Zaki Ibrahim: Letting it flow

12.09.2015 | Text Dylan Culhane | Photo Dylan Culhane,  Johannes Förster

Zaki Ibrahim playing drumset

© Dylan Culhane

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Adjusting to motherhood ain’t no thing for this driven and passionate singer-songwriter.

Zaki Ibrahim is one of those enigmatic artists whose low profile belies a significant presence in the South African music scene. Performances in the city at the southernmost tip of Africa she calls home have been rare in the last couple of years (Cape Town’s loss is Vancouver’s gain), but when they do happen they always reaffirm a simple truth: this is the real deal; a true artist in a state of pure flow. With a baby in arm and a second full-length album in the offing, she’s showing no signs of slowing down. Currently balancing her demanding schedule between the North American jazz festival circuit and a Vancouver recording studio, we caught up with Zaki and her super chilled-out son.

Zaki Ibrahim sitting at table smiling

What are you doing in Canada at the moment?

I came for a jazz festival tour – it’s part of a series called South Africa Now, initiated by the Department of Arts & Culture to get South African artists performing in different jazz festivals around the world. I’m performing in Toronto this week, then have a couple shows in New York and Boston in October. I’m also working on my second album, The Life of Planets.

Last year you became a mother. How are you managing such a busy schedule in this new phase of your life?

Thankfully my partner is here with me, helping take care of Za’ir. I doubt I’d be able to do it without him. It’s interesting because things are still very similar. I write exactly when I need to write. I just happen to have given birth to the world’s easiest baby; he’s so chilled. We travelled for five hours with the band in a car and he was just part of the crew; laughing, listening to music, sleeping. So it really hasn’t been as crazy an adjustment as people told me it would be.

Zaki Ibrahim in the flow playng the drumbset

© Dylan Culhane

It sounds like you haven’t slowed down much at all.

Not really, no. I started working again three months after Za’ir was born. It felt great to be back on stage, but I was definitely more fragile than I’ve ever been before. My body is different, there are things to adjust to physically. And my dad passed away during that time, that was also something that I had to deal with. Music is therapy, and going through this healing process with my immediate family – my partner and my son – has been my saving grace.

Have you noticed a shift in your creative perspective?

I think I’m in a better place now. There were moments when I thought about things too much, and it just slows everything else down and makes it all confusing. But now I’m in a good frame of mind where I’m not too precious about stuff, just letting it flow and things happen.

Do you keep an ear to the ground on the Cape Town music scene and new artists?

Not really to be honest, besides my little bubble of activity. My mom lives here and the natural landscape is so beautiful, but Canada operates on a different frequency, with different rules and so on. So I often miss Cape Town.

Zaki Ibrahim sitting on couch

© Dylan Culhane

Do women in the creative industry get a fair deal?

It’s going to be an ever-evolving dynamic. We’re not on an equal playing field just yet. I went to see a play the other day, about Saartjie Baartman, a Khoisan woman from South Africa who was displayed in Europe because her physical appearance was so different. The play was about encouraging the healing process, to let it be known that there are so many similar stories. Discovering your value as a woman is a process, a beautiful process.

As an African performer in Europe and North America, can you relate to Saartjie Baartman in any way, in the sense of being considered exotic?

Absolutely. It’s definitely something that comes up. Being of mixed descent, I’ve often been called exotic and to be honest I find it really offensive, because it’s objectifying. I’m a talented person, and I’d like to be perceived as such.

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