052 — Rahill Jamalifard (Habibi/Roya)
Tuesday, April 23, 2019: Springtime Again with guest Rahill Jamalifard
Rahill Jamalifard is first generation Iranian, born in the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan. She fronts two New York-based musical groups, Habibi—inspired by her Persian heritage and 60’s Motown—and more recently, Roya—a minimal psychedelic ensemble whose early formation included Hamish Kilgour, notable as a founding member of New Zealand’s seminal post-punk band The Clean. Additionally, Jamalifard is an artist, activist, and DJ.
We’re pleased to welcome Rahill to the program with a Q&A followed by a mix inspired by the pensive and slightly somber start to Spring: "A collection of sensitive songs that have stuck with me and continue to say hello."
Can you touch on your background and how you got to NYC?
I grew up in Michigan going back to Iran, where my parents immigrated from and where the majority of my family remains, for the summers of my youth. The experience of time spent overseas gave me a strong sense of awareness and self pretty early on. Before I moved to NYC I was living in Detroit and on a whim hitched a ride from a friend who was driving to NYC, I hadn’t been and had always wanted to visit. That was 10 years ago and I have lived in New York ever since.
Can you elaborate on your musical projects for those who are unfamiliar?
I’m involved in few different projects. Habibi has been my main creative output and the longest running project. I started Habibi around eight years ago with some of the first friends I made in New York. During a three year hiatus with the group I started a post punk project called Roya, with the original drummer of The Clean and my close friend Jay. Most recently I’ve been working on some solo stuff. For me expression comes in many waves and styles, so having different avenues to channel ideas through is important. They all differ, as does my taste in music.
Your Iranian heritage has long informed your creative process, be it song-writing or art. Can you expand on your experience and the importance of being outspoken and bringing visibility to your culture through these means?
Early on I recognized my ‘differences’ as a person of color, and that experience of alienation was paramount in my formative years. Being met with disapproval based on my cultural background or how I looked provoked me to celebrate those differences and vocalize my solidarity with whatever qualities was making white suburbia uncomfortable. Long story short, I was forced into ‘wokeness’ in second grade on a playground, but it’s an experience I’m thankful for.
I think I humanize a type of person that to many people seems far away or is generally misrepresented, so I do find great importance in talking about my heritage and culture. Naturally we represent what we identify with, so that has always bled through in everything I’ve done creatively, my identity has always informed my music and my art.
What is the biggest challenge about being first-generation in our trying political climate and how do you navigate through that challenge?
Loaded question, hard to know where to begin. I think a really big challenge for me is hearing the constant bashing on Islam and muslims. I grew up Muslim and still culturally identify as Muslim, which is a pretty abstruse concept, and something I'm still interpreting for myself. But it is hard to listen to the constant critique and condemnation of a community that was as a safe space that accepted me, and that many of the people I love belong to.
I’ve always been outspoken, as a youth I participated in demonstrations and held community gatherings, trying to spread awareness and find solidarity amongst my peers. I continue to do that now, but it's not in a high school cafeteria or on a college campus, its more focus on using a platform to inform my community and give a voice to a narrative that the media wants to silence.
Now what are some advantages and strengths of being Iranian-American?
The food, the culture, the history, the art, the music. There has always been such a strong emphasis on the arts since the dawn of the Persian empire. I feel like I have an inherited love of music and art through that ancestral connection. Did I mention the food?
Besides yourself, who knows you best?
Definitely my younger sister Naz.
Walk us through a day in your life...
Always wake up on the earlier side, takes a minute to get going, but first order of business is getting coffee. I try to bring along a notebook, the practice of writing down dreams and ideas when I first wake up has always been helpful in my writing process. I feel like theres an uninterrupted creative stream that is still flowing during the first hours of your day, where ideas and visions aren’t buried under the weight of responsibilities and stress of being a full time working and functioning member of society.
Coffee is usually followed by recording something, could be a vocal melody or a quick draft of a song on my Casio. I try to work on something everyday, just to keep a practice. Then I’m usually walking somewhere, lately its been walking around and listening to new Habibi record in headphones at various locations, it helps with the mixing process. I have spots I like to stop by, sometimes I stop by Academy Records, where I used to work and still pick up shifts, I’ll hang for a bit and dig through records.
I usually spend a couple hours running errands around the city, then come home by early evening, put on a record, if I’m DJing later pick out records for my set. I’m mainly a homebody, I like staying in and working on various projects.
Favorite memory as a kid?
The first time my dad took me to Persepolis, we took a road trip three cars deep, outside Shiraz with a group of my cousins, it was such an incredible feeling to walk around an ancient city where my ancestors hail from in the company of my cousins, uncles and father.
Playing soccer with the street kids in Iran is a memory I visit often, the first day our dad bought us the OG nintendo, or when Magic Johnson told me I had skill on the basketball courts one summer at our community athletic club, those are some major childhood memories for me too.
A record you never tire of?
Bobby Hutcherson, San Francisco
Love, Forever Changes
What are you listening to?
Been listening to Aldous Harding, Y La Bamba, and at this very moment, Grant Green’s ‘Green is Beautiful'.
What are you reading?
Albert Camus, A Happy Death
Last movie you watched?
Mean Streets, it's my go to.
What inspires you?
That's an ever-changing question. Right now, the seasons changing, vibraphone, lyrical fluidity, 1970’s mafioso men, the long history and art of rebellion against institutions, the mystical and occult realms of ancient Persia, listening to recordings of Forough Farrozhad reciting her poems, and dancing of course.
Favorite quality about yourself?
I guess it would have to be believing any goal is attainable. When I get an idea in my head I really don't stop to let anything get in my way, I just see an objective, no matter how far fetched or out of reach, I began to pursue a vision. I really do believe anything is achievable as long as you have the will and courage to see it through.
If you could collaborate with any person (past or present) who would it be?
Bijan Mofid, a playwright and composer from Iran. He passed away in the 80’s. He battled a lot of censorship and harassment from both the revolutionary movement and the Shah's Regime but he never compromised his work. His most famous play, Shahre Ghesse, was a satirical musical account of a very politically turbulent time in Iran, he used child actors and adults costumed as animals to give voice to challenging opinions of the opposition. He also composed beautiful arrangements that honored both traditional folk songs and contemporary Iranian music of the time.
What else is in the works for you this year?
Putting out second full length with Habibi, recording a single for Roya, and pretty excited about some solo material that you might be hearing in the near future.
Are there any causes or charities you want to shout-out or raise awareness for?
Yes, my childhood friend Vibha Gupta who is also the hardest working human I know just started a non profit. No Immigrants No Spice is a pro immigrant nonprofit aimed at flipping the narrative and shining a positive light on immigrants via a food based social media campaign, with a focus on raising money for legal NGOs that represent and advocate for immigrants.
*For more information please visit Rahill Jamalifard on — Instagram
01. Sun Ra - Springtime Again
02. Mongo Santamaria - Afro Blue
03. Itsurah Shimoda - Everybody Anyone
04. Pastor T.L. Barrett - Like a Ship
05. Alice Coltrane & Joe Henderson - Earth
06. Mesut Aytunca ve Silüetler - Bir Dost Bulamadim
07. Giles,Giles & Fripp feat. Judy Dyble - I Talk to the Wind
08. Sunny Ozuna - Put Me in Jail
09. Harry Case - In A Mood
10. Winston Hussey - Teardrops
11. Jackie Mittoo And The Soul Vendors - Drum Song
12. Eddie & Ernie - I'm a Young Man
13. Ghetto Brothers - Viva Puerto Rico Libre
14. Brenton Wood - I Want Love
15. Cymande - Cymande Rastafarian Folk Song