Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kickin' Back with Brother Ali

Brother Ali is a wise man. He’s like a preacher who doesn’t preach; a live-and-let-liver whose contemplative lyrics give new meaning to the word deeeeeeeeep. As a result of being born with genetic condition, albinism, the 32-year-old MC has seen the world from a different angle than most. Couple that with his teenage conversion to Islam (a faith he continues to adhere to), and the married father of two has an unmatched perspective on life – shared eloquently in his music.

He flies the flag of indie rap kings, Rhymesayers Entertainment, and has encountered much success on the hip hop underground. With his fourth long-player, Us, on its way out, Ali swooped into London for his first solo (and sold-out!) gig in Camden last month and spoke about fatherhood, independence, Obama and clarifies why exactly why he doesn’t identify with whiteness.

You’re about to embark on a big tour, and have two young children, how do you prepare to leave them for so long?

The only thing you can do is ensure that your relationship and bond with them is very strong. Because it’s damaging either way – it’s like fasting. I’ve been fasting for Ramadan, and the idea is that fasting is going to hurt your body – but if you eat healthy enough during the times that you can’t eat – you can minimise the damage that it does – you know what I mean? So when I’m home, I’m a really hands-on dad. I was a single dad until my son was four, so I do the whole baby thing.

How are you dealing with the time zones and breaking fast?

The thing is about Ramadan is that fasting is an option. You can choose to fast, or you can choose to fast and there is no blame on you for that – you can make it up later. When travelling in the states, I’d fast anyway – but like today – I’m not fasting. I wasn’t in control of my schedule or what and when I could eat. It’s not meant to break you down – it’s meant to teach you something. I think Islam is perceived to be this really strict religion, and it’s not. Fasting is a very unifying experience – any sort of common difficulty brings an automatic camaraderie.

How has your relationship with Ant (of Atmosphere) evolved after all these years of working together?

Ant is one of those people know you have your friends, your loved ones, and then there are those you just can’t hide from. We show all of ourselves in the music. Our friendship is the number one catalyst for the music we make together.

Have people connected with Us, the way you’d hoped, in spite of it taking a slightly different route in telling others’ stories rather than your own?

I think my core fan base will be fine and like it. I don’t question it. Often when you make an album, you try to say something or offer a new way of looking at the world - so you want the world to hear it! So of course you want to know if it touches anyone outside of your bubble. And I have no way of judging that. I never know that.

All you can do is say, ‘I made the best music that I could this year – and I tried to present it as honestly as I could.’ You have to be confident in yourself and in people and believe that wherever it ends up, is where it ends up. I think a lot of artists feel slighted because they aren’t as famous as somebody else, but at some point you have to realise that what you’re doing is not going to connect with everybody – but the people who it does connect with, that’s a real thing. And you have to be comfortable enough in who you are to let that be what it is.

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