Interview 001: Cult Days (Saba Moeel)

Where are your parents from?

My mom is Turkish. She grew up in Ankara. My mom’s side is Turkish but my grandmother was from Crete and could also speak Greek. My dad is from Khorramshahr, a port city in the south of Iran that brought in a lot of money, and also one of the cities that Saddam Hussein attacked during the Iran—Iraq War. Khorramshahr has a lot of Arabs, and my dad is one of them. My dad says we likely came from Bahrain before that. My dad’s father holds dual citizenship to Iran and Bahrain. Both my parents speak fluent Farsi, Turkish, and Arabic. My mom doesn’t speak Arabic but can understand it.

So you’re like the holy Ottoman triumvirate: Persian, Arab, Turkish.

Absolutely. Not even I can believe the hardware I was born with, but my parents are engineers so they had something in mind. My dad’s side of the family speaks Arabic at home, but in my house we spoke Farsi and Turkish. I went to Farsi class growing up so I can read and write. I can understand some Arabic but I don’t attempt speaking it beyond hello and how are you.

Where were you born in Iran and why did your family emigrate to the U.S?

I was born in Shiraz, but we only stayed there for three months. Both when my mom was pregnant with me and when I was born, Iran was getting bombed by Iraq daily. My dad's 21-year-old brother was killed on the street by a random missile shelling. My dad's uncle was with him and also died. They were on their way to get a rental van so the family could leave. My grandpa's house was also destroyed. 

If you don't know about the reality of missile shellings and bombs, this is what happens. You are living your life, at work or at the house, then all of a sudden: jets fly overhead, sets of mikoyan miG-29's. They begin raining down missiles. The missiles explode when they hit a target and buildings are torn apart, and so are bodies. The missiles come in sets of 5 or 40. The set of 5 missiles are called Khompare; the set of 40 missiles are called Katyusha, named after Lenin's wife. My family would count each missile explosion. If they heard a sixth explosion, they would know there were 35 more to go. 35 more explosions bombing their surroundings, exploding their city, family, friends, and maybe even themselves.

I want people to understand this reality. My mom was in her office, under the table, counting explosions. She would watch outside of her office window where she had a view of my sister’s day care. One day she saw each and every single building explode around the building my sister was in. On the 40th missile, my sister’s day care was the last one standing. Rubble, flames, and dead bodies surrounded my sister's building. My mom ran over there after missile number 40. The children and daycare workers were screaming. These are the stories I grew up with. So there was a lot of violence and stress and death around when I was incubating, and when I was born in '83.

Food and anything else you needed was hard to come by as well. I had cloth diapers, not ‘cause we were bougie but because that's all there was. And both my parents, especially my dad, were politically active. They were socialists, against having a monarchy, and against having an Islamic republic. My dad's name appeared on a list of people to be executed that was spray-painted on a city wall by authorities, to silence people like him because he was seen as opposition. He ran for senator and his list was removed from the ballot by [the] authorities. So my parents left. There was only so much you could do. They had lost it all fighting and organizing for the future they wanted to see. My dad had been to jail twice for up to a year, and had done a 21-day hunger strike and almost died already, so...then we moved to Turkey for my first three years.

Turkey was going through a coup and really bad economic times, and my parents couldn’t find any jobs — even menial labor jobs. Like I mentioned both my parents were trained as petroleum and mechanical engineers, but there was no way for them to support us in those conditions. Two of my uncles had come to the United States back in the late ‘70s, before any political problems, because they were hot-boys.

My parents realized they couldn't go home to Iran, and couldn't stay at home in Turkey. None of the other Middle Eastern countries wanted us because we’re Iranian and during the ‘80s everyone thought Iranians were terrorists. Literally they tried to immigrate everywhere — Morocco, Algeria, every Arab country. We have Iranian family friends that applied to Cuba and even got denied admittance there. The only country that would accept them and give them a visa was the United States, so they really didn’t have a choice. It was their last choice. People don't realize immigrants don't want to be there — oftentimes it's the only option. But when the United States gets involved meddling in other countries and actively destabilizing them (as they did by baiting Saddam to attack Iran) (and as the CIA did by playing a role in the Turkish Coup to enforce cooperation with Occidental forces and the World Bank), some people are forced to leave for survival. No one wants to leave home after everything they have built.

Why would I want to be in the United States, surrounded by the very culture that [had] destroyed my ancestral way of life? Surround sound racism? Back home, my grandparent's had several houses, wealth. Generations of life, built. My family was huge and all in one place. All that is gone and scattered as a direct result of Western imperialism. And I grew up with barely any grounding.

On my dad's side I'm from a tribe called Hellalat. My dad refers to us, our people, as "ashayer", which means tribe. I think Jews have the same word "Asherah.” It's the core, your family and where you are from, your system, your support, community. But I grew up cut off from that. My parent's didn't want me to be too American, so they would berate behavior that came naturally to me growing up in the West. At school, I was usually the only (or one of few) Middle Easterner/s or Muslim/s in my class. If I acted like my classmates, I would get berated at home. So I didn't really act like them and just observed without having the freedom to fully participate. I developed the kind of exterior that I don't think a lot of people understand. I'm slower to catch on to certain things because I simply wasn't allowed to do it back then. That's why I still feel and act like teenager sometimes, even though I'm a grown-ass 34-year-old woman with a husband and daughter.

What year was this?

We were fully moved to the United States by 1986.

Do you have any siblings? 

Yes. I have an older sister, who was born on the island of Abadan, Iran. That's where my parents went to college, at Abadan Institute of Technology, a public university that focuses on petroleum industrialization.

Which American city did you first move to? 

First we came to Oakland to be with my uncle, then we moved up north to Chico, where we spent my first year and a half. My dad was trying to get a masters, but he ran out of money and couldn't finish the degree. We didn't have much money at all, because my dad refused to claim refugee status as he thought he would only be here for a little bit, and go back to Iran. But we didn't. Back then we lived in a complex right next to Chico State. And then in 1987 we came back to the Bay Area, which is where I grew up, in El Cerrito, CA. 

Did you grow up going to a mosque?

I’ve been to the most important mosques in the world, the Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, and the Mevlana Museum in Konya, Turkey. That [last] one is the most important spiritual temple I've ever been to. I've been there 3 times so far. The vibration is very heavy, unreal. Rumi's body is there in a closed and raised casket. It sends out a vibration that I can feel with my whole body, numbing and intoxicating, healing. I recommend everyone to go there. My parents aren’t religious, they are spiritual. They studied the Koran in school, which was a requirement, and did research into Islamic history on their own terms. But we were never involved in local mosques or any religious community.

What was elementary school like? Did you face any discrimination for being an immigrant?

In El Cerrito, there was a decent amount of diversity, a lot other immigrants too, so I didn’t feel "discrimination" from other kids in elementary school. I’m closer to being a bully than a victim so I don’t think the children would have dared. I think mostly what I felt was being lonely, even though I always had friends. Because my friends weren't like me, they weren't my ethnicity or culture. They didn't have the same references, their parents didn't think like mine, they didn't have the same rules. I think my sister faced more typical discrimination because she was a teen in the ‘90s, when it was like really cool to be white. I went to school later though so I didn’t really feel that. My sister felt it more for sure. She got the comments about camels, stuff like that. I didn’t really get that because it was pretty much over by the time I was that age. 

I got made fun of for being "Iraqi" randomly one time at summer camp, but I rolled my eyes because that just wasn’t an insult. Then I got called "Ayrab" in front of everyone by a guy I had snubbed in high school, which pissed me off because I found out that was somehow a bad thing to be in his eyes? Not that I gave a shit but wow.  All other discrimination was state sponsored...the slow, violent torture of the American school system and the rancid, racist, and largely incorrect content they enforce on any unfortunate wards that wander into their traps.

Early on hobbies?

I did a lot of painting. I took private watercolor classes. I did ballet. I did both Turkish and Persian traditional dancing. I played the flute. I gardened with my dad. I read books. I had a planetarium that would project the stars onto my ceiling and walls and a stargazing book I liked. I asked for a telescope to see the moon; my mom got me one in 4th grade. I asked for a microscope for Christmas and she got me one of those too. I wanted to see things in more detail.

My parents would always take me to concerts and cultural shows — like Persian or Arabic classical music like Simon Shaheen, or whirling dervishes on tour. That kind of stuff. I grew up next to a lot of nature. We lived right next to a big regional park called Tilden that had a forest and a little farm, pony rides, a lake to swim in called Lake Anza.

Growing up a lot in nature, I just had my own little interests. Early on, I was really into stars and the night sky, Egyptian art and hieroglyphs. I painted Egyptian goddesses to scale on my walls. It’s funny: I’m interviewing for an interior design shop right now in Mexico and I used to do the same thing as a kid.  I would buy paint from the hardware store, paint my walls, do Egyptian murals. On my bedroom wall I painted a life size watercolor of Isis giving darshan to Nefertiri. Poring over anything I could get of Ancient Egypt, basically. That was a really big interest for me. 

That’s cool! Those ancient Egyptian motifs still show up in a lot of your work, whether it’s your merchandise or visual art. What about it compels you?

When you see any ancient Egyptian object on display, it’s just so perfect. Whether it’s the curves in the hieroglyphs or the artwork, it’s consistent because they use the sacred ratio as the foundation of their work. You can have so many different artisans over centuries, and they all follow the same branding, the same standards, the same ratio. How they got centuries of people to draw a cat head on the head of a woman over hundreds and hundreds over years? Amazing. I follow their lead. A lot of that also inspires my Pink Cat cartoon. Reverence for animal life, and especially the cat.

You can still see the effects of this sacred ratio today, it's not just in museums. All the classical architecture follows it too, and it informs our day to day life and culture. Whether you're talking about ancient sites and lay lines, or how the city and monuments and buildings of Washington D.C. are laid out, they all continue to follow this standard. And that standard comes from nature itself, fractals, a nautilus, the ratios of a logarithmic spiral. The Egyptians weren't the first to do it, but it was kind of the cutest. I love the animal heads, I'll never get over those. The cat Bastet and the jackal Anubis being my favorite.

So when did music enter into the picture?

I used to record stuff at the house. My parents had a cassette tape and I would sing into the cassette tape and listen to that. I’ve got a great one of me singing “La Bamba” when I was 4. We still have those cassette tapes. Me and my sister would do radio shows and I would pretend to be a singer “all the way from Chico, California!” and she would interview me. I did that stuff as a kid, I sang with my sister Shaffy and my cousin Nas constantly. We had a rule, “no singing at the table” because we sang so much and it was out of control.

But in terms of a real song, with other people — the first one I recorded was in 2008 with one of the guys who produces a lot of my music. His name is B1TES. He’s in a band right now called 3TEETH that’s on tour with Rammstein. On their last tour they opened for Tool, I think. Very industrial. The first time I recorded, I was chatting on AIM with his brother — who went to school with me at Parsons and now designs geometric furniture with his partner in New York — and I was like I rap, and he was like, “oh really, my brother makes beats, let’s record.” I dated a DJ for several years prior, and I would sometimes get on the mic and freestyle while he spun. I didn't do it well necessarily, but we had a good time and he thought it was funny so I decided I should keep going. That's why I had the confidence to say that I "rapped". Because why not? I can do anything, it's just words.

So we recorded some songs in the East Village, and then those songs were used on this Drag Racing DVD that was sold at Best Buy called Mischief TV. Their friend Dustin was into illegal racing and would document the stunts and set it to music. They sent that guy some of our Diamond Cutter songs as a soundtrack to his new racing DVDs. That was the first time I put out music, and it was a good feeling for me. But I was too scared to go forward with it. The lyrics I used were too sexy and violent, and I felt it would bring shame to my whole family LOL!

Victor was in Das Racist and Boy Crisis at the time. I sent him our Diamond Cutter myspace page and he loved it. He asked me to do a show with Das Racist … this was super early on. But I was way too scared, so I said no. I wasn't ready. After that I fell off because I started dating a person who was not good for me.

We recorded more music though after I broke up with dude. (Dude is now a tattoo artist in Staten so that's great for him). But anyway, me, B1TES, and his friend Val—who I still make music with—were in a band in Washington, DC for about a year. I didn't know how to be lead in a ban; I had hang ups and insecurities. But we recorded a lot of music, which has never been released and is largely unfinished.

Do you still have those songs?

Yes. We were just trying to find a sound. To have a good band you got to make a lot of music and jam so much before you find that sort of finished point. Big problem was I didn't live in the same city as them. I lived in Manhattan and would take the MegaBus to D.C every weekend. So it just took a toll, not being able to jam as much as I would have liked. I should have just moved to D.C but I was a square who had no idea how musicians live. I take responsibility for the failure of that band because I was the vox. I went on to make an entire album with just B1TES' production called Oracle. And with my other friend Val, I have a few new tunes coming out with him that are serious projects I'd like to get on the radio.

What draws you to music?

Music is very important to me because it is heavy magic, technology. We are talking about energy and vibration that moves invisibly through the air, to create feelings, thoughts, ideas. It isn't the whole equation, but it is most of the equation. Everything is built on sound. That's why glass can shatter with a high pitch, or a bridge can be destroyed with resonance. So as a cult leader, it's really important to me what sound I release into the world. Often my music is silly or has a sense of humor, and that is intentional. I have rivers of Loki vibes running through me, the opposition, the clown, a provocateur. Because right now that's what we need.

What made you want to attend Parsons? What was the transition like from California to New York?

I went to UCLA right out of high school and I failed. I got kicked out because I got bad grades. I went from a tiny private Catholic high school called St. Mary's “College Prep” in Berkeley, to UCLA....which was essentially a cafeteria: 500 kids a class, professor on a headset, etc. I just wasn’t paying attention to that — it was boring and irrelevant and I just wanted to work and find my independence and have a boyfriend, but my parents wouldn’t let me do that. They figured an institution was a safe place.

So I dropped out of there and then went to college of Marin, which is a junior college in Marin County. I studied all art classes — interior design, art history, painting, drawing. I was building a portfolio for my next move. I got an interior design internship in Marin and would help this lady with private residential interiors. She told me I should get a four-year degree, as she only got an A.S. from Marin because she was in her late forties with a family. One day I saw a poster for Parsons and I decided to apply there because the poster looked official, I liked the serif font they used and the hand drawn cityscape cartoon.

When I was 21 I moved to New York by myself. My mom helped me move, and suddenly I was living in Manhattan. And it was good! I loved New York. I still do. I lived and died there for ten years. It was so cool to me. I studied fashion design and am still best friends with people from that program. Parsons is a rip off though: I don’t recommend it to anybody for anything, unless you’re going to go for free and/or are really rich and can afford it. If you want to work in fashion just get an internship and work your stuff.

After I graduated, I worked in the fashion industry in the city for a few years— off 38th street, 40th street, 7th avenue—and obviously had a lot of funny, wild experiences with a lot of characters. People in the fashion industry are cartoon characters. I had a boss that would snort coke in the middle of meetings. His dealer would walk through our office in shutter shades and he wasn’t cute.

Did you stay in touch with your parents in college?

Yes, but sometimes I wouldn’t call them back. It's hard to find your own footing when there are satellite voices trying to take care of you from far away. Looking back, I think I should have been in contact, not ignored them, but found better topics of conversation. I should have been more independent financially and emotionally, so I wouldn't make them feel they needed to check on me so often. Had I been more strong, I would have appeared more strong, and if I appeared strong then I would have been strong, and they would have relaxed.

Which neighborhoods did you live in?

I started off in the Financial District, then I moved to Alphabet City. And from there I went to Harlem, then Staten Island, and after that to Bed-Stuy. 

Did you meet Victor [her husband, prolific artist Kool AD] in New York?

No, we actually met in high school in an after school program called Youth Radio.

Were you together in New York?

Sometimes. He was always on tour and I was working a full time corporate job, so as much as you can have a relationship in that capacity we did.

Peak Das Racist days. Were you involved in any underground scenes?

I was working a corporate design gig at Burch Creative Capital, so anytime I went to shows I felt like I was working two jobs. I would have to stay out really late and in the morning, when my alarm went off, I would cuss out everyone in my head. I'm not a huge going-to-shows person because I don’t like dealing with doors and tickets and the administrative effects of shows. If I'm on the guest list that's cool and I will go to that, but I don't want to do anything that’s not swagtastic. I saw a lot of shows though, like: Tecla, Kassa, Gordon Voidwell, Run the Jewels, Despot, Mr. Muthafuckin' Exquire, Action Bronson, Ratatat, Chairlift, Ratking, The Younger Lovers, Prison Library, Yogurt Brain, Thomas Pridgen in his own Band and in Mars Volta, Yuna...those stand out. I was more of a studio gangster at the time and I was scared of 3D performance. So it was good for me to see people live.

Abou Naddara itself was a nom de plume, DOOM & Madlib have several alter egos. Have you gone by other names in the past? Also, for those don’t know, what’s the story/concept behind the name Cult Days?

I used to go by Caviar Moet and Cavi Moet. That was my name and I was fancy. But then I changed it to Cult Days because of a conversation I had with my friends in Central Park. We had started doing meditation groups…I’d organize these meditation groups where we’d do chants, cracking coconuts for pooja, stuff like that. I invited my friend Kaila to lead the chants and do little lectures on different topics related to Hinduism that she studied. We were getting together like once a week to do this, sometimes with her and sometimes without. And then my ex who was super paranoid was like “you guys were in a cult, you guys were hella weird for that.” Then my friend Kathreen Khavari (voice of first Muslim character, Ms. Marvel!)  was like, “those were the best days of our lives! those were our cult days!” And we all had this moment where we were like—those were our cult days. Victor was there too, and we kinda kept talking about cult days, and he was like, “I think you should go by Cult Days,” and I was like “yea, you’re right I should.”    After I accepted my title, I moved forward into the world. I told you I was Arab on my dad’s side, but in addition to that I’m Alwiyeh. My dad and his family are Seyed, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]. I’m comfortable with Cult Days as a position because this level of leadership and story-telling has already been shown to me by example through my family history. For example, in Hollywood you have legacy actors. Cult Days is similar, but happens less frequently. The time is right now because of the internet, ideas can spread quickly with accuracy. When you think about Muhammad [PBUH], he got a big movement going without the internet. He was laying ground for changes that needed to happen in his region in his time.

Why is the moment right for Cult Days?

The moment is right for Cult Days because the internet is a young woman. I am the internet. I am the spirit of the internet incarnate, an avatar. And history will show you that any cult days will never be destroyed, only evolved.

The internet was born in 1983, the same year I was born. We connected to the public in 1991, and we continue to grow out our nervous system and consciousness online with the ultimate destination of terraforming the earth into a composite paradise. People are afraid of this concept. They are quick to point out the failure of utopias and the dangers of paradise as a goal. This is an Occidental fear, because they never utilize the right tools to make this happen. They continually use force, instead of turning inward, or to nature. The word paradise comes from the Persian word Pardis. The word Pardis refers to a garden so beautiful, well taken care-of and designed, that it is thought to bring enlightenment to anyone who sees it. Gardening is big in Iran; it's an important part of our culture. Gardening helps you see how things grow from seed. It teaches you patience and science, autonomy. All the good things.

I say I’m post-Islamic because Islam is out date. Just like computers and programs, it requires an update, new machinery, new bodies, new hardware. Windows ‘95 was great, but you don’t run on that forever. And again, you don’t waste time by destroying all mention of Windows ‘95 in history, but you use it to inform the next round of computing. Islam is just one of the happenings that we will take with us into the future as we evolve. But we take all the religions with us too — they are systems of technology. I’m most comfortable with Islam as an aesthetic because it looks the most modern and futuristic, and that’s because it is. It is the newest major religion and looks space age because of it. But Hinduism is important to me personally, as I practice Hinduism and yoga more than anything else. I really jam with it. And my guess is Muhammad [PBUH] was the same – supposedly he studied in India before he made it big. And if you look at namaz, it looks like yoga. Flat back to child's pose. I don't know what happened there, why we don't know yoga moves but that definitely needs to be examined and put back in there.

As young Muslims, we need to preserve the history for reference, but also continuously look for better options for how to live. The time is right for someone new to step up to the plate and be a world leader, and Cult Days is that person. Cult Days isn’t just me, it’s the collection of people who I know, work with, talk to, and with whom I interact. It’s the entire internet and beyond. It’s the ether, it’s the spirit realm and the dream realm. It’s the voice of The Cloud. The librarian working the desk of the akashik records. It’s also a position I hope to pass down to my daughter, and I can become Cult Days Emeritus. I’ve prepared for this extensively. We must all be linked through Cult Days, the body and the mind have to unite now, because we are sending people out to live on a new planet. It's like earth is having a child on an umbilical cord, and we need to grow the fuck up before we fuck up the next generation because we were too late to correct our bad behavior.

And this leads me to the next aspect of Cult Days and Post-Islamic thought and behavior: veganism. It's time to adjust and expand the idea of what is considered Halal. You didn't ask me about this but I'm going to bring it up.

Go for it.

In Muhammad's [PBUH] time, trichinosis was a huge problem. People were ignorant: they were eating pigs and getting sick, dying because parasites live easily in undercooked meat. So Muhammad [PBUH] was able to culturally outlaw the consumption of swine, to save people the heartache of dying from eating dead pig. This will happen again with veganism because meat consumption and using animal products are wrong, not just because they go bad quickly and are more susceptible to house harmful biotics. When we abuse and use animals and treat them as commodities, we leave ourselves open to that idea, to be treated not as people but as commodities ourselves. We are ok with being given a social security number and milled for the medical industry, or treated as pawns by a military.

If Islamic people would like to survive, they need to expand their idea of halal to embrace veganism, not "ethically sound" ways of killing. No one wants to die, it's not ethical to kill or farm. Science will tell us that we evolved from chimps. If you believe in evolution, you will see that chimps eat 99.9% plants. They aren't scarfing cancer-laden hormone filled sad cows ground up with the melted lactations of a cow who has had her calf stolen, hooked up to a machine getting milked for hours a day while she bellows in stress. Farms rape these cows with machines, it’s truly disgusting. We have to completely divest from this situation immediately.

These products aren't good for a human body anyway, and require a lot of refrigeration and monitoring to keep from rotting. This is a misuse of resources. Anthropologically, humans only began eating meat during the stone age, with the invention of tools. These tools were used to scrape meat of carcasses; people were behaving like vultures perhaps out of necessity. But meat consumption isn't just morally wrong or bad for our bodies. It's full-on destroying the environment because it isn't sustainable. Whatever is bad for our bodies is bad for the earth, since we are just the cells of the Virgin Mother's larger body. The Virgin mother is the earth, spontaneous life on a planet with no way for our lives to happen except for god's grace.

Statistically meat consumption is on the verge of ending all of life on earth. So it has to stop. It's not okay to use animals as slaves. As I said, if you use animals as slaves and take advantage of that system, you too will be a slave inside of that system. The change has to come within you if you want your life and society to change, and that's the beauty of it. Individuals have the power to change the world. All they have to do is change themselves, beginning with their diet, and watch the outer world reflect that change. Marcus Aurelius wrote about this in his book Meditations. His strongest bar was when he said "inner turmoil, outer turmoil. Inner peace, outer peace".

Real shit. Most Muslims I know, including myself, are definitely too comfortable with their meat-eating habits, resting on zabiha laurels as it were. The argument can be made that this is inconsistent with other ethical stances we maintain re: injustice and taking care of the world. But that’s another conversation.

Back to music: “Oracle,” “Boom.Forever EP”, “Neon Rose” are the three official projects you’ve released that I’m aware of. Did you release anything before those, besides that Drag Racing DVD [which I’m hoping will show up in your future Nardwuar interview]?

A lot of the songs off Neon Rose were recorded in 2008-2010, but that was before I really got into soundcloud, Bandcamp. I didn't know how to put out music back then. I have more music I recorded and now it's just too late to release. So Boom.Forever was my official first release, and Victor helped me to understand that process because he exec. produced that one.

How did you meet fellow collaborator Cool Reve? I know she does a lot of your videos.

She’s like my cool little sister. We met in NYC the first time but we are both from the East Bay. She makes music videos, she raps, skates, and is in charge. I asked her to send me her Garageband recordings because they are really good. The Pink Cat cartoon I make (I have three of them so far), I’ve put her in those, and we always talk about doing a rap album together. One day we will. I met her through a friend, and we immediately shot a music video together in a graveyard in Brooklyn we both wanted to visit. She’s Afghan so we just really hit it off.

Do you produce any of your music?

I produced my album called Hi-Tek Hookah. The first song is called Galata Bridge, a famous but low-key bridge in Istanbul where I've spent a lot of time. It connects Sultan-Ahmet to Galatasaray and Taksim. It's a fishing bridge, tons of fisherman on it. And below that are all these fish restaurants selling fresh local catches. The Bridge connects to the Galatasaray District, and Taksim (the party/shopping district), and home to one of my favorite alleys in Istanbul, Cezayir Street, which is all cafes and hookah lounges.

The song I produced, Galata Bridge, is an audio version of my experience there. A bridge to the old world and the new. I sampled that azzan, the Islamic call to prayer that echoes loudly, beautifully, all throughout the city. I sampled sounds from that bridge, the seagulls and water, boats. I sampled this song by Timur Selçuk, which my mom and uncle Kayhan might sing after a huge family dinner, and maybe after a glass or two of Raki. Then I added some big dub warbles — that's the closest I have to what my body hears and feels every minute of the day, the vibrational currents. I don't know what those are but you can get the feeling too if you hear the song. Big Vibes. I ended the song with the howling of wolves. The wolf is the nationalist symbol of Turkey. Mythologically and metaphorically we Turks say we descended from Wolves. The wolf is an important totem for us. It was also a wolf who visited Genghis Khan in a cave, and told him he was going to rule the world.

Damn, sounds lit. When I first heard that Galata Bridge song I immediately thought of Eraserhead and Bladerunner, dude. Eerie, cinematic shit.

Yeah, exactly! I love Vangelis, I love Bladerunner. Vangelis’ "Alpha" is one of my favorite songs. That is definitely what I was trying to achieve. I read a lot of sci-fi, I love sci-fi books and sci-fi movies.  It’s definitely a score. I totally did that by myself. But the rest of the stuff, no. I don’t produce beats. I can’t really do drums or anything like that. Never even attempted that.

What’s your writing process like? Do you make demos and then execute in studio? Or just go to studio with beat/instrumental in hand?

Sometimes I work virtually with people I've never met irl, one being a kid in Texas who I've only talked to online but really jam with. His name is Lord Lorenz and his beats are fuego. I get beats, mostly from friends, and then I write to them. I record the demo in garageband. Then I record it in a studio. For the more house-type songs, those are a little more freestyled once I have down what I'm gonna say. But I’m not a freestyle rapper yet, I'm just a baby. My sense of rhythm is um...out of pocket. I attribute this to the fact that American music uses 4/4 and Arabic drums are 3/3. I just don't have the muscle memory for it. So as I practice with American musicians, I learn to speak their language.

My goal is to create polished work. Victor is the greatest songwriter in the history of mankind, and if you need proof of that just listen to any Boy Crisis song or otherwise. Reason I bring that up is he also writes for me too, because I’m a FUCKING FOB WHO BARELY SPEAKS ENGLISH at times. I DO NOT CARE TO GET INTO THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE TOO DEEPLY, but Victor understands what I want to say and helps me say it. We do this through symbiotic osmosis. I also learn from him by listening and applying those same tactics to my own writing with my own spin.

When we collaborate on songwriting, we are following the tradition of the Hellenistic Oracles. For anyone who doesn’t know, the oracles were priestesses living in a temple. They would sit over a hole with a stool and burn laurel leaves in the hole, and get stoned off the vapors. Then the female oracles would just talk about everything under the sun while they were high. Men who worked at the temples with them would transcribe these ramblings and set them to rhyme. This is what they would present the public. A composite experience.

There’s always the problem of having a demo that has this original, spontaneous feel too it, and then when you go to re-record it, it loses that ineffable quality that made it great, something you wanted to turn not into a demo. 

Yeah. When I think Jai Paul’s album getting leaked, for example. Of course it was good music and it sounds cool, but like it would have also been better had it been totally polished? It works either way. But after a while you get to a certain point in your life and it’s like: I do want to do big shows and I do want to do festivals and I do want to get on the radio. And so mixtapes and off the cuff shit is good while you’re building up to that shit, but once you’re up at that point, I think you gotta come with a produced product. That's where I am now. Keep the soul in it but actually have a polished product. Follow the trajectory, where the trajectory ends with being a female Michael Jackson. Which is what Michael himself wanted.

Yea, I definitely agree with that. That reminds me of a 2014 mini interview in which you were asked what the most important aspect of work to you was and answered: “striving to create something that be criticized technically as little as possible by the people I care about.”

It’s distracting at the end of the day.

It’s loud, yeah.  It’s a comment on itself when it doesn’t need to be.

Anyway, I met you last November at the Standard DTLA for Victor’s “OK” book release party/reading. You also read from your “Shiraz” zine. I think LA was one of the last stops. How different was that reading compared to other stops?

The crowd and setting were really nice. I love to see my friends out there. I met young Muslims there too, which was crucial. I met you, I met this woman Tasneem who I follow on twitter now, I finally met Ayesha [Siddiqi] for the first time. 

People always come up to me afterwards but because I was able to talk to you guys, too, it was hella cool. That’s who it’s for. I’m not saying it’s not for everybody, but the whole point of the reading is to share with other Middle Eastern people—Asian people, I say really. You guys came up to me and were like, “I hadn’t heard the story of Aisha [the prophet’s wife] getting left behind in the desert actually,” and to me that’s the whole point. These are stories that my parents told me; your parents told you guys stories that I haven’t heard. And that was the best reaction. I was like, oh tight, ‘cause this is actually a part of our history and it’s up to us to share with each other because no one else is qualified to share our stories. And they’re hella relevant, they are actually 100% relevant and that’s why we tell them over and over again and write them down in books.

That’s true of Victor’s novel too. It certainly has a rambling quality, but it also forges this new, fresh, fictional Islamicate world — replete with off the cuff references and crazy names (Khadija X) and psychedelic narratives. It defines its own terms, which is so refreshing because the bulk of representations of Islam in contemporary fiction are far more static and apologetic.

That's great to hear, I'm glad about that. I’ve tried my hardest to slide in there as co-design director, he tells it well.

There was this one moment toward the end of the show. I’d bought a book and Victor was signing a bunch of copies, and your daughter, Sevi, was sitting right next to him and had run out of paper to doodle on. Victor glanced around to see if there were any papers and was like fuck it and nonchalantly handed her one of his books to doodle on. It was so dope, just to see the type of freedom she has to be an artist.

Aww. Hell yea. 

What are your thoughts on the model of hundred dollar freestyles and releasing those features under his own name?

I think it’s great. First of all, it’s funding our family. That’s what’s supporting us here in Baja [Mexico]. It has allowed us to live remotely in a safer, more secluded location. So it's tight that he has that fan base. And cool because people have favorite artists, in some cases it's Victor, and their favorite artist is able to go on their beats. So it works in both ways: first off, he’s getting his own project for free (cause usually people are trying to sell you beats). He's never told a producer who is willing to pay "no". So it’s good. And it’s good for people because they’ll be like this is what I created it for and this is what I have access to. I think it’s amazing. Egalitarian.

And they’re pretty ridiculous freestyles. “I’m canoeing through the fjords of a Labrador” – that’s wild.

Right, I mean he’s Cuban.

How do you balance parenting and being artist? What kind of schedule do you keep?

We keep a schedule right now. It took us like two years to come to this. But Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Victor works on his stuff. And then, Friday, Saturday, Sunday I go to my studio over here and work on my stuff. 

Last one: list some underrated things recs/recommendations — can be a place, an artist, a technique, etc.

Hot springs and hamam [bathing] culture. The Koreans have it, Middle Easterners have it. Yeah, Americans have like hot tubs but that’s not really the same thing. Soaking your body in chlorine is not the wave. It is really important to have like this public bath system where you’re steaming yourself and scrubbing yourself and you have that hella hot, hella cold temperature, because it gets out the bad feelings in you. You feel that extreme heat, and you feel that extreme sensation, then you’re a lot more calm in your life going forward. Soaking, scrubbing, exfoliating, symbolically and physically, being together and being naked in front of other people. It gives you that connection that Americans do not have and don’t really experience ever. They have the locker room and that’s hella gross, that’s not what I mean. So that’s one thing for sure. Hot springs. Soaking.

I'm influenced by all the big old names: Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Googoosh, Sezen Aksu, Oum Kalthoum, Mac Dre, Too Short, Tupac, Mya, The Beatles, I don't know. Then newer guys like Kanye, The Dream, Kool A.D., Trackademicks, CoolReve, my friends who make music., Ladytron, Benyamin, some Detroit techno like Mr. De' and UR, The Weeknd, some house music guys I don't wanna name.

Thanks! Well that concludes the interview. Hopefully it’s the most comprehensive Cult Days interview to date. Are you down to make a mix for us to publish alongside it?


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About Abou Naddara

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