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Music Journeys: Rahill Jamalifard

Nov 5, 2020

Credit Rahill Jamalifard

Rahill Jamalifard and her band Habibi were scheduled to perform in Columbus as part of the Melted Music Festival in March. COVID-19 led to the festival's cancellation and eventually all of the band's scheduled performances. 

In the absence of band activity, Jamalifard found inspiration to record some solo material. Jamalifard tells Music Journeys about her new songs and Habibi's release that came out earlier this year. She shares how the love of music began and her Iranian heritage - and takes part in the Fast Five. Thanks for listening.    

Nazila plays...

Nazila marks the first of two new songs on Rahill Jamalifard's upcoming solo debut. Jamalifard and her band Habibi were scheduled to perform in Columbus as part of the Melted Music Festival in March at the Bluestone. The festival became among the first concert casualties of COVID-19. 

"I think it's unfortunate for a lot of people who've lost money," Jamalifard said of the concert shutdown. "We were scheduled to tour not just then in Columbus, but we were going to do a whole Midwest thing and then a Europe thing. So that's a blow for a lot of people, but I'm definitely hopeful. There's going to be more thinking going into it, but it'll work out. When has music ever ceased? It never has. All the more reason that in times of hardship we look forward to music."

Note To Self plays...

"It just felt really right to release that now," Jamalifard said of Note To Self. "For me at least, it's been an emotional rollercoaster. Every day is a new challenge, and nobody has their normal routine. It was just a reminder to myself of knowing who I am and to not forget the things that are important. This solo thing, I grew up with so many different genres of music that don't always find their way into Habibi. When these songs were coming to fruition, I was happy to connect with those genres that are just outside of what I've done so far." 

Angel Eyes plays...

Jamalifard's Iranian heritage flows through her music whether it's her new solo material or songs from Habibi's Anywhere But Here, released in early 2020. Jamalifard attributes her love and passion for music to her dad, who filled the house with music, including artists from Iran where her parents were born. 

Hejrat by Googoosh plays... 

"It's also such a part of the culture there," Jamalifard said of music in Iran. "The musicians in the family come out and play music in the living room or private parks. That's how you have fun and get together. I have never been to an Iranian get-together where there wasn't music or people dancing. I think I really loved that part of my culture early on, the sounds and the rhythms. The poetry is also a part of Iranian culture. The marriage of that with the music is that there are these beautiful old folk ballads and classical pieces that are all with these incredible poems. I always have wanted my lyrics - not they hold a candle to the dense poetry of the greats - but I always feel inspired to write more challenging or more poetically-rich lyrics."

Mountain Song plays...

Jamalifard grew up in Lansing, Michigan and could embrace her roots early on. 

"We lived in sort of university housing, and a lot of the people in this housing at Michigan State were all foreigners," Jamalifard recalled. "At school, there was an international day. So it was really cool early on. We moved into the city, and it was very different. A majority of the kids there were white, and I realized I'm different. But I really have this beautiful understanding of how we celebrate differences and how differences make everybody special. So instead of rejecting or trying to hide that, I really felt empowered by that almost in a very punk way. I was getting made fun of because of the way I looked and the kind of food I brought to school. Instead of wanting to change to fit in, my differences and my culture flourished for me. I'm proud of this, and I'm representing this. 

Ghazal by Kourosh Yaghmaei plays...

"The last time I was back was 2016," Jamalifard said. "Iran is such a historically dense and culturally dense place - a cradle of civilization. I think that's probably anybody's takeaway from people who visit that I come into contact with. Their takeaway is that the people are so kind and the country is so beautiful. I feel that's very lost in the media."  

About a decade ago, Jamalifard met Lenny Lynch and the two gradually began to form the core of Habibi.

"We had so much musical taste in common that it was a fun activity," Jamalifard said of listening to music with Lynch. "I always wrote poetry and just tried to apply that to music. It happened in my bedroom. She would come over and listen to music. I would have this song or poem, and we would try to write something around those things. We did this for months and there was no intention of recording. But when we realized we had a couple songs, I thought we should try and make these songs and maybe start a band. It happened very seamlessly and natural."   

Drummer Karen Isabel and bassist Erin Campbell joined on and Habibi's first release came in 2014. In February of this year, the band released the 11-track Anywhere But Here. 

Born Too Late plays...

"A lot of these songs we've had for a long time," Jamalifard said of the Anywhere But Here release. "I think it's the culmination of the political climate of America right now. It's harder to keep up with the pace of life, expenses, it's not easy. Everybody universally here has been experiencing that. There's definitely a darker side. Anywhere But Here itself, and the song I Hate Everybody But You - these things give away a more pessimistic look. But it's more just speaking to this unsettled feeling of struggle or just challenge at this moment."

Stronghold plays...

"Love songs don't come natural to me," Jamalifard said with a laugh about writing the song Stronghold. "Heartbreak comes natural, pain, unhappiness - these things come natural. I was trying to write a happy song to express this sentiment I feel from a relationship. It came together so easily, and the sound it took on is so cool because it ties into this darker side of the album. If you listen to the notes, it sounds really moody. Our writing process is all across the board. That was the fastest process I've seen a song go through, but it didn't take away at all from the beauty and depth of the song." 

Come My Habibi plays...

"With this record, we had grown so much more with our sound," Jamalifard said while reflecting on the song Come My Habibi. "I had sung in Farce on a number of songs. Just adding the Farce and the Arab phrases my friend is singing, it just really made sense. The word habibi is an Arabic word - my love. I grew up in a community of Arabs and Lenny as well. The word habibi has extra meaning to us both."

Flowers plays...

"Music is really moving," Jamalifard said. "I feel a real connection with it. It heals, and it's always been a companion and a friend I can count on. I've worked in a record store for the past seven years. I'm there only once a month, but I can't get rid of it. Even one day to hear music and be inspired is invaluable. I don't even need to be paid. That's how important and nourishing it is to me on a spiritual level. It is a universal language which is something I find really beautiful. I think the unification of the world is so lacking and one thing that does a good job is music. It can be shared and understood. You can hear something in a different language and know what they're talking about just how they're singing or how the chord is played. I just find that incredibly beautiful. We all benefit from music, and I'm so thankful for it. I'm just glad people are still creating and not letting this whole thing be an obstacle because it shouldn't. It should be, if anything, motivation to just keep pursuing it." 

Jamalifard remains hopeful for the full solo release to be ready by the end of the year but acknowledges early 2021 might be more likely. She also reunited with her Habibi band mates, so maybe we'll get some new Habibi material too.