You know the kind of songs that get stuck in your head but are so good you don’t even mind? Rahill Jamalifard, lead singer of the ’60s-inspired rock quartet Habibi, has a knack for writing them. Her dreamy voice coupled with surf-y guitar riffs is all we want flowing through our headphones this summer. We met up with Rahill at Blue-Sun Records where she works part-time and talked everything from what she likes to wear onstage to where she gets songwriting inspo.
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do, where do you live?
I’ve always done things the unconventional way and I guess my lifestyle reflects that. I spend the bulk of my time writing music and making art at home, and the rest of the time I spend playing music, slinging records and DJing around the city. I’ve lived in the peaceful neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens, for the past five years.
Let’s talk go-tos…
Coffee order: Drip with almond milk and honey
Onstage outfit: I go back and forth between masculine (baggy stuff, coveralls) and feminine (leather minis, frilly shirts).
Neighborhood spot(s): Topos Bookstore and my secret thrift shops
Jon Hassell, Vernal Equinox
Donald Byrd, Places and Spaces
Yusef Lateef, “First Gymnopedie”
Has playing in a band always been a dream of yours? Can you tell us Habibi’s origin story?
Definitely not—I’d always been a devoted lover of music but never anticipated playing it. I wasn’t a “musician” till I started playing in Habibi. It’s my first band, so music was a surprising creative outlet. Habibi started after meeting one of my best friends, Lenny Lynch, who encouraged me to mess around and play music with her. After realizing we could potentially become a band through the couple of songs we wrote, I asked another soon-to-be best friend Karen Isabel and Erin Campbell to join us. The rest, as they say, is history!
Looks like Habibi will be touring quite a bit this spring! What’re your favorite/least favorite parts about being on the road?
I love to travel. Rahill means “one who travels” in Arabic and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The best parts are exploring cities, getting to meet really cool people and hanging with some of my closest friends on the road! My least favorite parts are the poor selection of food (gas-station snacks get old quick), traffic and not having my entire closet on-hand.
Where do you turn for songwriting inspiration?
Ideas come to me at random. A lot of times I’m waiting for a train and a melody pops into my head and I discreetly record it in my voice memos. Sometimes inspiration comes in dreams. Actually, the last place I wrote an inspired melody was in the shower. Also, reading, watching or looking at images from different moments in history always inspires me.
The new album Cardamom Garden is your first with lyrics in both English and Farsi—can you share a bit about that choice?
My Iranian heritage and its influence pretty much bleed into all of my creative outlets. It’s been a constant theme for me since I was young. We’ve been singing the songs in Farsi for years but hadn’t had an opportunity to record them till now.
Do you have any advice for young girls looking to make it in the music industry?
Be yourself. Don’t curb any feelings or emotions that you worry may affect the audience’s opinion. Sincerity is striking and powerful. Own what you do and respect yourself always.
And finally, who’s a lady you love in your life and why?
My grandmother. She lost the love of her life (my grandfather) and her only daughter in the same year and can still laugh and appreciate life. She’s full of warmth and kindness and I am so lucky to know her.