Why Zaki Ibrahim should win the Polaris Prize

zaki ibrahimby Michael Thomas

As a culture, we are obsessed with the past. It’s unavoidable, really, though nostalgia and remembrance of “the good old days” seem to have only gotten stronger as forces with the advent of digital technology that can store away memories forever.

When it comes to music, the obsession with the past is prevalent. Yukon Blonde idolizies 60s rock and roll with their harmonies; Maylee Todd on her latest album pays tribute to 70s soul and funk; Elephant Stone have more or less wholeheartedly embraced the later feel of the Beatles with the band’s love of psychedelia and Indian influences. There is of course nothing wrong with channeling spirits from the musical past, and it can be refreshing to hear old sounds made more current.

But it takes a bolder musical act to take older influences and fuse them with something thoroughly modern. There is, of course, one other act on the short list that does this well— A Tribe Called Red takes traditional Aboriginal influences to new heights by combining them with modern dance music.

Zaki Ibrahim is clearly influenced by the music in her current home base of South Africa, and it’s a wonder that more artists don’t see how well it blends into songs with heavy production. Production is what makes all modern dance music sound as palatable as it does, and combining it with something almost primal just makes sense.

Over the course of 13 songs and a bonus track, Ibrahim never stays content with sticking to one genre. Dark electronica, soul, dubstep and pop are just some of the styles Ibrahim goes with, making Every Opposite an album that will keep listeners on their toes.

The album is essentially two halves—one considerably darker in tone and the other a little lighter, keeping in line with the album title. The first notes of opener “Draw the Line” are undeniably ominous, and the heavy synths contrast Ibrahim’s soft vocal delivery on this track. As it brings in tribal-sounding drums, the real backbone of the song is apparent. This sense of tribal frenzy continues on into “Everything” and into “Something in the Water,” a song filled with an existential fear of the unknown. The fusion of dubstep beats makes it an extremely penetrating track.

But for every song like “Heart Beat” or “The Braves Ones,” Ibrahim has a softer and more vulnerable song to contrast it. The high point of this emotional vulnerability comes in “Black and Grey” and “Kids Are Talking.” Both aren’t quite as production-heavy as some of the earlier tracks, and therein lie their strengths. It’s hear where we more or less hear Ibrahim unfiltered and unprocessed; if anything we learn that her voice is as expressive as her press releases claim it is.

After all of this, Ibrahim chooses not to end the album in production-heavy darkness nor emotional vulnerability; instead, she chooses abstraction. “Conjure” and “Your Song” are nothing like the tracks before them, making for a truly puzzling record.

Every Opposite deserves to win this year’s Polaris Prize, in short, because it is brave enough to not rely on genre as a crutch. While innovating what an act is good at is one thing, Zaki Ibrahim shows that she can take whatever any genre throws at her and does it well. On this album, Ibrahim opens many doors but never leaves any of them closed.

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