ZAKI IBRAHIM with BLACK AUGUST as part of ISLAND SOUL at Harbourfrount Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Sunday (August 6), 8 pm. Free. 416-973-4000, www.districtsixmusic.com. Rating: NNNNN
You don't want to mess with Zaki Ibrahim -- especially not in cyberspace.
While there's no question that the multi-faceted soul singer (backed by her rhyming buddy Isis -- the two just came off a Canada-wide tour with Tumi & the Volume) could slaughter you in an R&B freestyle faceoff, so far she's carried out most of her verbal assaults behind the scenes on the Internet, on MySpace.
The 25-year-old Ibrahim's typed choice words at certain of the legions of aspiring producers who've picked up on her hype and messaged the powerful performer, insisting she should really check out their beats.
"I've gotten into back-and-forth, like, serious fighting words on MySpace," Ibrahim confides during our talk at the Rivoli. "They're like, 'Check out my beats!'... and then again, 'I said, check out my beats! Give me your honest opinion.' Okay, then: 'It's crap! It's boring! It's monotonous -- it's crap!'"
"Then I get back, 'Oh, so you're one of those fake, earth-hugging, head-wrapping, faux humanitarian, blah, blah blah.... '"
She smiles. "I'm like, 'Okay, so it's on. '"
If only it were so easy to box her into that salt-of-the-earth "organic" neo-Lauryn Hill paradigm. Ibrahim's style (so original that if you said she'd developed it in isolation, like Jodie Foster's Nell, I'd believe you) is made of too many influences to situate her at the centre of that genre, despite what her wack beat-making enemies on MySpace may believe.
One thing that sets her apart is her music's edge, which draws on her teenage roots in high school rap groups, both in Canada (where her hippie parents met) and South Africa (where her father is from). She takes cultural influences from all elements of her family members' varied backgrounds -- African, Muslim, Scottish/ English -- and combines them with contemporary soul aesthetics.
Back in Toronto, she's currently at work writing her debut album. You'll anticipate it hungrily after hearing any of the songs from her self-titled EP, which you can get at her shows... or hear on her MySpace page (www.myspace.com/zakiibrahim).
While she says she's scared of the fact that Rupert Murdoch owns the website (she's also freaked out by Internet technology and even cellphones), Ibrahim also admits the World Wide Web has given her boosts.
Case in point, on Sunday (August 6) she'll play Harbourfront with Black August, a fiery soul band from Rochester. After hearing her tunes, they added her to their Friend List and sent her a message saying they wanted to perform the songs they'd heard online.
"Yeah, that came from getting in touch through MySpace. They said they'd learned my music, so Isis and I went down there. We thought we were just gonna get on the mic to do whatever, but they played my songs exactly!"