Rare sound: A fresh, progressive soul
New genre-bending artists keep emerging, giving journalists a hard time classifying their sound.
Most of these musicians bask in the spotlight until their cluttered styles fly off the radar.
But there are the rare few who rise above the noise, offering listeners something that is fresh yet timeless.
Zaki Ibrahim is one of them. At the launch of her latest album Every Opposite,the question most people were asking was: "How would you describe Zaki's music?"
It provided heated debates but very few satisfactory answers. The only conclusion on the night was that vocally, visually and choreographically, Ibrahim's live performances were compelling and her music unforgettable.
When I meet the Canadian-born South African songstress for an interview the day after the launch, Ibrahim is reluctant to be pigeon-holed, but describes her sound as progressive soul.
The category has been included in the Grammys to accommodate innovations within soul music. Simply, it describes artists like Ibrahim who give soul music a progressive edge by fusing it with electro, spoken word, hip-hop, dubstep and styles which were previously not associated with the genre.
"Progressive soul is sort of like [saying] 'come on guys, stop boxing it'," says the daughter of South African community radio legend Zane Ibrahim.
"I feel like I am music in many ways, not to be like 'the universe brought it to me in a dream', but I feel like it's always been natural for me. I've always had beats, sounds and melodies in my head. It's like I have this hyperactive child in my head," she says.
When she was a child she listened to Sade , Whitney Houston , Anita Baker, Dig able Planets and electro-house mixed tapes, which she got from her older cousins .
Her first attempt at making music was in high school.
"I started writing raps. Rap hooks [choruses] are the easiest thing for me to do - songs come easily to me. I still write raps but I don't think I'm any good at them. I'm not delusional. I know exactly how bad I am," she confesses.
When she was 18, she moved to Toronto from Vancouver Island and started working as a hairstylist and music events promoter while writing rap hooks for a group called The Rascals.
Later she joined a group called The Quartertones. Despite dabbling in music from an early age, Ibrahim believes she was shying away from taking it seriously.
She only began putting her all into her career after touring Canada with Tumi And The Volume, K'naan and other established artists as a tour manager and opening act as part of The African Way tour.
"Halfway through it, I was like, 'I get it, but I need to be the artist, I need to give it fair attention and not be like I'm just filling in on the side.' I realised then that I was coming up with any excuse not to do it. I suppose I was scared to put myself out there, of taking a leap into the great unknown," she explains.
When she returned from the tour Ibrahim recorded Shö: (Iqra in Orange), her first album as a solo artist.
In 2008 she followed it up with the release of the extended playEclectica (Episodes in Purple). The EP's single, Money, earned her a nomination for R 'n' B/Soul Recording of the Year at the 2009 Juno Awards, which she describes as "The Canadian Samas".
The international nomad was recently introduced to the mainstream South African music market through dance music collaborations with heavyweight producers like DJ Kent, Culoe de Song and Boddhi Satva, to name a few.
At the launch of Every Opposite, listeners got to meet another side of this multi-talented artist, while those who had followed her career since its formative years witnessed her incredible sonic progression.
On the album, Ibrahim borrows from the past with reflective sensitivity and blends in new genres with restraint. The result is a refined fusion of styles with subtle rhythmic kicks and punches centred on her sensuous voice.
It was seamlessly constructed by producers Tiago Correia-Paulo (of 340ml and Tumi and the Volume), Richard Rumney, Rich Kidd, Wawesh, Sthembiso Instro Herimbi, DJ Catalist, Nick Holder and Ibrahim herself.
"I was in a heavily conceptual space when I was making Every Opposite so there is this overall theme of compassion and empathy on the album. It explores ideas of putting yourself in someone else's shoes and then saying: 'I am this way but I'm also this other way.'
"It's like declaring that nobody's perfect but we're all perfect. So, there are a lot of contradicting ideas. But out of that the moral of the story is that fighting for free thought is necessary," she says.
Zaki Ibrahim's album 'Every Opposite' is available at major music outlets. To sample the first single, 'Something In The Water', visit Zakiibrahim.com