JOY IN­SIDE HER TEARS

Exclaim! - - READERS POLL 2017 - By Ryan B. Pa­trick

AT ITS ZENITH, MU­SIC IS AN EMO­TIONAL STATE­MENT. For Zaki Ibrahim, the cre­ation of new al­bum, The Se­cret Life of Plan­ets, is neu­ro­chem­istry in mo­tion. Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced the death of her fa­ther and the birth of her son within a four-month span, emo­tional re­flec­tions on time and pur­pose­ful ex­is­tence be­came para­mount for the al­bum, the West coast-born vo­cal­ist and song­writer’s first since her de­but full-length record,

Ev­ery Op­po­site, was short­listed for the Po­laris Mu­sic Prize in 2013.

“I was in the mid­dle of writ­ing this al­bum when all this was hap­pen­ing,” she says. “It ac­tu­ally al­lowed me to deal with what I was feel­ing and to ex­plore a lot of themes of outer space, time travel, mem­o­ries, nostalgia… It took me away, but at the same time, got me even deeper into who I am.”

The Se­cret Life of Plan­ets — a riff on the clas­sic ex­per­i­men­tal 1979 Ste­vie Won­der record

Jour­ney Through “The Se­cret Life of Plants” — op­er­ates within her per­sonal space-time con­tin­uum. She spends her time be­tween Canada and South Africa, and she col­lab­o­rated pri­mar­ily with co-pro­ducer and co-writer Alis­ter John­son and multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Casey MQ to hone the al­bum’s fu­ture-minded sound of clas­sic soul, pop, hip-hop, disco and house.

“It was a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort, but I was the di­rec­tor. The lyrics and the sto­ries were there, and I had to be spe­cific about be­ing the boss of the project. There are mo­ments of col­lab­o­ra­tion, but for this al­bum I def­i­nitely played the role of pro­ducer [and] di­rec­tor.”

Her fa­ther, the late Zane Ibrahim, was man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of South Africa’s best known com­mu­nity ra­dio sta­tion, some­one who was mu­si­cal, spir­i­tual and helped in­form Zaki’s sonic out­look. She hon­ours his le­gacy with the two-part “Bi­nary,” mus­ing on non­lin­ear chronolo­gies and the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fects of time and space on hu­man con­scious­ness. Heady stuff, but a headspace that re­flects Ibrahim’s place within the high-minded sonic ex­pe­ri­ence the al­bum rep­re­sents.

“It’s a very ana­logue record. It’s touch­ing on mu­sic that has been done and things that have hap­pened through­out time. It comes from hip-hop and the sam­pling age,” she says. There aren’t any sam­ples, she adds, but there are a lot of his­tor­i­cal mu­sic ref­er­ences through­out the record, span­ning from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s into the fu­ture.

The el­lip­ti­cal project un­folds on re­flec­tions of iden­tity — her Scot­tish-English her­itage on her mother’s side and her South African fa­ther have in­formed her worldly and out­wardly out­looks. It spins on an emo­tional axis, tak­ing into ac­count that she was al­ter­na­tively griev­ing death, cel­e­brat­ing life and pon­der­ing fu­tures within a post­par­tum state.

Con­cep­tu­ally, The Se­cret Life of Plan­ets or­bits around the idea of the mys­ti­cism of sound; it maps along with her own emo­tional highs and lows, rec­og­niz­ing that sad­ness and joy are shades on the same spec­trum of love. And in this con­text, all feel­ings are ven­er­ated, non­com­part­men­tal­ized.

“What came out was more joy than grief. The al­bum was just a cathar­tic thing to do.”

It’s touch­ing on mu­sic that has been done and things that have hap­pened through­out time.”

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