There’s a standard narrative that an artist releases an album, but for Zaki Ibrahim it seems the reverse is true. From one angle, Ibrahim’s career is punctuated by extended absences from the Toronto scene where she built her name, launched a label and found success. From another vantage, for an artist who is known for her multiplicity of influences and identities, absence from one scene is in fact presence in another. The difference between departure and arrival is simply a matter of perspective. Ibrahim’s process, very much about immersion, connection and being there, wherever there may be, is a fundamental attribute of self and sound.
“I didn’t know I was gone,” begins Ibrahim in the trailer for The Secret Life of Planets, a spoken word treatise so poetic and cosmically disorienting that Ibrahim’s philosophy of elsewhere surfaces in the vapours, while the credits roll and you question your place in the universe. “I was gone,” she confirms, and then you realize the word nomad, which often appears in the context of trying to explain Ibrahim’s trajectory, describes something much deeper and truer about her helical path; it’s more a fingerprint than a figure of speech.
Throughout her career, from Vancouver to South Africa to Toronto and many points in between, Ibrahim has worked against the encroaching systems and machinery that would limit or dilute her vision. It’s impossible to imagine the future if you can’t escape the present. There, in the hypercurious process of transposing atomic-level details into big ideas and back again, songs emerge. Ibrahim’s work pushes back against binaries, against reductiveness, against the clenching muscles of expectation. “Planets isn’t just a product of black American or South African music styles; its multiple identities make it distinctly Canadian,” writes critic Anupa Mistry for Pitchfork. “It’s the work of an optimist whose voice wasn’t silenced by the confines of an unimaginative industry; it’s expansive in effort, and by sheer existence.”
Described as “a retro-Afrofuturist vision sending listeners on a journey through 40 years of electronic music,” (Nuvo) Ibrahim’s music brings elements of spoken word, hip hop, soul, house and 70s pop together, filtered through the prismatic and often contradictory lenses of personal, historical and scientific relativities. Even the concept of diaspora seems to fall short of capturing the vivid vibrational multitudes of Ibrahim’s scope, more than the sum of static geographic parts.
On stage, Ibrahim delivers theatrical, intricate configurations of bodies and ideas built on a contrast of sharp precision and untethered joy. Ibrahim aims to find space for spontaneity within the parameters of structure; in the same way that her music explores non-linear models of time and space, Ibrahim’s performances are designed with fluidity and recombination in mind.