Name: Rashid Ajami
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: Rashid Ajami’s ‘You Don’t Know Me’ EP is out now on Tale & Tone. His ‘Never Knew’ EP is Out Now on TOR, get it here.
Ryoji Ikeda’s audiovisual installations. He is currently exhibiting at 180 Strand in London.
A book called "Letting Go" by David Hawkins. It describes a technique that has helped me greatly with my own personal and professional growth.
If you enjoyed this interview with Rashid Ajami and would like to find out more about his work, head over to his official website. He is also on Facebook, Instagram and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started producing music at university. It all started when I received my first laptop and out of curiosity, opened up GarageBand. Soon after, I upgraded to Logic Pro and I was instantly hooked.
However, my passion for music started at a young age. I was into dancing, rapping, hip-hop and an array of musical genres from a young age. I was listening to Garage and Techno when I was 13! I also grew up learning piano and violin. Music has always been an important part my life.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
The first few tracks I created just came naturally without really thinking about the sound and style of the music. Over time, my focus has been on how I can develop my own sound and build on it. Of course, I do take inspiration in general from other artists across multiple genres, but it’s never really been a goal of mine to emulate someone else’s sound. My goal is to be unique and to find my own creative voice.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I feel that my creativity comes from letting go of my ego and personal identity. My best work happens when I’m in the moment and not over-thinking … or even thinking at all!
I feel one’s own sense of identity can often get in the way. I try to shed that when I’m making music, to go deeper and with the flow of emotions and sensations.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
For me, I would say technical challenges. At the beginning, I didn’t have the skill set to get what was in my head into the actual composition. It took some time to learn the tools and software in order to overcome this barrier and to allow the sounds and creative process to happen effortlessly.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started with Logic Pro as my DAW and a few key plugins/software instruments. However, my big discovery was the software Omnisphere by Spectrasonics. I loved the massive sound library and adaptability of the different options. I made the decision to have it at the heart of my production suite. Over time, I have also leaned more towards recording live instruments such as piano, guitar and vocals.
I’m motivated by simplicity and believe in the “less is more” approach. I want to be able to do as much as possible with the fewest technical options. This leaves more room for the core musical elements to come through versus the gimmicks and special effects that technology can bring.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Definitely Omnisphere by Spectrasonics. It’s still at the heart of my productions.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love collaborating and have been pushing myself to do it more as my career progresses. Sometimes, I collaborate in person with close friends who make music. Other times, I’ll go back and forth on projects remotely via file sharing as this allows for new and unexpected directions to take shape.
I’m also doing several collaborations with various digital artists. I will be releasing my first NFT soon, which is a collaboration with illustrator and animator, Walter Krudop. I’m also working on a few film projects and immersive exhibitions with my sister, Rania Ajami.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I always start the day with a long walk in the park, which helps me clear my head and to get into a creative zone.
I usually spend a few hours in the studio improvising and working on old tracks.
I also like to dive into other artistic mediums so I’ll visit galleries, watch movies and go to concerts.
I don’t separate my life from my creative work. That wouldn’t be possible. I use life experiences to inspire the work I do and often the themes in my songs relate to issues that I’m going through at the time.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My early EP, Rule The World, was remixed by Maya Jane Coles and I feel this was a big turning point in my career. The exposure from the release helped me gain the momentum I needed to push my music career forward in a massive way.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Meditation. I believe that this is the most powerful way to get rid of limiting thoughts and barriers. I’ve spent a long time exploring different spiritual practices and they all return to the same thing: being present.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
For me, music has always been a force for healing. I actually think it can be more powerful than drugs and medicine. I think of a famous quote by ETA Hoffman when it comes to music’s power to transform people and situations: “When words end, music begins …”
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
This is where NFTs are super interesting! There is a whole new way now for artists to copyright their assets and to hold onto their artistic rights.
Unfortunately, the very nature of creating work means the lines are blurry and at the end of the day, I think everyone borrow, steals and is inspired by what’s around them. Everything is connected and we are all influenced by one another, whether we know it or not.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think music triggers all the senses all at once, creating an emotional and physical experience for the listener. If I listen to music on a really high-quality speaker, I can almost “see” the music, if that makes any sense. Good music stimulates all of our senses !
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I believe art is something that evolves from our experiences. We express ourselves based on what we feel and experience on a daily basis. For some, this is linked to larger social or political issues. For others, it’s more about personal and intimate issues.
My approach is to let my life experiences shape my art without them getting in the way conceptually. When I create, I let go of my preconceptions, beliefs and ideas and I look to flow in the moment. The experience is the trigger for the emotion and then I ride that as I create music.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
A journey from start to finish which evolves and changes over a period of time and then comes to an end. Just like the cycle of life. Beyond this, without silence, there is no music. Looking at the gaps in-between the sounds is where we can find eternity whilst the ever-changing sounds represent the flux of life.