'Transcendent spirit food' is how Zaki Ibrahim describes music. An apt description considering the intergalactic journey she embarked on to inspire a new body of work that she refers to as 'sci-fi soul' music.
I was first introduced to Zaki Ibrahim through house music. Having collaborated with producers and DJs such as Nick Holder, Kid Fonque, Culoe de Song and DJ Kent, I had become accustomed to hearing her sweet, easy vocals flowing over heavy melodic beats. Little did I know that her journey started way before she owned the house music dance floors.
Says Zaki: 'The sound that I have been developing has always been there, it didn't start with house'
She released her first EP, SHÖ (Iqra in Orange) in 2006 and spent many years travelling between SA, Canada and other parts of the world, all while creating what she refers to as 'guilty pleasure music'.
I spent a morning with her getting to know more about her journey since the release of her debut album 'Every Opposite' in 2012; it's been a minute since then, so naturally the first thing that comes out of my mouth when I see her is 'where on earth have you been?' to which she laughs and begins to break down what exactly she has been up to.
'For the last 9 months I have been in Canada. I’ve been finishing off this record which I have been really involved with. I left here in April when I had just finished my EP which is the prequel to my upcoming album.'
The EP is titled Orbit: Poistcoital Prequel and it was released in December. It covers themes related to the world of astronomy and how it relates to life and love. A theme that she continues to delve into in her upcoming album. Being that I know absolutely nothing about astronomy, I was more than happy to hear about how she came to be inspired by the science and how she managed to translate these seemingly complicated themes into her music.
'I like to put my life influences, my emotions, my journey and apply them to story arcs. I like to tell these stories almost as if they are fables, theories or sci-fi stories, that’s why I refer to my music as "sci-fi soul", it’s science fiction because it’s all very possible that this other world exists and this other frequency exists because otherwise how is there art? I’m always kind of looking at the other side of things,' explains Zaki.
She turned the themes into a musical reality by engaging in conversations with Matt Russo who is an astrophycist from the University of Toronto. She describes her intial encounter with Matt as a 'striking miracle' as her initial plans were to simply have a listening session for her EP at a planetarium and while doing research, she opted to contact someone from the University instead: 'My manager emailed the department and she was given a contact but she ended up emailing the wrong person and the person she actually emailed was the person happened to be the head of the astrophysics department at this university, Matt, who is a hip-hop head and a multi-talented musician as well.'
At this point of the conversation, I am intrigued by her passion for music and how she is constantly on a quest to learn more and find ways to be inspired by what she does not know. This is something that she no doubt picked up from her father, who she describes as her hero. Zane Ibrahim was a pioneer in the South African radio and music industry. When she speaks about him, she does so passionately, eagerly telling me about how he inspired her and always encouraged her to use her voice to bring change.
She then shows me a quote of his that she has tattooed on her right wrist, it reads 'Fools dine on what they know, the wise on what they don’t'. Her interpretation of the quote is: 'to be satisfied and stimulated by yourself and everything you know is foolish. To make way for the possibility of learning and to make way for the possibility of mistakes and to be vulnerable is much richer and much wiser.' this is a stance that she has taken on wholeheartedly since becoming a mother two years ago.
Zaki gave birth to her son Za'ir a few months after her father past away suddenly. An experience that had a major impact on her music making process, yet with the help of her fellow writers and producers, she managed to forge through the pain and continued to create beautiful music, 'I didn’t even know what I was saying, I had a knot in my throat for a lot of the songs but I sang. I still did my voice training and I sang and sang and it was like I sang out the sorrow'.
On a lighter note, Zaki's face immediately lights up when we talk about her son, 'this child is perfect for me, his personality, his timing, he is so strong and steady. He makes me feel like a queen'. She says that having her son has made her more focused and yet she maintains that it is important to always be playful and keep laughing.
Having been in the industry for hover 10 years, Zaki knows a thing or two about life, loss and making music. She has new pep in her step and she plans to bring this kind of joy to all of her fans through her music.
Her new album 'The secret life of planets' will be released at the end of April and she will be re-releasing her first EP soon. Catch her performance in Newtown this weekend and at the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival.