What Zaki Ibrahim Found in the Water… Monday 09 July, 2012


Water is a powerful metaphor. Zaki Ibrahim‘s song, “Something in the Water,” from her new album, Every Opposite, reminds me of David Lynch’s book, Catching the Big Fish. Lynch says our lives are like mysterious waters and we are the mariners; we can stay in the shallow end and catch small fish, but if we […]


Water is a powerful metaphor. Zaki Ibrahim‘s song, “Something in the Water,” from her new album, Every Opposite, reminds me of David Lynch’s book, Catching the Big Fish. Lynch says our lives are like mysterious waters and we are the mariners; we can stay in the shallow end and catch small fish, but if we want to catch the big fish, we have to go deep — there the fish are bigger, more beautiful and worth every risk.

Hearing Every Opposite, is like being out to sea, watching a woman’s journey to catch her big fish. Blending, electronica, R&B and Zaki’s soulful voice, the songs are mystical, adventurous and sometime playful, sometimes haunting. In our talk with the Candian-born South Africa artist, we discuss Zaki’s vision for Every Opposite, the experience that made her once burst into tears, some of her favorite creatives across the African continent and even the time and place for booty shorts.

How would you describe your music style in just 3 words? 

Past. Present. Future.

Your new album, Every Opposite, tells a story of freedom. Can you tell us a more about your vision for the album? 

I decided to tell a story set in the future but told as if it were a fable from the past, perhaps to shuffle time a bit. I wanted to play with the concept of time and scramble man-made systems of control as if time doesn’t exist, only timing and a sequence of events and consequences. And, I still wanted to have fun with it and play on contrasting ideas.  The albums rhythms and emotions vary from song to song, but still fit in context.

I definitely took a different approach with Every Opposite than with my past EPs. This is a concept album influenced by a story I’ve written alongside the record, translated from dreams.

What new sides of yourself are you revealing with Every Opposite?  How would you say you’ve grown as an artist since Shö: Iqra in Orange (2006) and Eclectica: Episodes in Purple (2008)?

This is definitely a different approach. “Sho: Iqra in Orange” was my approach to learning with conviction and commitment; orange is the color of love and something brand new deserves to at least start with that.  The second was purple and eclectic, where I was able to experiment, and start to explore methods of production and presentation. The two EPs are not continued into Every Opposite, however the connection is definitely there in the way that I could draw on things that I had done before and flip it into context for the story I’m telling.

Zaki Ibrahim, Photo by Max Mogale

Referring to women, you said in a 2007 interview: “You need to claim your place. Your root. You are here, you are woman…and very powerful.  That is something to know, not something to work towards.” What made you say it like this? 

We are powerful because of the way we are built and men are powerful too. To say women are powerful, I don’t meant that men are weak — well, not all of them lol — but often, as women, we forget and soften to suggestions of society or the insistence of men needing to feel superior.  Having a womb and intuition must be quite intimidating, and to have a brain on top of it, well…

We need to know that we are precious and I feel we should never allow this position to be taken for granted.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I don’t think I need to be a feminist to have these views. I am an equalist if an “ist” at all.

I love the “Heartbeat” music video! It was simple, smart and innovative. Do you have a lot of say in the direction of your music videos? Are there things you refuse to compromise in terms of your artistic representation? 

Thank you for loving the Heartbeat video! I write treatments for most songs I write, but in the case of “Heartbeat” as well as with “Something in the Water,” we just went with a feeling, attached the camera to the back of the car and put the song on blast in Soweto on a Sunday.

What I like about you is that you really lead with your art. By that I mean, while, yes, there may be a time and place for booty shorts and bikinis, if it’s not in line with your creative direction, I don’t think you would try to make it fit.

LOL. There is definitely a time and place for booty shorts and the booty shake, but bikinis are for the beach.



What was the creative process like for the debut single, “Something in the Water”?

“Something in the Water” was written and recorded in a few hours, the concept was there, combining themes on censorship, self control and not being in control. It was about being disconnected from your body, as an avatar, taking the lead, taking a risk. I combined all these ideas and partly freestyled. All this in a really, really hot recording booth on a summer’s day in Toronto.

You have had the opportunity to work with many great artists like Spoek Mathambo and Boddhi Satva. What has been one of your most memorable creative collaborations? 

Playing the role as president for Kudzanai Chiurai’s “State of the Nation” installation and art exhibit.  I was asked to write a 15 minute speech as if I were addressing Africa as a new nation. I researched the words of Patrice Lumumba, Barack Obama’s speech, which was written by 29 year old John Favreau, Winston Churchill, Robert Mugabe, An Sang Su Chi, Madiba (Nelson Mandela) and a few others.

Zaki feature in Kudzanai Chiurai’s “State of the Nation”

I’m terrified of speeches. I even burst into tears during a school presentation because I froze, paralyzed by shyness. Still, this creative collaboration, unlike any other I’d done before, as a part of “State of the Nation” was a welcomed challenge. It really helped me grow.

You’ve traveled to various countries across Africa. What has been the most exciting thing you’ve seen in terms of musical creativity on the continent?

It was in Nairobi with Just a Band – three extremely talented musicians, animators, producers, performers and film-makers. Seeing what they do as a musical group inspired me to continue to push the expression and presentation of my own music.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Everything. It’s one of my mottos in life! Living unchained is something to constantly work on because sometimes when you fight for freedom, you may unconsciously create another chain in the other direction.

Sample and purchase (for only $8!) Every Opposite below. Be sure to follow Zaki on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates.


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#30unchained, 30 Days Unchained, Activism, Africa, African Diaspora, African Women, Black Women, Empowerment, Entrepreneurship, Music, Slavery, South Africa, Uncategorized

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