Vortex Outdoors Festival interview: Zarif

One of the U.K’s fastest rising music acts, singer-songwriter Zarif is receiving much critical acclaim for her infectiously edgy and versatile pop and her energetic live shows and has been hailed by Elle Magazine and the News of the World as a major talent and described by The Guardian as “the next big thing in British soul”.

Hackney Hive caught up with the Harrow-raised soultress at the Vortex Outdoors Festival in Dalston where she thrilled crowds with an electrifying set culled from her upcoming debut album.


HHZarif, tell us a bit about your musical influences.

Z – I grew up on a lot of rock as well, a lot hip hop and all sorts of music. My tastes are very eclectic.

HH Do you feel free to express your wide influences and creatively?

Z – Definitely. I’m never going to churn out the same style over and over. I wanna be able to do spur of the moment things; it may go in many different directions. It’s taken a soulful route because I’ll always have that voice but I do try to bring in as many influences as possible

HH On comparisons to Amy Winehouse…

Z –  I totally get it, were both girls from North London, Jewish background and doing Soul music. If you didn’t know who was, you’d be like “ok, kind of similar genre” though I don’t necessarily think our music is that similar. And I think she’s awesome, so there’s nothing wrong with being compared to her.

HH – Her sound is more Motown, your influences are extremely broad.

Z – That’s true, if you listen to her record it’s very much a sound of the 70’s, the Motown-era. Whereas even though I’ve taken loads of old samples and old influences there’s no one era can you hear. I like to mix the old and the new stuff, there’s a lot of different styles.

HH – On what inspired her track Over

Z – That’s a random one, a break up song but not a sad break up song. ‘Cool, I get it, cut your losses and move on’. It’s like you want out and hope the other person says that to you. It’s a backwards song.

©Zarif performing at Vortex Outdoors May 2010 photo courtesy www.alexwinn.com

HH –  Your repertoire. Amy and Lilly doing songs about feckless men. It’s a really interesting twist. Very poignant and coming from a very interesting place.

Z – But real life is in-between isn’t it?…you’re confused, you love the person, you hate the person…it’s always going to be like that. I don’t think anything is as cut and dried as “screw you, you’re of my life”. That may be one second of one mood on one day, but it’s never going to be the whole picture. When I write a song I like it to be a whole story.

Let Me Back

HH – Do you draw from your Iranian and Jewish roots?

Z – I was brought up with songs by [legendary Persian diva] Googoosh, my mum really loves her.

She’s very excited to hear that both she and Googoosh have a mutual admiration for Aretha Franklin (Googoosh delivered a barnstorming interpretation of R.E.S.P.E.C.T.) and keen to check that out.

Z – I know of a lot of Persian singers, I don’t know if there’s any direct influence. The sound of what I do is very different. One thing I would say that a lot of the Persian stuff is predominantly minor [key]. Even the upbeat songs have an underlying sadness, with a lot a minor melodies going on and lyrics underneath that aren’t so cut and dried, like we were saying [about her track Over]. I guess do go back to that quite a lot and perhaps the emotion of that has come through [in my music].

HH – You established yourself on the London open mic scene. Did you go for a laugh or was their a clear game plan?

Z – I was doing that for a year, a year and a half…all the different soul nights and started to meet great people through that (pointing to other London scenesters in the room including the jovial photographer, Alex Winn. I knew what I wanted to do; I thought it would be a great place to start out. It’s so hard to find that first gig, your first band. See, like tonight [at the Vortex Outdoors Festival] you have a house band which means they can learn your stuff and you find out what works.

HH – On opening for Beyonce. When you got the nod how did that feel?

ZThat was amazing. Do you know what’s really funny? I’d already bought tickets to the show. Me and my 2 backing singers were like “we’ve got to see Beyonce”. Then I had to call them to say “I’m so sorry, I can’t go….they’ve asked me to open for her (laughs)”

HH – How did the audience receive you?

Z – Really well. I had no idea what it’d be like. I’d already done the Chris Brown tour, where I got a really good reception though played to slightly smaller crowds than the Beyonce tour and drew a much younger audience. It was really interesting to see how a more diverse crowd, in much bigger venues, would take it. I was apprehensive that the venue might be empty [before the feature act came on] and I’d be playing to no one, but it all went down really well. It was wicked!

HH – Here’s a curveball for you. What if another of your favorite artists, Mike Patton from Faith No More calls you up for a collab?

Z – I’d be like fuck yeah!!!…of course! He’s AWESOME!!!

Zarif - Vortex Outdoors May 2010 photo courtesy ©Alex Winn

Zarif & Peter Makinde Hackney Hive's contributing editor & entertainment reporter. Photo courtesy ©Alex Winn

She did have one caveat, however…

Z – It would have to be a proper song though, not making noises for films or some of the [avant garde projects] he does now. I used to be in Metal band, I could really get into some of that. As long as it’s with someone I like I’m open to all types of collaboration, I don’t care what style of music it is.

HH – Is there anything you’d like the world to know about Zarif?

Z – It’s all on the album. It’s called Box of Secrets, that’s where you’ll hear all my influences, all my little stories about things I’ve seen in my life and other people’s lives around me. It’s all there so you’ve gotta listen to the album, then you’ll knew me.

Zarif’s debut album, Box of Secrets, is expected in June 2010



Extra special thanks to Paul, Natasha and Sarah from the festival organisers, Brazen Bunch and our hosts, The Vortex Jazz club.

Zarif concert photos provided by Alex Winn – www.alexwinn.com



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