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Aziya

East London’s Aziya is a musical autodidact. A burgeoning artist swaggering the ability to lace woozy lyrical sentiment contrasted with psych-rock instrumentation. And yes, in case you were wondering - she is a force to be reckoned with.

Interview by Amal AlTauqi

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Photography by Hamish Brown

To the untrained ear, Aziya’s discography interprets a more habitual side to alt-rock. Though her music reaps inspiration from what has already been (said and) done, through graver inspection and discussion, we are met with Aziya’s innovative approach to music, a honed sound brimming with realism, emotion, and soaring guitar riffs.

“I don’t want to do what’s already done; I want to make [music] contemporary.”

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“Being from an area that you’re not hindered by what you look like, or what you like – it’s very creative there and you don’t feel trapped in any boxes in terms of what you’re making or what you’re listening to”

In conversation with Amal AlTauqi, the musician touches on her defining musical characteristics, her journey to stardom and her forthcoming EP ‘We Speak of Tides’ out this Summer.

To those who may not know, who is Aziya?

I am a singer, songwriter, and producer.

Is there a defining characteristic that makes you, you?

I guess for me, it’s being inspired by genres. Like psych-rock, to Ebo Taylor, to then soul, and Chaka Khan. So then mixing those together – It creates a sound that is heavily inspired by a lot of guitar-based bands with a contemporary vocal on top. I always want my music to be listened to by anyone. You don’t need to be into rock music to sing along to the choruses that I make. I think that’s key for me, for what makes me and my music ‘me’.

I assume growing up in such a vibrant borough like Clapton contributed to that.

It definitely does. Being from an area that you’re not hindered by what you look like, or what you like – it’s very creative there and you don’t feel trapped in any boxes in terms of what you’re making or what you’re listening to. Sometimes, it can become a bubble and you become unaware of anything else. I love having so many different types of people, styles, backgrounds [around me]. It’s awesome.

So, having said that, did that inspire the way that you pen down your lyrics or produce the sounds that you make?

I’d say the events and places that I go to inspire the music that I make. If I end up in a sweaty gig venue like The Shackwell Arms – there’s always a story to tell. I love writing about people and the dynamics and situations between people. I definitely find that living in Hackney, there’s always something going on. Which again, is awesome. It’s not hard to find inspiration and characters to write about.

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“Being self-taught, it’s up to you on how much you want to push that skill. I think for me, it’s an important discipline and I’m still learning. This is my own music and my own career, no one is going to do it for me.”

Speaking of your progressive years, you taught yourself how to play the guitar. That’s pretty impressive. For anyone that acquires a skill implicitly is said to be more durable under pressure and develops more willpower, is that deemed true?

I totally get what you’re saying. Being self-taught, it’s up to you on how much you want to push that skill. I think for me, it’s an important discipline and I’m still learning. This is my own music and my own career, no one is going to do it for me. I think you’re right and I’ve never really looked at it that way. I guess you’re the captain of your own ship and it’s pushed me to become more durable.

I read in an interview that you aim to make clear that your songs are all written, produced, and performed by you and you alone. Is there a reason why you take the solo route for your creative output?

I hear all these ideas in my head. When I learnt production, I knew that only I can hear exactly what I want to do so I had to learn that software to get my ideas out. I needed to be able to have control of what I’m doing and what I wanted before collaborating with other people. I wanted what was in my head to come out as the sonics of the song. As a result, I have collaborated with some great producers on some of the tracks.

Perhaps, that acted as a barrier before you put yourself out there?

I don’t think it was a barrier – I think it broke the barrier. When I’m in a session, I can be like “I know exactly what you’re doing”, so it’s more of a communication breakdown. If anything, it helped me, so I don’t feel restricted by my own music. I’ve been able to communicate more.

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“Hearing System of a Down on one speaker and then Hendrix on another – there were just pockets of sounds everywhere. I was never deterred from listening to anything”

So, let’s talk ‘Girls with Guitar’, the live stream curated by H.E.R to invite other women guitarists for jam sessions and conversation. How important is it for you and others within the industry to be at the forefront of something like this? 

I think it’s overdue, really. I think it’s amazing what H.E.R is doing – she’s such an amazing presence and was leading such an amazing live stream over lockdown. It brought to light how many amazing, talented, female musicians there is out there. I’m so excited that its suddenly getting the recognition it deserves.

Speaking of recognition, you also point to be the artist that you didn’t get to see when growing up. Does being involved in movements like ‘Girls with Guitar’ constitute to you becoming that person?

It definitely has. It has created a community and naturally, I’ve made so many friends over lockdown through Girls with Guitar and through my own livestream, reaching out to fellow musicians like Towa Bird, Jayden Hammer, and all these amazing guitarists which pushes my vision.

So now you’ve found your community, growing up, who or what did you find inspiration from?

I think it was definitely in my household, it was the immediate place, it was very musical. Hearing System of a Down on one speaker and then Hendrix on another – there was just pockets of sounds everywhere. I was never deterred from listening to anything. It helped me go on my own musical journey. Once I found the love for music and I started learning the Guitar, I ended up going to a Performing Arts school and that made me fall into another rabbit hole of discovering Psych-rock music. The ground roots were definitely in my house though.

What advice can you give to young musicians who wish to follow a similar path to yours?

I think, in this day and age, with social media and being able to see what everybody else is doing – just stay in your lane and be confident in your own craft. If it means you have to come off social media, so you don’t compare yourself to other people, do it! Because everyone has different ways to get to where they need to. Trust that your lane is correct.

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“In this day and age, with social media and being able to see what everybody else is doing – just stay in your lane and be confident in your own craft. If it means you have to come off social media, so you don’t compare yourself to other people, do it! Because everyone has different ways to get to where they need to. Trust that your lane is correct.”

Has there been a fundamental moment in your career thus far?

It was a bit before lockdown when I started gigging my EP. That moment when I began to solo and having all those people in the crowd, it was when I realised it was in my depths to do. People were here for my music and they were into it, it’s such an amazing experience. I am so excited to get going with that again and play live, my music is so inspired by live instrumentation.

Well, actually, congratulations are in order!! As we’re just under a month until your sold-out show in London. That’s a key moment surely?

I know!! Forgot about that one. I have my headline gig next month. That is such a crucial moment for me, to know that a lot of the people who have bought tickets are fans. Even saying ‘fans’ is bizarre. That really came to fruition when seeing my show sold out. I’m so excited for that and it’ll be the first thing that I will do after lockdown. 

Your forthcoming EP ‘We Speak of Tides’ will be out by that time too. It features ‘Blood’, an aurally colourful single that makes me want to blast it from a car stereo. Though, through deeper lyrical inspection, the track points out some personal frustration. Care to talk us through its meaning?

This was a song I wrote about a family member. It was a time where they were going through their own stuff and as a loved one, I wanted to be there for them, but it felt like I was being pushed away because they were having to deal with their own situation. I felt like I was there for them but there was no connection, even though there’s a blood line between us. It was cathartic to write and get my confusions out towards this person. As a result, we’re now closer than ever.

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“I want to innovate a sound that has already been created to make it sound like it has been done in 2021 and not in 1970. It’s inspired by a lot of psych-rock and alternative music. I don’t want to do what’s already done; I want to make it contemporary.”

The visuals present a cinematic feel which complements the concept well. Can we expect this level of surrealism when seeing you perform too?

Be prepared to be in a mosh pit. I want to bring back the sensation that gritty, live gigs had. Hearing the heavy bass sounds and bashing guitars. I want to bring that grass-root energy back. It will be humble, but I want to bring that energy that people can cling onto.

For me, the record leans on more of an alternative sound as oppose to a rockier rock. How do you outline your artistic palette?

It’s interesting you say that, because I don’t ever want to do a classic ‘rock’ sound, I want to innovate a sound that has already been created to make it sound like it has been done in 2021 and not in 1970. It’s inspired by a lot of psych-rock and alternative music. I don’t want to do what’s already done; I want to make it contemporary. I always try to have riffy guitar lines and lead vocals so if you took away the instrumentation, you wouldn’t know it was rock music – but once you hear the guitars, you know it’s inspired by it – yet it’s still accessible to anybody.

If you could collaboratively perform alongside any musician, dead or alive, who would it be and why? 

Prince. I’m so inspired by him. He was 17 when he was producing his whole album, the records and he explored so many different genres, yet it still sounded like Prince. That’s genius. Yes, to be able to solo with him on stage would be epic. RIP Prince.

And finally, can we expect anything else for the latter part of the year? Whether that involves personal growth? Musical growth? Particular goals?  

You will be hearing and seeing my next single, I have also co-directed some visuals from the track taken from my EP ‘We Speak of Tides’. I have a few shows in London and I also have some new music on the way, with merchandise as well. Watch this space.

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