Music to dissociate to and art to escape in – that’s the work of London-based multidisciplinary artist Ki Pharaoh. “It’s infectious when he’s on the decks, in the dance or behind the lens; You can feel his amazing energy and passion spread towards you”, photographer Jasmine Engel-Malone, who is also a close friend to Ki, says about his alluring blend of ideas. After all, Ki, who found himself being exposed to all kinds of music in his youth, became a popular exponent of an elusive blend of house, hip-hop, and electronic music within the London DJ community.
Having worked with Dazed, Nike, and the Melbourne-based duo Hiatus Kaiyote, he does not determine his success by the names he can put on his resume. It’s very much apparent that there is only one thing that drives him forward – pure passion for the love of art and creativity.
Ki Pharaoh wants people to feel truly comfortable and safe to be themselves because, in the end, that’s what art is for. “He also shoots things in a way that feels personable and intimate – I also admire the ways he sees the world in general, and I can always rely on him for honesty and clarity which is something I feel you can also see within his work”, Jasmine adds.
We caught up with Ki to chat about the definition of an artist’s career, the WA radio collective, and how listening to a song on loop can lead to surprising collaboration.
I read in your Spotify bio that you were raised by punks and Rastas. How was that for you?
My mom was the black sheep of the family – she was the artist, the odd one. Everyone else was pretty normal. My mom’s side is Dominican, which is in the Caribbean, not the Dominican Republic. It’s a different island. Dominica is an island of about 70,000 people. The Rasta side is my dad’s side, which is Jamaican. I wouldn’t say I was raised by them necessarily because my dad didn’t really play a major part in my childhood. He was kind of there, kind of not. But from what I do remember was that they were very impactful in certain approaches to life, certain balances, for example, taking the opportunity to look at situations from different perspectives. And honestly, just chill sometimes. The punk side was like ‘do whatever you want’ and the Rasta side was like, ‘do whatever you want, including nothing’.
How has that influenced your approach on producing music?
I don’t know if those things necessarily influenced my music. I was luckily raised around most genres of music and had the opportunity to absorb different styles. I could literally create what I wanted. I was also a dancer. Most music that I make is intended for people to move or vibe to. But again, it’s just so not genre specific. My approach is literally just to do whatever you want, whenever you want. My earlier music was very sad and solemn. That’s because I was going through a major depression, which I’m probably still going through now. But now I play a lot more high-energy music – usually around House, Hip Hop, and Electronic sort of stuff and finding the balance between the three. I play a lot of edits as well when I’m DJing with my guys, WA Radio.
What does it mean to you to be part of WA RADIO?
WA Radio is a collective, but it’s mainly three of my friends. During lockdown, we decided to just do something. A lot of the things we share and have in common revolve around a deep love for music from around the world. We talked about our individual talents and combined them to create an agency. We throw parties and host events, create films and design campaigns, we’re just doing a lot of different things. Everyone just supports everyone – it’s a really beautiful thing. There’s a deep love for these guys, it means everything.
You’ve collaborated with Hiatus Kaiyote, who’ve been sampled by The Carters, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak and Drake, among others. What does that mean to you?
Working with Hiatus Kaiyote was a major deal. We linked up because of a friend of mine, Lola, who’s an amazing singer and artist. She had seen an edit I posted and showed it to a friend of hers (Tré Koch) who had directed the video for Red Room. It was a random edit that I did after hearing the album. The track “Red Room” just touched me so deeply. I have ADHD, so it’s natural to me that sometimes I listen to a song on loop for hours and sit in my room or look at the sky. I was vibing and zoning out while I was listening to it. After I stopped being in that sort of slow moment, I decided I wanted a version I could play outside. So, I made an edit that made sense for the purpose I wanted to use it for. Later Tré also reposted my version, and so it happened, that they got in touch and asked me if I wanted to put it out officially. It was one of the greatest things that could’ve happened to me. At that point, I was essentially giving up on music. I thought it wasn’t worth it. But to have one of my favorite bands approved and loved and officially put out a track I made just for the love was a massive change. I definitely thought I could actually do what I was doing by getting some sort of approval from people that I love.
As a multidisciplinary artist you work with a lot of different medias all the time, but what‘s your favourite form of expressing yourself?
I would say, I don’t have a favourite form of expression. It changes from time to time, but I would say it’s currently sound based. I’m just trying to share that with people and create a connection between sight and sound. Just expressing yourself, in general, is important to do. Because it brings out honesty. I think honesty is one of the most important things in life. We need it to have a sense of reality. I need to feel like I’m in tune with reality because oftentimes I’m really not.
Where do you want to head with your career?
I don’t know anymore. I’m just an artist before anything. I don’t think it needs to be a career at this point. I just need to live and whatever happens, happens. I might end up in the street and still be an artist with a career that maybe doesn’t pay. Luckily, it pays right know, so I can do exactly what I’m doing right now. Where I want to head with my career is maybe spreading my ideas and hopefully helping as many people as possible because art helps me when I need help. We all need help in some way, so I guess as an artist, it’s my duty to help as many people as possible.