The Lure Of Discovery; An Interview With CHAII

Genre-bending Persian/New Zealand rapper CHAII expresses her diverse creative powers on her debut extended-player Lightswitch—a bold six-track visual EP showcasing sounds and footage from Oman to Joshua Tree. With the release of her debut EP, CHAII is ready to take her place on the world stage and is rapidly making an impression as an exciting new talent to keep an eye on.

Despite her sudden arrival, CHAII’s music has already attracted the attention of Italian fashion brand FENDI, mixed martial arts organization UFC and Charlize Theron’s new film The Old Guard. In June, CHAII was announced as the first-ever Spotify RADAR artist in New Zealand. RADAR is the streaming giant’s global emerging-artist platform, which helped launch international stars including Lauv, King Princess, Jorja Smith, G-Eazy, and Trippie Redd.

This past Friday, CHAII dropped her latest single, “WOW (Look At Me).” The sonically-driven explosion of sound continues to offer listeners more of the musician’s vision that’s only getting stronger. “I talk about being in your lane and taking risks,” CHAII says regarding the track. “The ‘Look at me, wow’ hook is aimed towards social media culture and how some people would do anything to be seen.”

Like many we have asked before you, how are you doing amidst the global pandemic? 

Pretty buzzy time. Nothing much has changed for me personally, as I’ve been writing from my home studio as usual. Live shows were wiped for the year, but I’ve been doing good and staying busy apart from that. Thank you.

What could you tell our readers about the music scene in New Zealand?

A very lit scene. We’ve got so much amazing music coming out of New Zealand at the moment and it’s so cool to see friends making big moves. MANY many exciting artists/producers some of the faves – Frank Keys, Paige, Kings, Rory Noble, Mikey Dam, Vayne, Villette, Benee, Teeks, Soraya La Pread, Lepani, Gino AND SO MANY MORE 

How did the concept for the visual backdrops for Lightswitch come to be? 

I make the treatments, draw up the videos’ timelines, and have a visual board before we get into making it. That way, I get a good idea of what colours and locations work and whether certain things are achieved on camera or in post or a combination of the two. For this EP, I chose to shoot the first three videos in the Middle East and the last 3 in California. I had to do a lot of Google’ ing and research.

What were some of the best moments you and your crew experienced when filming the videos’ footage?

Man, so many moments. The four of us (Frank Keys, Abe Mora & Brooke Tyson) are close friends, so we joke around a lot which keeps the intense shoots really fun. The car drifting was epic! As we were filming one of the car tires blew up. We went on a Walmart mission to find a bike for the Lightswitch video and that was awesome because of how different everything was for us compared to shopping in NZ. A golden moment was Abe…Toothpaste.

Learning about Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, what were some of the biggest takeaways for you?

I already had an understanding of the Islamic Revolution, but the one thing that always stuck out to me was musicians and artists having to leave the country to continue their craft after it was banned. I wanted to learn more about that and how the migration impacted their music. I love multiculturalism and embracing it. My biggest takeaway and reminder was never to fit in a box or be from one place to be understood. I want to keep representing and being proud of being an Iranian and New Zealander. It’s a big part of who I am hence a big part of my music.

I read that when you heard Eminem for the first time, it was the start of your journey towards creating music. What was it about Eminem that resonated with you so much?

When I first listened to Eminem I didn’t know any English, so what drew me to it was how much emotion and how expressive it was. Not long after I started writing my own rhymes to vent, I found that it was an easy form of expression in times I felt lost.

What other artists did you find yourself listening to that spoke to you the way Eminem did? 

D12, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Pharrell, Outcast, Nelly, Twista, Busta Rhymes. The list goes on. I think that’s why I make music feeling and sound driven, mainly because I could only feel without knowing what the lyrics were during that time. So the vibe of a song is first when it comes to creating. Once my English was good enough then the lyrics became a new aspect for me. 

Your trip to California in many ways helped shape Lightswitch. Did you find that time to in many ways alter the vision of the album? 

It definitely alters the vision for the better to fit better for what I’m trying to make. I leave room for the visual direction to be altered by different environments and vibes. I never force it to be something it’s not meant to be. Keeps the projects exciting and keeps me on my toes.

With the trip to California being so pivotal, what could say living in New Zealand has done for you musically? 

Living in New Zealand has played the biggest role in my musical journey. I’ve done the majority of the music writing here in NZ. I’ve been able to express myself and experiment without too many social pressures freely. NZ is a quiet country so for someone who has an overstimulated mind leaves room to create, I feel.

What were some of your other influences during the production of Lightswitch?

I came across some amazing art by Western/Middle Eastern visual artists that were abstract and dope. Also, anyone who was producing music or making anything creative that was multicultural and badass was an influence. During the making of Lightswitch, I wasn’t listening to much music but overall, artists like MIA were a glimpse of hope that genre-bending/multicultural music can be so powerful. 

There is a lot of buzz surrounding you at the moment, mainly being featured on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater remastered video game. When did you discover that you are on the list?

Dreams really do come true!!!! I knew about being featured on the THPS remaster in March this year. Pretty buzzy being on a game that I played when I was ten years old, such a legendary game too!