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Interview with Electric Sufi
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I started having piano lessons at 5 and at 6 started singing in a church choir. At 11 I sang a solo in a cantata, and started playing synthesizer in bands by 14. I realised at 18 that I wanted to be involved in music full-time for the rest of my life. My school work had suffered as I spent my time writing music and performing live, and by 19 I’d directed a musical, recorded demos in studios, and run music workshops. I set off to study music at 19 and have never looked back. If I wasn’t a musician, I’d be a computer programmer I expect, I got into writing software in 1981, and that’s reflected in my use of technology in my productions today.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Music takes up a huge amount of my time, but I’m a single dad with a young son, and that’s an important part of my life. He keeps me young, and introduces me to new music, which is great.
How long has your band been around?
We have been working together about 3 years, since I produced and recorded some music with the other band members, they were working in another musical group.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I’m based in Sheffield. The city has a history of steel making, and industrial sounds, which is reflected in its electronic music scene. It was electronic music that attracted me here really, that and the community feel of the city. It’s a really musical city, with an amazing sonic heritage, from early synthpop, electronica and IDM, to bleep techno, bassline, and Britpop.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Sarah, the singer in our band, is a Sufi singer, her father was as well. Sufism often refers to love, and points out that love is at the centre of everything, whether human and divine love. That makes it a very inclusive message, one that is as Universal as it is Islamic. But we do a very contemporary take on the topic, Electric Sufi seemed to accurately describe what we do!
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
I performed 2 or 3 times at the Boom Festival in Portugal, a trance festival in the mountains near the border with Spain, in the middle of a national park, near the only lake in the regional. Their chillout stages are legendary, one was on top of an island of sorts, and we played at 11am with about 2000 people spread around us, many floating in the lake, Another year there was a giant bamboo building with 2000 people again, this time listening to a 3D sound system. That was pretty special, playing at 11pm on the last night of the festival.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
I’ve performed in York Minster, which has an amazing acoustic, I remember walking around after the gig, singing and hearing my voice float up into the heavens; is has a 24 second reverberation. I’d love to play at Womad, it’s really the ultimate venue for anything that sounds even a little like world music.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I think I’d want electronica acts Leftfield and Massive Attack, Tuareg band Tinariwen, and Joni Mitchell. That would be amazing!
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Be nice to everyone, and say yes to everything you can. You never know what will be your opportunity, and who might be able to help you sometime in the future. I still sometimes work with people I’ve known for 40 years. Music is such a close community, no one wants to work with anyone who is a pain; everyone wants to work with people who smile, are positive, and want to help out. That’s the person to be.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
My best advice would be to just keep on going. The people who I’ve seen do well with music just never gave up, they kept on working and if they got knocked back they tried harder. You have to keep going, especially when it seems particularly difficult, those are the times when you learn the most.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I wrote one called ‘I Need Your Love’ which will be on the Electric Sufi album when it comes out in May. It has a first verse which is an adaptation of words by Abbess Hildegarde of Bingen, the 12th Century Christian mystic, and then a second verse adapting the 13th century Islamic poetry of Rumi. The whole thing is framed like the planet’s begging us to look after it better. I love the way it worked out.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
We do another Hildegarde piece, this one is actually in Latin, and uses the original melodym called O Ignis Spiritus, O Fire of Life. It’s just stunning, and to have a Muslim woman singing an ancient Christian chant, is really powerful, especially enhanced by our electronic and global sounds. People really love that one, that’s why it was our first single.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Usually we start with an ancient text, something spiritual from a long time ago, something that relates to people from different cultures. That usually inspires me to put together an electronic track, which I get Mina to play on top of, and Sarah to sing along to. Then I add more electronic layers, and cut and splice the acoustic tracks into shape to form something new.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Our main message is that different cultures have more in common than what separates them. And when you are making music the differences dissolve. Music can I think help us find a common purpose, and no cause is more important right now than addressing climate change. So that’s addressed in most of what we do.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Yes we do! I’m neurodiverse, so sometimes end up at loggerheads over something, but we always talk it out. It’s usually because we care so much about what we are doing, and want it to be just right. Usually we find a compromise, or a third path forward. I think if you care enough about the music to defend how you think it should be, then that passion comes through in the music.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Our second single is out on 29th March, Breathe in Love. Then Hudaaya will be out a month later and the album in May. The album is just amazing, I think people are going to love it. Working with Mina and Sarah has been amazing. We’ve got a new singer involved now too, Sarah is moving on to other projects, so we have a brilliant singer Satnam Galsiam, who is from a Sikh background. She’s also sung a range of Sufi material. We are already writing new tracks. We have videos for the next two singles, which were shot with 6k cameras, and look great.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
Search for @ElectricSufiUK on YouTube, instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, and people will find us. The YouTube page is great, as it has the videos on it.