises to be as eclectic as her EP. You heard it here first!
On the eve of a trip to her beloved native, Zaki spoke to Clutch about her music, her influences, her life so far and her plans for the future.
Clutch: Your music has so many different sounds, flavours and rhythms. How would you describe it to someone who’s never heard it before?
Zaki: My favorite question! It’s music, first and foremost! It has influences from so many different things. But I feel like it’s really hard to describe what it is that I do. It’s a mixture of a lot of different things, a lot of influences, a lot of different sounds. It’s like my imagination coming through. So it has hip-hop inside, it has a lot of old R&B/Soul, it has a lot of World/Jazz and Afrobeat and all sorts of stuff. So it’s always a long winded answer with that one.
Clutch: You’re father is South African and your mother is Scottish/English and you grew up in Vancouver. What kind of music was playing in the background when you were growing up?
Zaki: It ranged from a lot of different things. We had records up to the ceiling. We had a lot of jazz like Miles Davis and Coltrane. We also had a lot of Makosa, Hugh Masakela, Miriam Makeba. A lot, a lot, a lot! Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Sade… so much!
Clutch: What was it like for you growing up as you have diverse roots in Africa, Europe and North America?
Zaki: I actually grew up between Cape Town, South Africa and Canada’s West Coast and in between that there was a little bit of England and a little bit of France and a few spots in between in the States. So there was a lot of going back and forth and there were a lot of differences from the one lifestyle to the other. There was constant culture shock going on but in a good way. I’d be able to pay attention to differences and my family definitely encouraged that and I think seeing the differences so often I was able to take note and observe a lot of the differences.
Clutch: What was it like in South Africa? You were there during apartheid…
Zaki: It was the tail end of apartheid. I’m the youngest of five. My sister had to come to Canada because at her school every other day there were riots and her school kept getting shut down. There were lots of demonstrations at the time and all sorts of family members were either injured or they were coming back from a riot, so there was a lot of turmoil. But it didn’t seem so much like struggle when you’re living there and you’re a kid but it was definitely something that my sisters and brothers, and aunts and uncles talk about now as being definite struggle. And there still is this kind of struggle in the country and there’s still a lot of violence. But I do remember some wonderful, wonderful times with cousins and aunts and lots of love and lots of music too.
Clutch: Do you get to go back to South Africa often these days?
Zaki: I don’t go back as often as I want and it’s funny because I feel like it’s getting closer and closer. My dream is to build a bridge between the two homes – Canada and South Africa – because I feel like I’ve got one foot over there and one foot over here. So I don’t go often enough but I do feel like it’s going to become more frequent and I feel like music is gonna play a role in that.
Clutch: How would you say those experiences have influenced your music and what you write about? Lyrically as well as musically.
Zaki: I definitely think that it must have impact. My dad was the thinker and my mum being the open mind and the poet, I was encouraged to be open and look at things from all sorts of angles and express what I feel and what I’m observing through poetry. Poetry is something you can take for your own and break down in a way that you feel it and hopefully the music still contains the original feeling of the observation or whatever.
Clutch: So tell me a bit about your EP, Eclectica (Episodes in Purple). What’s the concept?
Zaki: It’s a collection of songs that represent a lot of different things. It was an experiment for me to learn different methods of recording. For instance, on the first song I wanted to create a water feeling so we literally wrapped plastic wrap around the microphone and put it in a bucket of water and just tried to get certain sounds and certain filters. So it was very much a learning thing. The name Eclectica started off by poking fun at the word ‘eclectic’ for a long time and the same with the word “exotic.” Like, if you can’t figure out what it is then it’s eclectic or if you can’t figure out what that person is they’re exotic. So it was kind of like this funny thing that people use this word too much. It kind of came out of a joke. I started making up this word “eclectica” and it just stuck. Maybe that’s the genre, maybe that’s what it’s called. So it has a lot of different things in it.
Clutch: What can we expect from a full album and when can we expect that?
Zaki: The opposite! Its been in the works for a while and there was a point a little while back when I was starting to feel a little anti and a little like, “OK, I can probably just get this thing done and put it out” and that kind of thing. But the lyrics are there, I feel like the structure of the album is there and I’m feeling good about that but it’s the sound of it. In the last few months I’ve been discovering new sounds, new players, new people to get on. And there’s a certain, almost like an industrial sound meets very, very organic. So I wanna really just put everything aside for a second and just really capture that sound and spend some good time mixing.
Clutch: What do you want people to take away from your music?
Zaki: The ability to feel, to capture the feeling of where it’s coming from and to be inspired to express themselves and open up because that’s kind of what I’m doing. Every time I get on the stage it’s a little bit raw. I’m nervous and I’m scared to do this thing. But I often feel like it kind of inspires other people to open up in some kind of funny way.