The world is sound: Adham Shaikh shares his multicultural, international musical journey

A true way of understanding a culture is listening to the music of that culture, says Juno-nominated Adham Shaikh. Shaikh, a B.C.-based producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist, performs Oct. 7 at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Creativemornings Vancouver.

“[I’m] just trying to curate some interesting journey through this unique 30 years of music,” says Shaikh. “I’ve spent a lot of time in clubs and festivals, so it’s very fun to present music in different contexts.”

Shaikh has travelled around the world performing, recording and gathering a diversity of musical inspirations over the years. He’s excited to break it all down with both a performance and a creative lecture showcasing his international musical journey.

Multicultural appreciation

While Shaikh grew up around many different kinds of music, he didn’t always have a curious ear like he does now. Adopted by his Kashmiri father and English mother, Shaikh moved to Canada at just two years old, and says he was raised more or less as your “average Canadian person.”

Adham Shaikh. | Photo by Blake Rupert

As he grew up learning the piano and developing a curiosity for popular Western music, Shaikh was eventually drawn more towards synthesizers and drum machines in his early musical years. It’s an affinity that still shows in his now-intercultural musical palate, but at that time it came at the cost of appreciating other diverse kinds of music – like the Indian ragas he heard around the house growing up.

“As a youngster, I was kind of like, ‘That’s all kind of weird stuff.’ It wasn’t really until my twenties, and much later, that I was in a position to have a deeper appreciation and interest, and curiosity, into all these lineages and things,” says Shaikh. “But then as my eyes and ears looked to the world and discovered that the world was full of rich heritage of music cultures, my ear became really interested in all these different sounds.”

Shaikh’s musical journey has since snowballed into a globe-spanning endeavour. It started in the late 80’s and early 90’s with fusing electronic and ambient music with traditional Indian instruments like flutes, sitars and tablas. But since then it has expanded to include musical trips to New Zealand to perform with Maori singers, record field recordings in Peru and Australia, collaborate with master musicians from Rajasthan, and much more.

Shaikh says that keeping an open ear and an open mind is what has allowed him to make so many musical friends. And he says that holds true whether he’s halfway around the world, or simply wandering around in his own backyard of BC.

“[I’ll be] looking around like, ‘Gosh, I don’t know any tabla players,’ or whatever. And then, going down Commercial Drive or Granville Island or something, and seeing a tabla player, walking up and introducing myself, becoming friends, like, ‘Hey, I do music, would you be interested in doing a little recording session or sampling session?’” he says.

A deeper connection

For Shaikh, the process of finding and incorporating new diverse sounds into his own music is a sonically rewarding process. But beyond that, he says it serves as an important cultural and spiritual process as well, where not only do different kinds of music come together, but so do different peoples and cultures.

“There’s an Indian [statement], Nada Brahma, which is ‘The World is Sound.’ We are all vibration and everything is vibration. And as you start learning or listening to different instruments, vibrations, then you start trying to see how you could harmonize with that vibration,” says Shaikh.

Beyond the exciting musical results, Shaikh thinks meeting different people and sharing their music has been a reward in and of itself. In a way, the musician hopes his practice of bringing together different, sometimes unexpectedly similar sounds, can allow him to create a meaningful mesh of intercultural harmony.

“I’ve kind of dedicated myself to music in service, to showcase all these beautiful, rich, vibrations from different cultures to show that harmony,” says Shaikh. “The more you find the harmonies in it, the more you find the commonalities in it, you start to see the connectedness.”

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