After returning from this year’s Envision Festival in Costa Rica, we connected with the humble, personable, and totally cool Adham Shaikh to talk about himself and his amazing music on a Skype conference conducted out of the back of his circa ‘54 bus/recording studio in the mountains of British Columbia. We covered everything from festival survival, to favourite music, to organic food.
Motioning to the screens and dials of his recording studio, built into the back of an old bus he used to call home, “I’m working on a video right now. I’m rendering some outputs and suddenly everything starts beeping!…”
And he starts the interview by asking ME a question…
Adham: So, you survived Envision?
Brie: I did, it was amazing!
Have you been to Envision before?
Adham: No, that was my first time so I was perhaps not as prepared for certain aspects of the jungle…
Brie: Such as?
Adham: The humidity was pretty much the thing that shut me down, but once it rained it eased off and I found it much more manageable – the pressure was a lot less. And the distances of everything… I ended up being stranded with these old guys in a cabin way far from the festival. (Laughing) But after the second day, gratefully dry, I couldn’t complain, watching the rain pour…
Brie: You were lucky to have a solid house for sure, those of us who opted to camp out ended up sleeping in soppy tents for days.
Adham: I have the utmost respect for you, and admiration, and for that survival skill you seem to have.
Brie: It was all part of the experience.
Adham: Have you ever been there before?
Brie: No, I never had been. It was my first time, and I was completely blown away by that playground! The art, the music the chill space… I was really happy. I’ve been to several festivals but haven’t ever experienced anything like Envision. I will go again, for sure.
Adham: If I went again I would try to be a bit better prepared. I would rent a house for sure and have a secure place to store gear and rent a little scooter or something.
Brie: That’s good advice. I ended up not sleeping in my tent those rainy nights, just sleeping in the Tea Lounge.
Adham: I noticed, too, that it was rainy but it was warm! It was never cold like up here [in Canada]… where you get wet and you’re like ‘oh no!’ I went walking in the rain; I went swimming in the rain. Though I must say that the road in and out of there with the slimy mud… our car was sliding like it was on a skating rink. A guy was walking around out there and slipped and was covered in about an inch thick of that slimy mud. He had to strip down to drive back into town!
Brie: (Laughter) Thank you so much for getting together with me to do this! Sorry we didn’t get to connect at the festival. But this is really great; I’m really excited to get to talk to you, ask some questions… I’ll jump in with an easy one to start off with..
What are you listening to right now?
Adham: What’s most recently in my ipad that I’ve been really enjoying is this project out of Australia called Mystic Beats, I have the most recent Spoonbill collection, I think I have JPOD’s Gospel and Grass Sessions, and I have a bunch of my own unreleased songs that I’ve been playing on a bunch of different car stereos to see how it sounds… what else do I have in there?… Oh, the new David Starfire album, and Earthrise Soundsystem just released ‘Remixes are People, Too’, or something like that. And that’s really cool. That’s a little taste.
David Starfire and JPOD were both at Envision; did you get to see their sets?
Adham: Yes, they were both at the festival, and they’re both good friends. We’ve done remixes for each other, although I still owe JPOD a remix… David Starfire’s an American, he lives in California, and JPOD’s a British Columbian. He’s been on the road for so long that he’s only here for a month a year or something.
Brie: Yeah, he was touring around Vancouver Island just a few weeks before the festival, actually. I had only just heard of him, and heard all this hype, and then I went to Costa Rica and there he was! I loved it! He really blew me away.
Adham: Yeah, he’s really talented. I love his style of glitch-funk, it’s really playful.
Brie: I couldn’t help but dance!
What would you say your approach is? You say his [JPOD] music is playful; how do you approach your tunes, in what spirit? What’s your intention?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I’m wanting to blend this real energy that allows dancers to connect with the music.[/quote] Adham: I guess as a writer/creator, I’m wanting to blend this real energy that allows dancers to connect with the music. As well as trying to fuse in some different culture or colour that has really inspired me and seeing if I can blend them together. It’s been lots of sacred instruments from the East in my earlier music, but in my forthcoming album there will be some more Latin influences as I’ve spent the last year traveling through Central and South America, and even in my set in Costa Rica I put in a little more Latin flare and flavour in my set.
Brie: It was really great to hear the variety. Your influences from previous albums have been Indian…
Adham: Yeah, Indian, and African and North African and the sort of belly-dance flavour Indian sounds. And I guess now I’ve just been collaborating with some different Latin musicians and some guitarists I’ve met over the last few years and it just felt like this natural thing – all of a sudden in the last year I went to Peru and Equador and now to Costa Rica as well. You know, it’s in the air. It’s certainly something that gets people dancing and moving, hearing some Latin sounds. I guess I intend to make music that’s really inspiring to get people dancing.
When is your new album coming out?
Adham: I have Volume 2 of the remix album Refractions that was released on April 20th, after that this album will be ready. I’m sort of in talks with Nicademus and WonderWheel records out of New York about maybe an EP. There’s another label in France interested in a couple songs. I’m just sort of trying to figure out right now what to do. My friends tell me I need to just release another full CD – ‘Don’t break it up, blah, blah, blah’ – so I don’t know yet, I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m just writing tunes… I’m working on a couple films, so that’s been my primary focus for the last little while and probably will be until May or June. So, hopefully I’ll have a better answer for you by then. (Laughing)
What videos are you working on?
Adham: I’m working on a film for Knowledge Network called ‘Working People’. It’s basically the labour history of British Columbia. I’m working on another 7-episode TV show based on Deconstructing Dinner, which was a community co-op radio program that looked at food security and where our food came from and deconstructing the myths about it all. Now they’re making a TV show, but it’s part cooking show now, involving chefs and talking about different ingredients that they cook with, restaurants making relationships with farms, CSA farming, and all that kind of stuff. So, that’s what I’ve been working on for the last few days since I got back from Costa Rica.
Are you involved in the food movement besides working on this show?
Adham: In the sense of shopping at the Co-op myself, trying to buy locally and doing my best to work hard and save enough money to buy organic food to feed my family. Supporting my friends at White Crow Farms, trying to buy chickens or eggs or whatever it is they say they have at the time… and supporting my friends that way. So, as much as I can. But certainly for me, also, by working on these types of documentaries and giving my music, supporting these multimedia artists in telling this story, I’m finding a way to do that.
Brie: Yeah, not only do you take small steps for yourself, but you also inspire others when you’re able to share that information with people, right? You make it more accessible.
Adham: It certainly is about sharing information these days. There’s a lot of good information out there and somehow when it’s coalesced in a piece of media, people seem quite comfortable to watch a 25-minute Youtube video where you can really give some information that’s backed by fact, and still invites them to continue educating themselves about those issues, instead of perhaps proclaiming to be the ‘be-all-end-all’ of it. Yeah, it’s a good call.
Did you get to participate in any of the workshops or talks at Envision?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I find it [workshops] a wonderful component to have at a festival to enrich people’s minds beyond their bodies and their dancing.[/quote] Adham: Not really! (Laughing) Being stranded so far away, I just took advantage of going to the beach and going to the waterfall and doing whatever I could. I sort of went wherever the ride went, sort of followed along. But I have certainly seen a number of the fellows that were presenting at this festival and I find it a wonderful component to have at a festival to enrich people’s minds beyond their bodies and their dancing. Food for the soul. Although I suspect that lots of people were running off to the beach and to the caves and all over the place during the day as well. Or trying to sleep! I don’t know how you guys stay up all night and see every artist and then stay up all day and see all the workshops.
Brie: Yeah, there was about five going on at the same time. We need some kind of machine to multiply us, or clones or something… there were some really incredible talks. Some on permaculture, food culture and local foods. There was one on seed banks too; that one was really good. It was such a conscious festival. Everything from food sharing to Unified Field Theory… Pretty wild!
What do you love about performing at festivals? What do you like to bring, and what do you like to get out of it for yourself?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I really like hearing my songs on BIG sound systems.[/quote] Adham: I guess I really do like seeing people find dance and rhythm and that trance space of losing themselves in dance and music. When I see people really connecting with that, and what I write, that’s very satisfying. The other is on a subtly more selfish and hedonistic perspective, I really like hearing my songs on BIG sound systems. (Laughter) Certainly, the sound at Envision was proper. Really bassy. I got lots of feedback from people, saying that they really enjoyed the fidelity of my tunes on that system so that was definitely a highlight.
Brie: Right on, yeah, it sounded real good, that’s for sure!
Adham: That’s the kind of experience you don’t get to have at your house, you know?
Brie: So true. Talk about hearing your sound on car radios.
Adham: That’s the next-best thing, though! Hearing your sound on a really good car stereo! (Laughing)
Are you playing at any upcoming festivals?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I’m addicted to making people dance. I can’t stop![/quote] Adham: There’s stuff going on… I have an agency that’s booking stuff. I’ve been pestering them for a while to find out what’s going on – it’s a bit of a mystery. They’re booking things and there’s definitely some local festivals that I’ll be doing. I’ll be at Bass Coast again, for sure, helping with a life project. There’s Believe Freedom Festival in Whistler. Looks like I’m bringing my Outworld Orchestra to that… and Shambhala.
There are 8 weekends in the summer and as a musician it’s a challenge and you have to make it count economically as a way of providing for your family and paying the bills. That’s the challenge that sometimes makes you realize you have to choose things from an economic point of return. Which is sometimes frustrating… I wish I had enough money that I didn’t have to always make those considerations but it’s certainly one of the realities of being an independent artist in this day and age where even CD sales are not what they used to be. We’re always looking for ways to create abundance for our craft and move forward. I know lots of artists that work really hard, touring all the time. I feel blessed that I don’t have to do it as hard as some of those guys.
Brie: Well, good luck getting through all of the festivals you need to get through! And with your bookings. I hope it only brings you the best of the best.
Adham: I’ve been blessed with much abundance. It’s a juggling act. I still try to connect with people and hang out and see my family, too… but it’s certainly fun to play music! I’m addicted to making people dance. I can’t stop!
Brie: That’s a healthy addiction, I think. And thank you! It’s good for us, too!
Adham: Thank you for all of your support! I certainly appreciate media write-ups and links to websites and all that stuff. It’s great to cross-pollinate the scene.
Brie: Cool. Well, thanks so much Adham, this was really rad. I’m so grateful to have had this chance, this opportunity. Thank you, thank you, thank you – balance and abundance to you.
Adham: Awesome, thank you so much!
So there you go…. Support your local farmers, check out Bass Coast, Believe Freedom Festival and Shambhala this summer to see Adham Shaikh, and don’t forget to bring your rain gear to Envision 2014!
For more info on Adham Shaikh: