“You could be my life as it goes,” sings Ibrar Azam, 18, somewhere in Dallas, Texas. The lyric will go on to find a home on the second track of Maroon, an 8-track project put out independently under the moniker IBRA. The aesthetic IBRA exudes is dressed-down garments, pitched-up vocals, and self-awareness.
Made in a month to showcase his love for storytelling, Maroon tells a disjointed story of longing for what might be unattainable. He’s filled with angst but his production glimmers with a pop sensibility malleable enough to change gears from the club to the countryside. His anxiety is what he runs away from on title track “Blue,” perhaps the most ambitious track on the project.
Born in Lahore and raised in Toronto before moving to Dallas, IBRA recalls his earliest memory of music being listening to AR Rahman as well as Sufi music in the car with his family on the way to Barrie or Niagara Falls.
“I pretended to not like any of it at the time,” he admits. He played violin in his school orchestra, something he wasn’t too fond of: “I hated having to be told what to play and how to play it.” Today, he lists, in ascending order, his favorite artists of all time: Lauryn Hill, Kevin Abstract, Radiohead, Kanye West, Frank Ocean.
IBRA first started making music in the sixth grade. He started messing around with FL Studio and making beats, and he first took it seriously enough to complete an idea this past January. He first tried vocals this past June.
What was it like creating your album Maroon?
I made Maroon start to finish in around a month. I sort of shut myself in at the time to focus on making it. I really wanted to make it a concise album with actual content compared to the 3-4 songs I’d put out already which were all cool sounding but had nothing to them besides just being generic love songs. I wanted Maroon to be something that the listener could listen to and come away from it with a better understanding of me. I love storytelling. That’s ultimately what I want to portray in my music: being able to really flesh out images, and blend them seamlessly with the music. I think Maroon was a good step in that direction.
Why title it Maroon?
Maroon is kind of a color I use to describe my life up to now. When you think of red, you think hurt or anger or passion, but I think my reaction to things that have hurt me or angered me or evoked passion is all kind of muted — like maroon. Anxiety is something I’ve dealt with for a long, long time. I feel like I’ve overcome a lot and learned a lot especially within the past two years, but anxiety has always — and sometimes I fear will always — be something that clouds everything I think about, the way I react to events, people I care about, etc. I think the color maroon has just kind of set the tone for that.
What’s your personal favorite off the album?
“Blue” — I just like how the structure of the song feels less like a song and more like a string of thoughts like a rerun of jumbled thoughts that have ran through my head especially with the inflection I tried to really push in the second half. I wanted to play a sort of ugly character because I think that there’s a lot of ugliness about me that I try so hard to hide from others and myself. But my goal with my music is to be as honest with myself and my audience as I can. I want people to know that everyone has ugly flaws and ugly thoughts because I don’t want them to feel ugly themselves like I did, thinking I’m the only one.
What artistic responsibility, if any, do you have as a brown artist?
To show other brown kids who might be sitting in their room dealing with things like depression and anxiety which aren’t addressed in South Asian communities and are usually considered taboo that their feelings are completely valid and they’re not alone in their struggle because that’s something that I needed as a kid…This one might be a stretch, but I really do want to connect and bridge the gap between the older and younger generation. I want there to be an understanding and learning process between us instead of adapting the “they’re old, they’re too traditional and won’t change mindset.” I really do love my parents and have learned so many valuable skills and values from them but there’s a lot of things that I think they could be more open and receptive towards from the youth. I want to be able to make that a feasible conversation that can happen.
* * *
Mustafa Abubaker is an author and freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/musabubaker.