Rider Shafique. Identity is a path
Rider Shafique is an unique artist and spoken word musician from Bristol, living and performing between the UK and New York. Music and lyrics are always at their best when used as tools and this man proves it the most. His words and approach have redefined the instrumentality of activism, mind power and awareness, combined with righteous dancehall and a sound system culture message.
He has collaborated with producers like Author, Kahn, Sam Binga, Ishan Sound, Gantz, Epoch and released on labels like Deep Medi Musik, Bandulu, Young Echo, Peng Sound, Dub-Stuy Records, Hotline Recordings, Exit Records and Black Box.
Our chat at the Outlook’s tenth anniversary was sound tracked by the heaviest rain during the festival, and it was a very appropriate background for a relaxed and wisdom-sharing interview session.
Have you performed at Outlook last year too?
Yes I did, last year was my first time here. I have been on stage with Deep Medi Musik and Bandulu, Kahn’s crew with whom I’ve performed our collaboration Prophet. This year I’ve done boat parties with Critical, I’ve been on stage with Sam Binga, the first night I did ZamZam Sounds on the Mungo’s Arena, the set with Von D and I finished with the Dub-Stuy Boat Party. Its a nice feeling to perform on different stages in the same festival.
Talking about performing a lot, you have a very extensive career of almost twenty years now. When we put this in balance I am really curious which show(s) would you label as memorable?
I have had many projects until now, on lots of stages, sounds and places. They all have been memorable, but I’ve always enjoyed the Deep Medi Musik parties and gigs, where I’ve been invited to perform. And for example, the ten year anniversary they did in Brixton was special. I also remember now some gigs I did in Bristol, my hometown, at the Motion Skating Park with the Bandulu crew, with Kahn who is also a bristolian and Ishan Sound of the Young Echo collective. Home is where the heart is!
How did your collaboration with Miss Red for A Wa Yu Want came about? The remix Kahn did is also very popular among the sets we’ve heard lately. It also has been dropped by Gantz in Bucharest in July and I am sure he blasted it at Outlook too.
I met Miss Red from being together around the circuit and doing gigs at the same events and she knew Ishan and Kahn too because we’re like an extended family. We performed live before, bits and pieces, everything kind of over lapsed and when I was in the studio with Ishan we decided to do a tune with her. She was up for it and I wrote my part, the hooks and I put my bits down and then she came over to Bristol and we recorded it at Sam Binga’s studio. After than I dubbed my vocals so we can sound like we’re in the same place at the. It’s nice that it was embraced by our peers and friends and they helped make it reach a bigger audience.
From dark atmospheric tunes to a more energy and dance floor oriented ones, your voice and lyrics feature on a lot of bass music oriented records. The type of studio, the microphone, the preamp, the producer, how all of these put a fingerprint on the final record?
From my experience with vocals it doesn’t necessarily need a huge studio. I have been in those, they have a nice energy and feel, but as long as the mic is good enough, you get a good recording and it can be used. From all the producers I’ve worked with I really enjoyed working with Dom “Ruckspin” Howard, who is one half of Author and works with Submotion Orchestra too. He kind of pushes me and I like that, my vocals can transcend when producers mingle and challenge me. Usually producers send me beats so I just use my local studio, I go by myself and layer up as my voice sounds better that way. I do lots of adlibs, I give them much more than they need, so they have material to work with and mix it so it sounds good. Coming back to Dom, I am not usually in the studio with a producer like that, most of the songs I do, people just send me a beat, I get the vibe and send them the stems back. At Ruckspin’s studio he was still working on beats, we sat down and experimented with everything together, he pushed my voice in certain directions that I wouldn’t have thought on my own. When there’s two minds you always come up with more ideas and so we can complement each other for a surprising results.
You have built along the years a lot of strong connections with artists and producers from a large spectrum of genres. How did this network evolved and how did these connections come to life? From the listener's point of view it is very nice to see an industry so connected that works together to reach a greater audience.
It grows over time I think. With Kahn for example, I was signed to a label back in 2009 and I did an album under the name Black Canvas. So back then when I started music it was with a guy called Mister Melody, who was the singer and I was the rapper and the DJ. We used to host for a sound system called Pressure Drop, and that was my foot into the music industry. We did the album Rise, as a group called Black Canvas with the Cool and Deadly Records, an offshoot of the parent labels Breakbeat Supercharged and Against the Grain. Because this was the time when dubstep and that kind of sound was just starting we had some feedback and exposure. Sadly though, that label fell through, but I worked and kept in contact with other people who were on that label, I worked further with I.D and Baobinga which is Sam Binga. Sam invited me to the Red Bull Studios one day to do a tune with him and Kahn. We did that and kept in contact and then one day Kahn approached me and said he wants to make a song that became Prophet. The rest its history, his entire EP was a hit. I like to go outside my comfort zone with songs like my collaboration with Oxxosi too.
Talking about challenges, have you gone and challenged yourself in a different way, learning an instrument or producing tunes and beats?
I used to roughly produce, make beats and stuff, the Black Canvas album, I made the skeleton of the beat for each song. I can program a drum pattern and know how to program the samples I like, give the song a structure, but I’m lazy when it comes to arranging it and mixing. I make rough ideas, get the samples together and then give it to producers to finish. When it comes to music I combine all kind of different elements and influences so I can feel I could write anything, stepping over any kind of music genre barrier.
I never set out to be a spoken word or a dancehall artist, but a lot of people ask this of me. I just followed that path, if they give me inspiration and energy, then I provide what they need.
So when I was approached to do a theatre play by the people that I’ve worked with for a long time I took that opportunity. I’ve never done anything like that before and that’s where my song I-Dentity came from. I wrote that as a poem just to perform, alongside Freedom Cry and another one and then it turned into a 45 minute theatre play that I’ve toured the southwest with. That was another challenge.
As a writer, have you ever had writers block?
I am at the level where I can go into the studio and write a tune. I just get the vibe and energy from the music and I can write to it. Coming back to I-Dentity, it didn’t come out in one session, I started out and imagine it written just to those atmospheric sounds. I only really realized the power of it and that it sounded good when I started reading it to people and it blew them away. So there is writers block sometimes, you do have it, but you just learn to build and build so you can surpass it. Like I said, I am not trying to speak about one certain thing, and that helps. There are things to speak out about everyday and it might seem complicated but you have to force yourself and keep persevering.
There is a lot of music coming out today. Now people can release music pretty easy, vinyl or digital, everyone is a couple of clicks away from this possibility. How do you keep up with so much music? Do you collect records?
I like it a lot, but I don’t really collect it anymore. I used and I have so many albums at home, but I don’t even have a CD player no more. Technology keeps on changing and you have to keep up. But vinyl for me is a piece of art, the artwork, the sleeve, there’s lots of effort and consideration that has been put into the cover only. The vinyl itself can have different colors and when I hold mine in the hand, I can sense the blood and sweat put into it.
The last ones that I bought from New York, are for research on my new spoken word project, the continuation of I-Dentity. So I bought Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington speeches from the Civil Rights Movement Era. I also got one with Asian folk songs and an West African anthology with lots of local instruments and textures. I just want to get simple sounds but loop them effectively, powerful speeches and things like that. So, I cant say I still collect records, but most definitely I am still buying some.
Talking about personal tunes, all of your work except those singles I-Dentity and Freedom Cry are collaborations. You have enough songs with different producers for three or four albums and you’ve never put them together on a CD or something. Why?
The thing is that when you work with other people you have to conform a bit. I have the Black Canvas album Rise released back in 2009 but it still feels like a collaboration too. So yes, you said it right, in that way, I haven’t really done a Rider Shafique album yet. It has to be right though, these bits and pieces that I get from different producers they are not 100% me. They work and I am proud of it, but I can’t put them on a Rider Shafique album. The time hasn’t been right yet. But it is coming sooner than you might think.
From your music and other endeavors experience, which would you consider to be great achievements?
I like to inspire people and taking I-Dentity, the 45 minute play, into schools and discovering that my story can inspire others and future generations is very rewarding. Times have changed a lot and I decided to take the the play to schools. I remember one particular in Bristol, where it is a school of mixed children, that was my most nervous performance ever. Because I am thinking is my message relevant to the youth of today? Am I wasting my time and theirs? But to see and hear the feedback from those young people and them saying yes, you really inspired me, made me want to do right again and do more of these performances and type of work. That makes it all worth while.
I don’t care about money and fame or fortune and hype, I don’t want to be the best MC out there or I don’t need to be on the most popular label, but as long as I inspire and uplift some people, give them a powerful message, make them open their mind and think about everything in a different way, I am happy.
Besides music I used to work with children, I worked with children in foster care, foster homes. I did that for many years in Russia in the city of Ekaterinburg, and then in Bulgaria, with institutions from Sofia. I like to be in the position of giving people the opportunity they wouldn’t have usually.
You have a new EP and a song, Chinchilla, with Sam Binga out soon. The track sounds amazing and we know it was a different kind of collaboration, you've actually been in the studio together and you contributed with ideas on the production and song structures? Tell us more.
The EP is called Champion and we started when Sam Binga gave me a beat at the beginning of the year. I voiced it in the studio with him and we decided to do more tracks in this hybrid dancehall kind of style, so we spent more time in the studio together constructing beats and riddims.
I would give Sam reference to the feel of the music that is so important in dancehall and tell him what was needed in addition to the ideas he had already come up with so it was more of a mutual effort.
Also speaking about new projects please introduce our readers your latest project, LOC, this collaboration with photographer Khali Ackford.
LOC’s is a photography project, a work in progress celebrating Black Culture. Many people I looked up to when growing up have sadly passed away and there is little left to remember them by. I lost two aunts in 2015 due to cancer, both of them had LOC's, so I wanted to create something in their memory. If I don't create strong images of my people who will? There are many talented like minded people all around, and me and Khali Ackford had worked together on bits of this previously, but I approached him with my idea and he immediately loved it.
We have been working on the project together ever since, so at this time LOC's tours with I-Dentity, the theatre play, and is part of a series based around Black Identity. Currently it is a photographic exhibition, but hopefully we will release these images in many other different formats.
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