Name: Hamza Rahimtula
Occupation: DJ, producer, label owner
Current release: Hamza Rahimtula's new album Banjara Series - Mali Edition is out July 30th via Wind Horse.
Recommendations: Bassekou Kouyate – Listen to all their albums; Joey Youngman – Best House Music Producer ever!
If you enjoyed this interview with Hamza Rahimtula, visit his profiles on Facebook, Instagram and Soundcloud to stay up to date with his music and activities.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music in University. My Early influences were funk bands like the Meters, Phish, James Brown, Jamiroquai. I also loved the Chemical Brothers.
I was always drawn to music since I was a kid. I would just imagine myself performing on stage and this came naturally to me. My Grandmother used to make me listen to Prince records when I was a toddler so I just was lucky to be part of musically aware family. My uncle used to play the guitar and I guess that’s what made me curious about wanting to pick up an instrument. He would play this Deep Purple track called "Smoke on the Water" and as a kid that was the coolest thing to see. So I kind of had a role model to look up to.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I definitely started by emulating my uncle on the guitar. I learned how to play some chords from him and then I would copy other songs and try to figure out chords to other songs. But to be honest, once I figured out the basic chords on the guitar, I switched gears. I was never one of those kids that just learnt other peoples songs on the guitar. In fact I always made up my own songs and was never really interested in playing other people's music. Even when I started jamming with my brother who would play drums in our room, we would always make up our own tracks. I think the only thing we emulated was the style of music.
Rock music was definitely a start for me. But then I found rock chords to be a bit stiff so I moved to funk chords and started to play some funk riffs on the guitar. Funk music was my thing. Especially, going to University in America after finishing my high school in New Delhi. In India, I was not exposed to funk but when I discovered it in university that changed my world. It made me want to be a part of the music scene. In addition to funk, I discovered The Chemical Brothers, which blew my brains away, and it opened up the gates to electronic music. In other words, I started delving deeper into electronic music. I discovered Deep/Tech/Minimal House at Fabric London and also came across Jackin House/Afro House/Latin House in Cielo in New York. I finally found a genre where I could mix my funk influences with electronic music.
However, growing up in India and being exposed to so much amazing tradition classical and folk music, I felt that house music still needed to embrace other cultural sounds and instruments. It was such an open genre but it still had not travelled to the Eastern shores so it was primarily a Western musical genre. This is when I felt that I could really contribute to house music and represent not just the sounds from my own country, but also other cultural sounds that would further enrich this already amazing genre.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I think whatever you are exposed to becomes part of your imagination. So for me I was exposed to both Eastern and Western forms of music. I took some Tabla lessons and I also played the guitar. When I would think of rhythm, I would also think of certain percussive phrases of the Tabla instead of just thinking of a beat from a drum machine.
However, identity can only influence you and it cannot dictate you. There are so many amazing instruments all over the world that one has to appreciate each culture for their innovations.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I don’t think creative challenges stop at any point. There is always something new to learn and the process is just never ending. In the beginning it was about playing the guitar. Then it moved to working on an 8-track machine. From there came drum machines and learning production software. After that, it was about making tracks that worked "on the floor". Then it was about making the sound quality of the tracks sound perfect.
One of the main challenges was also finding a good mastering engineer who was able to not just master your tracks, but also point out your mistakes and really work as a team to get the track to sound 100%. I also had to invest in a studio and high quality microphones to get top quality vocal and instrumental recordings. Now I am focusing on learning some new analogue gear to enhance my productions. So as you can see it’s never ending. However I am definitely pleased with my sound as of today. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get it to a level where I feel excited about what I am doing!
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started with an MC 505 from Roland. I then upgraded to a MC-909. Soon, I realized that I had to really get good at using production software so I spent years working on Logic. During this process I used a lot of soft synths and plug-ins. Right after, I discovered the art of sampling and went mad sampling records and sampling from sound libraries. Then I started combining soft synths with the sampling. In addition I would record a lot of musicians as well. A few years later I discovered loop cloud, which was great as it became so easy to find the sounds one was looking for, but I got bored of that as well. Now I have bought the entire line of Roland Aira Gear. So currently I am learning how to use this gear.
However, after 12 years of producing professionally I have realized that the best results are always combinations of sampling, performing using analog, soft synths and recordings artists with high quality microphones. It’s about embracing the old and the new world and using the best of both.
I chose to build a top end studio with a great recording room and great mics because I was recording some really well known artists like Bassekou Kouyate from Mali, Yungchen Lhamo from Tibet and others. Instead of relying on other studios, I took time over the years to build my own studio in South India in Hyderabad. This studio is called Wind Horse Studios and is a commercial studio that I use and rent out to others. This took care of the recording aspect of production. In addition finding and investing in sample packs really helped me get access to raw material that I felt inspired by. Lastly investing in analog gear helped me feel like I am playing an instrument rather than using a mouse to layer my ideas on a computer.
So, the choice for me was to combine all sources of raw material and create a mega mix of influences so that the tracks sound rich and interesting!
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Yes, the Morchang and Tabla are some Indian instruments, which totally blew my mind. I definitely changed the way I think about music after being exposed to these instruments. In addition, the Ngoni from Mali is another instrument that I just love. In fact, I think the way Bassekou Kouyate plays the Ngoni can even put some of the best guitar players to shame.
As far as electronic instruments are concerned I think Roland is just the best. The Roland Aira gear has really made me stop and rethink how I am going to continue from this point. The TR8S, SYSTEM 8 and MC707 are really well thought out instruments that are super spontaneous and powerful.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
There are times when every artist needs to look inward and during these times, collaborations don’t work as they put restrictions in one's imagination. However there are other times when artists need inspiration and the creative energy of someone else to enhance their own ideas. At times like these, collaborations are absolutely essential.
Collaborations are also a learning experience as one artist gets to peep into the headspace of another artist and soak in new knowledge. If I am working with other producers, then file sharing is the way but when I am working with musicians, there are 2 ways. One way is to record in each other’s presence, which is my preferred way. The other is to send tracks and get musicians to record and send back files. This way is practical but I rarely do this. I want to feel the energy of the artist in the same room. I feel there is a certain magic to this way, which leads to really special performances.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
There is no routine. There are just different states of mind, which last for few months at a time. When I am my production state of mind, I just produce and don’t perform at all. This lasts for up to 3 months at a time and then I burn out. I take a break from the studio and just perform or do other music business related things. However I don’t like working late night in the studio. I also only work max 5-6 hours per day, as I like my ears to stay fresh at all times.
I like being around my family when I make music. I feel I always made better music when I was around other people rather than being alone. I also feel that when I make music, I am more inward and more spiritually connected and I meditate at regular intervals in the day. But when I am in my touring mode, it’s all about connecting with the outer world!