Interview by Amanda | Editor: Zyria Rodgers
What does self care even look like? So many readers in the Unplug community grapple with this question. We’re chest-deep in the thick of our own responsibilities- (or at least we were pre-quarantine) – homework, jobs, interviews, clubs– and somehow have to grapple with the fact that the face mask we did last Tuesday was not nearly enough to help.
The work doesn’t stop, the assignments pile in, and we’re forced to reimagine self care as something completely different. Possibly a self care that actually intertwines with the work that we do.
We sat down with multi-talented artist, Alia Kadir (@aliakadir), who has made herself well known on several platforms for her music, her activism, and her work to create safe spaces for artists. Alia, a vocalist, activist/organizer and even the best star sign of the zodiac, a fellow Virgo. We’ve never met but just by virtue of all our similarities, I’m incredibly excited for myself and unplug subbies to get to know you. Alia is a powerhouse in all that she does, and has inspired many of us at Unplug in being able to do so much and continue to thrive.
So of course, we were honored to sit down and get to know her for our new series Changing the World for a Living!
Amanda: Unplug more than a magazine is a virtual location, almost like a cozy living room filled with black and brown womxn. I feel like your music in the background would be the perfect soundtrack in this healing space. If we were all in a room together right now, how would you introduce yourself?
Alia: Sup, it’s Alia. Peace.
Peace being one word but also meaning a lot of things due to the fact that when you say peace as the first word that leaves your mouth when you’re greeting somebody you’re also declaring peace. It’s one word but I always say it. Always, when I first meet someone.
Amanda: Love that. It’s still wild to think about how many people you’ve impacted at only 20 years old. Which came first? Alia the activist or Alia the vocalist? Or both?
Alia: “Definitely the activist. I’ve loved singing since I was a kid but I’ve been black my whole life. And I’ve always been in places that reminded me of what I look like. Like growing up around Hispanic people and people assuming I was Hispanic, but nah, I’m Ethiopian.
They’d tell me I’m lucky to be passing when I was perfectly happy being black. Then going to racist ass white school at the same time I started to art hoe with some friends has made it impossible for me not to part of making a change & creating safe spaces.
Singing, on the other hand, is something I’ve been doing my whole life because it made other people happy… until I was twelve and heard Amy Winehouse…I wanted to make someone else feel the way she made me feel. That’s when it became a passion.”
Amanda: That’s beautiful. I grew up outside of the U.S. too. What was it like living in Ethiopia as a child?
“Well, I was born in Brooklyn, lived there as a kid. Then when my parents divorced, we just moved around, to Maryland, and then to my home country, Ethiopia. So, I mean, it was just a happier place, and felt like home. It really felt like people didn’t have hatred in their hearts, you know what I mean? Like naturally there are people that are just hateful and it’s fine, but in America people can be hateful until they like you. I don’t know… just being naturally kind to one another isn’t a thing… if you’re not racist, you’re classist as fuck. In my country, superiority is in your kindness, almost. The bigger you are, the more kind. You’re very respectful. It just shows. It shows you’re a bigger boss. Here being a dickhead shows you’re a bigger boss.”
Amanda: Speaking of being the bigger boss, in the music industry, it’s normalized for music to have a very curated way of songwriting and production for mass distribution. Have you ever felt pressured to produce that?
Alia: “Nah, never. I know so many artists that go the pop route, or just have a label make them into who they “are”, but those same artists hate their music and have secret projects only their friends get to hear, cause they can’t release it. I’ve probably had 2-3 people tell me to go pop and make that pop money, and let a label do the work, but 999999 billion people have told me to keep doing me and my fans love my shit so I’m cool on that.
I’ll write for those artists, but I’ll never become those artists because that’s just not me. I only do music because it makes me happy. The second I start doing that then I’m not gonna be happy… I’ll never make this shit my job, it’s always gonna be my passion. If I happen to live off of it, cool.”
Amanda: That’s why your music is so authentic, Alia. What are you most excited about this year? I know you have a single coming out, an album coming out…
Alia: I released the first single off of my album recently, titled “not 4 nothin” OUT EVERYWHERE. My first album ever drops September so til then I’ll be giving niggas “B Sides” to Medusa’s mixtape. Something to hold y’all down, ya know? 6 records. Good shit. The album will be my best body of work I’ve ever created to date, so I’d stay tuned in for that.
Amanda: Could you tell us more about AJAMS?
Alia: “AJAMS is “Alia’s Cannabis Jam Sessions”, something I thought of about 2 or 3 years ago, in Brooklyn. I remember it was Fashion Week, and everybody was getting lit all the time. Everybody was always drunk, but I’ve always been a smoker. At events, I’m usually outside smoking, so I said I wanna throw an event where people are smoking together, BUDtenders instead of bartenders, you know? I remember one night we were getting ready for some party. We were all lit and I remember I was painting a mural of a snake woman on my friend’s wall. I posted the picture of me by the mural and told everybody I was throwing/hosting an event where there would be free weed, a live band, artists performing , live painters, a whole lotta shit that i didn’t have but sounded good.
It was a Thursday when I did this. I had two days to pull off an event and I had never thrown an event all by myself ever. And I had no venue, no weed– I mean, not enough for a fucking party– no liquor, no food, no promotion, just nothing. I told mothafuckas to RSVP through my DMs, so there were like 150 people that I had to write down on the iNotes. I had artists submitting art work in my dms so i put together performers for this show. I was glued to my phone for the rest of the night, in like 5 hours, I found the venue, cannabis , artist, dj, everything yo. I just made it happen. The space had 3 floors including the turfed rooftop with beautiful lighting and low wooden bench seating. It was the craziest shit, my ADHD was what helped me get through it. On Saturday, I said this would be a total bust, but at the end, the venue was perfect, the rooms ended up coming together really well, the painters killed it– it was just the most amazing first event ever. It was a packed house, people were so happy and kept spreading the word. I was like DAMN, I pulled off this Cannabis Jam event in less than 48 hours, imagine if it was an event series – then AJAMS been going crazy and selling out shows ever since . sold out shows in NY, DC, LA, and more to comeeeee.”
Amanda: Are you trying to keep your events small or do you want them to expand to larger numbers?