Ady Suleiman: A Tale Of Two Cities

This is an article I originally wrote for the May issue of Bido Lito!, a monthly music magazine that uncovers the most exciting sounds from Merseyside, in particular Liverpool. Ady Suleiman is Nottingham born-and-bred, but there is no denying that his time as a student in Liverpool has greatly shaped him as a musician, carving his own unique style that mixes indie, reggae and electronic influences. It’s certainly a broad range, but the result is right on the mark. Check out my piece below!

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For his twenty-first birthday, ADY SULEIMAN found himself facing not only a crowd, but an immense opportunity of inconceivable fate. He was on a stage in Sète in the south of France, staring out to the sea from a magnificent amphitheatre called Théatre de la Mer. He was performing as part of Worldwide Festival, which fuses acoustic performances with club-oriented beats to form an enticing exuberance that carefully simmers under the scorching sun. Suleiman had been asked to play by the festival’s curator and BBC 6 Music multi-genre aficionado GILLES PETERSON, who had been pestered by the plucky LIPA graduate after his show in The Shipping Forecast.

“I remember telling him my name and he had actually heard of me through one of his friends- or at least that’s what he said!” laughs Suleiman, as he remembers the fortuitous encounter. “He said to send some stuff through by email. I didn’t think he would even get back to me, but then he replied saying he loved it and asked if I wanted to play his festival, completely out of the blue! It’s a weird feeling when you meet someone you have so much respect for, only to find out they respect what you’re doing- I mean I still listen to everything his label Brownswood puts out.” It’s fair to say his performance was a resounding success; Suleiman went on to win “Breakthrough Act of the Year” at Peterson’s Worldwide Awards.

But what was it about Suleiman that made Peterson so enamoured with the twenty-something songwriter? Perhaps it’s the sincerity of his stirring melodies that harmonize dabs of soul, jazz and even hip hop? Maybe it’s the carefully subdued production that compliments the overall sound rather than overriding it? Or maybe it’s the sense of honesty that permeates Suleiman’s lyrics, drawing on his own experiences or that of his family and friends? It’s likely Peterson has seen all of this, considering the following Suleiman has built up since graduating last year. It’s been quite a transformation, as Suleiman used to hate one of his biggest influences, JIMI HENDRIX.

“My dad really encouraged me to listen to him, but the psychedelic vibe just wasn’t doing anything for me,” confesses Suleiman. “But I was on a family holiday and listening to Axis: Bold as Love, and when I got to Little Wing, everything clicked. After all the manufactured pop I was hearing on the radio, I finally understood where the music was coming from, and its sense of purpose.” From there, Suleiman was determined to explore artists whose music strove for a genuine connection with its listeners, and he immersed himself in acts that have defined their genre, from LAURYN HILL to STEVIE WONDER and RAY CHARLES, all of which have influenced him to some degree.

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However, it was AMY WINEHOUSE’S status in the mid-noughties that hit him at full force and aroused his dedication to the cause. “I was listening to a lot of her first album Frank, where she was mixing hip hop and jazz into her own style, and then how she drew on soul more for Back To Black; vocally, it was just incredible. I couldn’t believe she was doing music like that and being successful from it, truly changing the landscape of British popular music in the process. Before seeing her, I never really thought I could make music I wanted to make and be successful from it.”

Half Tanzanian on his father’s side, Suleiman grew up in the market town of Grantham outside of Nottingham, and only ventured into the city for the occasional gig. Rather than stay close to home, he chose LIPA because of the emphasis the course placed on performing. “A lot of the courses I applied for asked for Grade 5 theory at least, and I was a bit apprehensive to study music at University anyway because I thought I would be out of my depth! With the course at LIPA, I felt comfortable with what it wanted to achieve with me.”

The sheer variety of sounds that characterized the city’s music scene also caught Suleiman’s ear, particularly the more alternative bands. He became good friends with former NINETAILS frontman ED BLACK, who now performs with Suleiman’s band. Sumptuous sets at the Kazimier and Mello Mello prompted him to explore his old roots, and after contacting an old school friend he found himself on a train back home to attend a gig in Nottingham. “The line-up included NATALIE DUNCAN, LIAM BAILEY and HARLEY BLUE- local acts celebrating Nottingham’s blossoming soul and hip-hop scene, and their emphasis on utilizing vocals was similar to what I was trying achieve!”

Suleiman emphasizes the importance of using your origins to find inspiration for your music, and a set he performed at Nottingham’s Rock City remains one of his favourite live shows as a personal achievement, but his music does not feel confined to a particular location. The ominous lyrics on So Lost which are unashamedly direct with their sense of hopelessness and the despair of being hooked to medication are even more striking against the gentle bounce of funky horns and buoyant beats that transform it into a delightfully playful number.

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Ease your ears into Suleiman’s other material and you realize each track is focused on the direction it wants to take. Take State Of Mind, which questions the motivation behind religion and political alliances, or Out Of Luck, with its bleak account of drug addiction. “I wrote that about a friend from back home,” Suleiman recalls, “because I remember so vividly how everyone felt about it at the time; it truly became the talk of the town. I find it really difficult to write about things that I haven’t experienced or heard from first hand because your opinion’s probably not going to be right, so it’s difficult to put something out there and stand behind it.”

What’s interesting though is that Suleiman does not equate having a message in music with having to tell people what to do. He prefers to simply offer a commentary on his own experiences in the hope that others can relate to it. He points to garage authority MIKE SKINNER’S work as THE STREETS as a fantastic example. “He was amazing at representing a specific era of the UK, and some people who listen to it can appreciate that there is music talking directly to them. It’s nice to crank on a tune that does that- it’s not specifically telling me I need to change my life, but it shows a sense of understanding about how I’m living.”

Asides from his new EP State Of Mind out in May, Suleiman’s aim for 2015 is to refine his writing technique- lately he has been spotted in the studio with spoken word mind-boggler GEORGE THE POET- and more importantly, bring his live sound up to the same standard as his recorded material. “It’s a completely different kettle of fish for me,” admits Suleiman with a slight hesitation, “but I’ve already got a few live shows coming up so I need to work on perfecting my sound. You want both the live show and the recorded material to be at a level when they can rival each other!”

With an aim that is so specifically on target, Suleiman’s determination is highly encouraging because it all points to an understanding of longevity. As long as events around him spur on his creativity, his music will continue to have a strong narrative, and in being so specific about the details, his music only becomes more attractive to listeners, fascinated by what he has to say. If a few years at university have taken him to the south of France, we can only wonder at what direction he’ll take for the rest of 2015.

Jack The Lad #1: For the record, live your life locally

After a shop in my local high street decided to take part in Record Store Day, I decided to write a column about it for the local paper, and why such events are so important for enhancing the town’s identity. Thankfully the editor liked it enough to include it in this week’s East Grinstead Courier!

Check that cheeky chappy!

Check that cheeky chappy!

If that arouses your curiosity, you can read the full article here.

The Royal Baby: why be so cynical?

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The marvels of an ever expanding population; on average, 360,000 babies are born across the world each day, with 2,200 babies delivered in the United Kingdom itself. As inherently fascinating as your life may be, fifteen thousand join the competition every hour. Take a minute to think about that; there, that’s another 250 born. It’s staggering to comprehend. But today, the focus has switched to one bundle of joy in particular: the arrival of a royal baby girl, the fourth in line to the British throne.

And what a world she has been born into! She had not even been alive for more than twenty four hours before she made her first public appearance. Yet despite the frenzy of flashing cameras (and the inevitable scrutiny from some quarters of the outfit she wore), the whole affair has been quite subdued- in fact, it was as calm as she was as her parents emerged from the Lindo Wing, sleeping peacefully in her mother’s arms.

Some have smiled at the news, others have scorned, and a few have even used the opportunity to have a wager. Charlotte? Victoria? Elizabeth? Diana? Names that might otherwise be a source of affection, with all kinds of meanings ravelled into them, could be the source of a financial boost for some over this bank holiday weekend. Who do you place your bets on, Chelsea beating Crystal Palace or a usually more private affair of parents choosing a name for their new arrival?

Already the parents have an array of anecdotes to tell their daughter about their birth at a later date! “Oh, the fuss people made about your name dear! You would think they were analyzing a philosophical belief!” Others will be jealous that they never had a town crier to announce their birth outside the hospital, or an easel outside the family home proclaiming the news. If life’s a competition, the royal baby’s certainly winning at the moment.
Some will decry that the royal baby will never work a day in her life; she will have an income from tax, rather than income tax. Many will not care she has even been born. And why should they? We’ll never know her on a personal level, and it’s highly unlikely she will even take the crown. As William and Kate wave to the crowds, protests continue in Baltimore about the lack of equality, and the relief effort in Nepal struggles on… how can the birth of a child really be considered news?

Maybe Republicanism has a point sometimes. But greater danger bubbles away in cynicism; sure, she might be royal, but the essence of the story is something that is truly worth celebrating; the birth of a baby girl. If it was in your network of family or friends, congratulations would be in order; heck, if a stranger told you they’d just become a parent, you would have to have a heart of stone not to raise a smile. So why is it different with the royal family? It might not be what you consider “news,” but there’s no denying it’s a wonderful announcement.