The Uniter Speaker Series presents Zaki Ibrahim

South African-Canadian artist details her life’s journey and path to musical success

Music is a powerful and creative tool that can be used for social change and emotional confrontation. Zaki Ibrahim comes to Winnipeg on Sept.12 to share how her music embodies this and more at the upcoming Uniter Speaker Series.

“I will speak about my life, addressing the importance of being vulnerable and the risk in taking that,” Ibrahim says. “I will focus on the process of what kept me on my musical path, motherhood and sustainability within the arts.

“Ultimately, I want to inspire people to bring out their true selves.”

Born in Vancouver to parents from South Africa and the UK, Ibrahim had a multicultural perspective from birth. The singer recounts that travelling with her parents for work to several countries such as France, Lebanon and the United Kingdom added to her worldview.

“I think travelling from when you’re a child is always invigorating,” she says.

“You get a new perspective, which helps to build character and compassion for people in different cultural and life settings. Travelling helps us to see that the world is not only from a western or (American) viewpoint.”

This expanded worldview broadened Ibrahim’s imagination and is reflected in her music.

“It allows me to romanticize a place and feel like a world citizen,” she says.

“This comes into the music, which influences (me) not to sound like any one genre.”

As Afropunk describes her music as a blend of R&B, soul and jazz, Ibrahim sheds light on her artistic background and interest in being a blended-genre artist.

“My musical journey started off (with) wanting to write poetry, commenting on the environment and drawing on true stories through music,” she says.

She notes that her family influenced her musical diversity.

“I was drawn to hip-hop and house music from an early age due to my cousins’ interest in these genres,” she says.

“Then, I was also drawn to South African songs from my dad, because he would play them all the time (while I was) growing up.”

Also drawn to choral chamber music, Pink Floyd, Anita Baker,and Stevie Wonder throughout her life, Ibrahim notes that all her musical influences came into her imagination and took it to where it needed to go for her musical career.

According to an okayafrica interview, Ibrahim says that she does not try to be unique in her musical style.

“I do not purposefully try to bend anything,” she says.

“I just try to be. Natural is my favourite. Forced art is just creepy and not necessary. To put it plainly, I have never been able to soundbite what my genre or what my style is. And I do not try that hard to do it.”

This musical journey was not an easy one, as Ibrahim is a self-taught artist, but she highlights the motivations that kept her on the right path.

“What motivated me to keep pursuing music is the hustle,” she says.

“Within the hustle, you can put yourself in the direction you want to go in. I am very happy where I am, and the learning pace I took was perfect.

“I do not want to compete and compare myself to those who have formal university training. I am focusing on taking my path at my own pace and trying to keep it real and authentic.”

Ibrahim also calls for authenticity in the music industry, which can be shown with more representation of different groups in a normally Caucasian, male-dominated industry.

“As a Person of Colour and a woman, it is important to take up space within the music industry,” she says.

Ibrahim notes that creating your own path can come at a price, but it translates to having longevity in the music industry.

“I got an offer early on (in) my career from a huge music label, but I did not accept it, because I was conscious to not have a steep rise to success.

“I wanted to stay healthy and still be on stage when I am 80 years old or older.”

The singer wants her music to embody authenticity, addressing the emotional fluctuations of life.

“Music is cathartic. It is good when we want to have the good vibes and when we experience heartbreak,” she says.

“When you speak from a vulnerable place, it becomes a safe place for others to be vulnerable and address their emotions.

“Being vulnerable is a sign of strength, no matter what stage of life you’re going through, either motherhood, adolescence or transition.”

Following the Speaker Series, Ibrahim will travel to Germany and France for engagements and return to Canada for Pop Montreal from Sept. 25 to 29.

Ibrahim is currently working on her full-length album and a new concept album.

“I have been recording and writing in Ethiopia, working with a filmmaker for over a year,” she says.

“The album speaks on my personal journey, personifying the African continent as a women freedom fighter.”

Ibrahim also notes that the new concept album is in the form of a sci-fi documentary film.

“The film looks at this idea of migration and genealogy,” she says, “the influence of Africa on the world and how Africa and Asia overlap in terms of the food, the cultures, the spirituality and even the magnetic points on the globe.”

Ibrahim gives her Speaker Series address in Room 201 at 1 Forks Market Road on Sept. 12 from 8 to 9 p.m. The event is free for University of Winnipeg students with a valid student ID, and general admission is $10.

Published in Volume 74, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 12, 2019)

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