EP Walkthrough: CHAII details her forward-thinking debut EP, Lightswitch
The Persian, New Zealand-based musician's debut EP is an audio-visual adventure full of some of the year's most daring pop.
Header image by Abe Mora.
CHAII is someone who has long avoided being placed in a box. When we first met with her debut single Trouble, the Persian musician immediately burst out the gates with something completely different to anything we'd heard before, crafting a quick-pacing pop-rap sounded like a refined, homegrown M.I.A. with a heavier emphasis on her eastern roots; an intersection between the accessibility of western-world pop and the joyfulness of traditional Persian music, explored in a way that only someone like CHAII could: full of confidence and energy.
It was a burst out of the gates moment that immediately made her one to watch, and throughout the past six months, this has only grown stronger and stronger. On the B Wise-assisted Digebasse, her roots and influences in hip-hop were further explored through experimentalism and warping, twisted rhythms while on Trouble a few months later, a heavy-footed production set the scene for CHAII's chanting vocals, which time and time again over the last few months, move with the commanding, attention-drawing confidence of someone who knows their strengths, and is going to share some of the year's best music in the process of showing it.
Now, with her debut EP Lightswitch, CHAII as a fully realised vision is coming to life. It's a six-track audio-visual EP with a depth you'd expect from some of music's most adventurous and adored faces, capturing the complexities of CHAII and what makes her unique in a way that feels distinctly futuristic, and avoiding of the boxes that often see so many people like her confined within throughout their musical career.
From the second Lightswitch kicks off, you're immediately slapped by the abrasiveness of an experimental pop future, and how CHAII is able to expertly bring it to life. Beginning with blaring horns, the EP's title track is a rush of fun that captures CHAII at her most lively and animated, with a commanding presence once again featuring the musician front-and-centre, despite the heaviness of the underlying production. Nobody Know goes deeper into this; percussive rhythms and clanging bangs leading a CHAII-led charge that'll keep you in place. Middle Ground, the third unreleased track of the EP, acts in much the same way.
"I am part of the new generation of Iranian immigrants who are creating music outside of Iran," she introduces herself. "Coming from New Zealand, where there’s a very small Persian community that you barely see or hear from, it was a revelation to experience the perfect blend of Western and Persian influences when I first visited LA to see family." Lightswitch captures that - complexities and all - at its most daring and striking, further deepened by the EP's virtual accompaniment which allows CHAII to further explore her roots and the connection it holds to her music.
"We captured so much of the spirit of my early childhood memories of the Middle East in the videos for South, Digebasse and Trouble, and to film the videos for Lightswitch, Nobody Know and Middle Ground in California, the home of the largest Persian music community outside of Iran, felt like the perfect place with the right mood for this project."
It's an adventure of a release that'll push you out of your comfort zone, and you can dive into it below with a track-by-track walkthrough from CHAII, who breaks down each track on the EP and its accompanying visuals:
The inspiration for the Lightswitch EP came from my deeper learnings about Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, resulting in countless creative talents, including musicians, actors and artists, to leave Iran and relocate to California - after their work was banned in their homeland. California remains home to the largest Persian music community outside of Iran. The strong connection musically and culturally I had with the area, and my sound being a fusion of hip-hop and Persian music, made it the perfect place to do this project.
I am part of the new generation of Iranian immigrants that are creating music outside of Iran. When I initially travelled to Los Angeles to visit family, I felt like I was experiencing the perfect blend of Western and Persian influences. Coming from New Zealand, where there’s a very small Persian community that you barely see or hear from, it was a revelation. So for the filming of the Lightswitch EP I just had to go to California. The strong connection musically and culturally I had with the area, and my sound being a fusion of hip-hop and Persian music, made it the perfect place with the right mood for this project.
My crew of friends (Abe Mora, Brooke Tyson & Frank Keys) and I went to LA and filmed the videos Guerrilla-style, same as the first trilogy which was set in Oman (Middle East).
Lightswitch is about the raw realness in everything, being true to yourself - and how obvious it is when people are fake. It’s also about the hard work I’ve done so far and it’s taken a minute to get here - but at least, when I reflect on my journey, I’ll have no regrets.
For the video, I wanted to show a few different sides of L.A., switching from the humble neighbourhoods to the Hollywood Hills and Venice Beach and more. I found it crazy that you can be one street away from entering a totally different neighbourhood. One area that surprised me the most was Westwood where there were SO MANY Persians. Most businesses were Iranian owned and the shop signs were in Farsi. Buzzed me out.
Nobody Know is a fun freestyle I did on one of my beats. I then continued to work on it with my friend Soraya LaPread. We added some crazy killer sounds to the production and just had fun with it. Soraya is half Persian so she instantly had a deeper connection to my music.
Legendary Sylvia Massy and I went crazy with tracking Nobody Know at her studio in Oregon. She set up a vocal chain through a lightbulb, some dope outboard gear and vintage mics. It was such a fun and perfect way to approach the record. Was lit !
I kept the video concept intentionally simple and playful. I wanted it to match the freestyle energy of the song. It plays with the idea of leaving a mark. No-one gives a damn about trying to fit in these days, which is something I love about this current generation of music and artists.
I was once told that the high and low feelings in life are a reflection of your thoughts and subconscious - they are not real -nor should we be aiming for them. The middle, however, is a state that is true and constant.
This song is a three-part journey of thoughts and emotions that I’ve experienced. From having negative thoughts of not being able to achieve my goals to being affected by other people’s fears. The second stage is accepting that there are highs and lows in life and finding that ‘middle ground’. The last part of the song is about constantly moving forward in life - being able to overcome challenges.
I had so much fun producing the music for South. Making the video for it was also an adventure. It’s my first self produced song to be released, so it’s been very exciting. I was just having fun and didn't think anything of the song at the time of the demo. Until it grabbed a few of my friends' attention and they mentioned how much they love it.
We shot the video outside of our Airbnb building at a construction site and many other industrial areas around Muscat, Oman.
Digebasse feat. B Wise
'Digebasse' means 'Enough' in Farsi (Persian). Originally the inspiration for writing Digebasse came from seeing more and more people in Iran standing up and protesting for their rights. I loved doing this record, as it was a time where I was experimenting with fusing Persian and hip-hop sounds together. I felt I was being very honest with my music and knew it was the start to a very fun and special journey.
After a long think to where I would shoot my video I couldn't imagine anywhere but the Middle East. Even though I didn't know what I was getting myself into, I had this drive to go and shine a positive light and a different perspective on the Middle East as it deserves. I get frustrated watching the news outlets, seeing Middle East always portrayed badly.
The beat was Produced by Frank Keys who really captured the vibe of the video. I went about this project differently to other songs. The video was filmed first then the music was made after. The visual is a representation of my childhood in Iran but lyrically it's to do with my life in the music industry.
We filmed the video in the mountains at a small town ‘Al Jabal al Akhdar’. It was so beautiful and the locals were very friendly and helpful along the way. Without them, none of this would have been possible
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