Band of the Day

2013.02.11

Zaki Ibrahim

A South African (by way of Canada) R&B/electro-soul artist who bangs out eclectic rhythms
I wrote my fate, I'm not innocent. Not a drop of my time is wasted.
lyrics from Draw the Line

Globally distinguished singer Zaki Ibrahim is a conceptual genius. Even before the completion of her most recent release Every Opposite, she was already fleshing out the accompanying theatre production and short film – rearranging its details scene by scene.

The stage show for Every Opposite, draws on Zaki’s multi-dimensional talents as storyteller, performing artist, director, choreographer, fashion icon and individually talented vocalist.

For her, visuals must be as expressive as the music is. In this case, the visionary fusion of artistic disciplines is aimed at transporting the listener to the centre of the “semi-fictional”, apocalyptic world that her new collection of music evokes.

Transporting audiences to new and forgotten territories is a central part of the Zaki experience. Over the course of two EPs, 2006’s Sho: Iqra in Orange and 2008’s Eclectica: Episodes in Purple, Zaki’s blend of arresting melodies, illuminating lyrics and innovative beats invited collaborations from acclaimed artists and producers such as King Britt, DJ Spinna, Nick Holder, Spoek Mathambo and Boddhi Satva, to name a few.

In South Africa, Zaki has been carving the local dance music scene a light-footed elegance. She lends dreamy vocals to DJ Kent soulful tech tune Sunrise and appears on the new Culoe de Song album Elevation. Culoe also remixed Ansomnia, Zaki’s contribution to the soundtrack of Tyler Perry’s film For Colored Girls. The soundtrack features Janelle Monae, Lalah Hathaway and Macy Gray, among others.

Zaki, a South African citizen, was born in Vancouver, Canada, and grew up both in Canada’s left coast as well as South Africa’s Western Cape. Her mother, an English teacher and poet, blessed her with the mastery of language and a gift for imagination. Her father, an exiled, eccentric, freedom-fighting South African, banged out rhythms on her baby chest to lull her to sleep as a child. Hence her confident sense of rhythm and flair for magical spontaneity. “The first lessons I learnt about music were from drumming,” she remembers. “And you can’t think about drumming when you doing it. Then it becomes something else.”

While operating outside the confines of genre, which for her is as ridiculous as racial classification, Zaki has a distinct hip-hop sensibility which she also credits to her father: “He said to me that this would be the thing to hold everyhting together. It’s an expression of free thought, like jazz is.”

In 2005 Zaki, as part of the District Six Music collective joined the African Way Tour with K’Naan, Tumi and the Volume and DJ Nana. She performed at the Black Lily Film and Music Festival in 2008, opened shows for Erykah Badu, Saul Williams, Mos Def and appeared at 2010’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Meanwhile, her second release Eclectica:Episodes in Purple cemented her reputation as a dynamic talent, earning her a Juno Award nomination for Best R&B Recording in 2009 for the song Money. The Afro-house remix, by Philadephia beat scientist King Britt broke further boundaries for Zaki, breaking into the UK nu-jazz scene thanks to Bugz in the Attic spins.

With Every Opposite, Zaki has further distilled her wide-ranging palette into a potent singular strain. She can reel off a list of icons like Michael Jackson, Prince, Lionel Richie, Sade, Stevie Wonder, Miriam Makeba, Bobby McFerrin, Zap Mama, Radiohead, Madlib and J. Dilla counting them as inspiration. Her uniqueness, however, is in her ability to meld those fragments into a cohesive sound.

Towards this end, she carefully selected a cast of characters, including Kenyan producer Wawesh (Just a Band, Muthoni the Drummer Queen) and South London production team LV. The core of the project was produced by Tiago of Tumi and the Volume and 340ml fame. “Zaki has an extraordinary voice and no instrument - not even an orchestra - would be able to compete with it,” says Tiago. “So it was logical that to balance these songs, percussive instruments would be the way forward. Sort of like having Zaki's voice fighting a million drums, on top of a melodic bed of music.” The result is an album that sounds so impossibly diverse, it could have been recorded in the 80s, 90s, or some time in the future - all delivered in a trademark mix of whip appeal and urgency that makes it heartfelt and sensuous at the same time.