A boy cries out in Dari, exulting over the body of a dead soldier, followed by rapid snare drums approximating gunfire. So begins Kabul Fire 2, Farhot’s second album to date, which he describes as a “voyage to (Afghanistan) my country of origin.”
Kabul Fire 2 artfully blends deftly crafted beats, piano playing, Afghani folkloristic samples with vocal clips culled from Afghani movies, weaving it all together after the fashion of an Afghani rug, which Farhot recognizes as something of an acoustic metaphor for his music making.
Farhot is known as a beat-maker in Hamburg, his adopted home, to which his parents fled from war-torn Afghanistan. He has supplied beats to a wide array of US, UK and German artists as various as Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang Clan to Deutschrapper Haftbefehl. While many of the people Farhot works with verge on the mainstream, Farhot has not embarked on a money-making project with Kabul Fire 2.
The album which appeals on many levels, is at times down-tempo and plain chilled, as in “Kishmish”, street-savy as in “Feel Ugly”, which features UK hip-hop artist Tiggs da Author. Elsewhere, the album has a “World Music” cachet, as in “Yak Sheer” which features Eastern strings or “Ahange Qadimi”, which blends rural pipes with break-beats. However Farhot doesn’t make a distinction between his sampled sounds and voices he works into his tracks. It could be inspired by the Beatles, or it could be a film clip (as from director Siddiq Barmak’s Opium War), or a hip-hop riff. The only thing that matters is “the magic”.
Farhot, can you tell me a little about your background?
I was born in Kabul. At the time there was war with the Russians. The Russians came and then we had to leave. My parents had to wait till I was stable enough to travel and then we took off, to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Hamburg. I grew up here.
What year were you born?
What sort of connection do you have with Afghanistan? Do you/can you go back from time to time?
It’s risky, but yes. However the political situation is very unfavorable. A lot of kidnappings. But I’ve become a daddy so at the moment going back is out of the question.
Did you grow up in a musical household?
My uncle became a guitarist. His son, my cousin is a well-known rapper in Germany. His name is Kalim. He is also out from Hamburg. He’s a boy from the streets. He’s big into trap music. He does different music than me.
How did you become interested in music?
I was a hip-hop fan. I was a huge fan of Cypress Hill. Of DJ Muggs. I was addicted to this music. At some point I started Dj-ing. But I always wanted to make beats like Cypress Hill. Like Muggs and later Alchemist. They were my role models and idols. And I started just copying them, and I never stopped.
Where in Hamburg did you grow up?
It’s in the south of Hamburg, Neuwiedenthal. It’s an obscure part of town, a little bit Hamburg ghetto. And that’s where I grew up and had a very laid-back childhood. And now for around fifteen years I’ve been living here in St. Pauli, in the center.
How old were you when you started to get involved in music?
I started DJ-ing when I was eighteen. I started a bit later. And then two years later I started producing. It took a long time with me, because I didn’t have anyone close to me who I could exchange ideas with. And that’s why it took a long time with me. And then I got together with an artist named Nneka from Nigeria. She had been living here for four years and studied. So I got to know her, and we started to make music. Very quickly she got a deal and then we started producing music together. And that was my entrée into the music industry. We got our start together.
What sort of feedback did you get?
The response to Nneka’s record was rather la-la. A few people picked up on it and said it was good stuff. But the first album didn’t really take off. And on the second album of Nneka’s there was a song that I made called “Heartbeat”, and that got a bit more popular. And then came Rita Ora, and she sampled it and made a hit out of it in the UK. And then Nneka got a bit more well known, and people started to talk a bit about my productions. And then I started working with numerous people in France and England, with Kano, Giggs and Miss Dynamite. I had always worked abroad, not too much in Germany. That came later.
And any contact to people in the Berlin scene?
In Berlin there are also artists that I have worked with. Megaloh and I also did stuff with Aggro Berlin. Later in my career I started to do more in Deutschrap. And the biggest celeb is Haftbefehl from Frankfurt. But you know how it is in hip-hop. You send a beat as an email and they cut the track and finito. You don’t get together in the studio. It’s rather impersonal.
Are there also local things from Afghanistan that impressed you? Oriental melodies? Eastern sounds?
I grew up with Afghani culture. I was at countless weddings and so I’ve heard a lot of Afghani music. I never really liked it as a kid, but now I like it more and more. Some names that I like are Ahmad Zahir and Sarban: two well-known singers from Afghanistan, and they made super music. The new music doesn’t interest me.
It’s too poppy.
Yeah. I little bit bubblegum music. Whatever. But I watched a lot of films, and I sampled a lot from films. In Kabul Fire 2 I did a lot of research on Youtube to find what kinds of films were out there. And I had no idea how good the films were. Some of the stuff wasn’t that good, but there were things that were incredible. There was one film called Opium War from Siddiq Barmak. Amazing film. And I got in touch with him, and he let me sample from the film. And my album starts with a sample from Opium War.
How would you describe the Afghani music that interests you?
There’s got to be magic in it. You can get this magic from the Beatles, but it could just as well be some kinds of field recordings from Afghanistan. And there is definitely magic there. And I don’t care how old the music is. I just need magic. No bubblegum shit. Original stuff.
Which instruments are you interested in?
All instruments. Also singing interested me a lot. They play a lot of harmonium in Afghanistan. And then they have other types of guitars, which are constructed a little differently, which are used in folkloric music. I don’t care what sounds there are. I just need something unique.
And you don’t write texts.
No words. Lyrics I get from elsewhere. The artists write them themselves. Giggs and Nneka wrote some, Ju Ju Rogers…these are all people who wrote their own texts. Or I take words from films, sample them and stick them in the music. I don’t write words.
What sorts of gigs have you had in Germany?
I toured with Nneka. But I have to say, I am not the touring artist.
What’s the scene like in Hamburg?
There’s a lot of nice architecture. There are a lot of millionaires, but there are also ghettos. Where I am living – St. Pauli – is an alternative quarter. There are a lot of left-wing oriented people and it’s very multicultural. There are a lot of artists about, nightclubs. St. Pauli is a nice area.
Do you earn your money through music?
Yes, thank God. But the albums I have put out are not anything that I’m really earning money from. They are rather a labor of love. I earn my money from producing things for other people. What I’ve been doing under my own name hasn’t yet become a money-maker. It’s “just for fun”. For the love.
Can you put into words what the new album is all about?
The music is a mix of music that one hears in the USA and Europe, but with a lot of different spices from Afghanistan.
Are you familiar with the World Music scene at all?
I like Salif Keita from Mali. There’s amazing music. When I did stuff with Nneka together I had to do with World Music.
What do you feel about how Afghanistan is presented in the media? Do you think that the image from the media reflects the daily reality?
Oh, man, I don’t know what is going on there on a daily basis. I know there are difficulties there. But what it all comes down to for me is why don’t we just leave Afghanistan in peace? It makes me sad all what has been done to the country. And so many people – my whole family – has gone. The land has been taken from us. Now I’m living here and all is cool, but I am still sad that I am not in touch with what is going on there. All I know are stories and pictures and films and memories from my family. But aside from that I feel rather estranged from the country.
Are you nevertheless hopeful that things will return to normal?
I am hopeful, yes. But we have to give it time. I think everyone has to leave the country. One should leave the Afghanis be.
What has been the trend in the last five years?
It’s become worse. But I’m not a politician. I am a victim. My family has had to flee.
Is there much of an Afghani community in Hamburg?
Yes. Hamburg and Frankfurt have the most Afghanis in Germany. And there are more and more artists who are making use of their heritage.
And Afghani weddings – there are a couple.
Hundreds. I’ve been to more than a hundred weddings.
What kind of music do they play there?
A parting shot?
This album for me is a kind of voyage to my country of origin. All the while I have looked at what other artists were doing. And this time I looked at a lot of films. And I updated myself about what was going on in Afghanistan. I was happily surprised at what art I managed to turn up. And my main inspiration was the film Opium War. And I’d like it if I could DJ a little bit of what I found. I hope to make people curious enough to check out these films. It’s not fancy music. It’s just laid-back music with a little bit of Kabul spice.