Nick Hakim On Humor In Dark Times, His New Album And Laraaji NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with Brooklyn-based musician Nick Hakim about creating little worlds with music and the artist he is grateful for: Laraaji.
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Play It Forward: Nick Hakim Finds Humor In Darkness

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Play It Forward: Nick Hakim Finds Humor In Darkness

Play It Forward: Nick Hakim Finds Humor In Darkness

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're back with another episode of Play It Forward, the series where artists tell us about their music and the musicians who inspire them. Last time, the London-based singer Lianne La Havas told us why she's thankful for someone she called one of the greatest musical minds ever - Nick Hakim.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LIANNE LA HAVAS: His music is like some sort of drug. I'm sorry. Can I say that? (Laughter). It's - it makes my heart beat faster. It's just pure pleasure, basically.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QADIR")

NICK HAKIM: (Singing) Qadir, what's the deal now? What did you plant in your mother's garden?

LA HAVAS: He makes anything into something beautiful, you know - any situation.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to go to Nick Hakim next. What would you like to say to him?

LA HAVAS: I would like to say that the sound of your voice is heavenly and the sound of your world takes me to a place that can only be described as witchcraft (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QADIR")

HAKIM: (Singing) That project false beauty.

SHAPIRO: And Nick Hakim joins us now.

Welcome to Play It Forward.

HAKIM: Hey. Hello. Wow, that was really, really, really, really - I did not expect to hear all that right now (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Well, what's your reaction to what we just heard from Lianne La Havas?

HAKIM: Well, a lot of those feelings are - you know, I feel the same way. And I also was - you know, I've known about Lianne's music and been a fan of hers for - since she started putting stuff out in, like, two thousand, like, nine or 2010 or something. And, like, I just - you know, it's been so amazing to be able to create a friendship with her and to collaborate with her. And that's really sweet to hear.

SHAPIRO: On your new album "Will This Make Me Good," there is a song that has just three words layered and repeated - let it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET IT OUT")

HAKIM: (Singing) Let it out. Let it out. Let it out. Let it out. Let it out. Let it out. Let it out. Let it out.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about how you craft a song out of a phrase as simple as that.

HAKIM: I think that song took the shortest amount of time to finish because it's so - it's pretty bare. It's a loop of something that I've - that - I don't even know. I was, like, in my little - like, my little library of stuff that I have. And then I added a keyboard on top of it. And then, yeah, I just sang, let it out. And I don't know. It's kind of hard to explain. It just happened in, like, 20 minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET IT OUT")

HAKIM: (Singing) Let it out. Let it out. Let it out. Let it out.

I think a lot of that record is about having a lot of stuff heavy on my mind and on my heart that I was always kind of avoidant of. And so I think a lot of my last record is just me trying to find some peace with saying whatever stream of consciousness things that come to my head. And it's, like, therapeutic for myself.

SHAPIRO: When you write a track like this, is there any little voice in the back of your head that says, no, you've got to get a chorus and a verse and a bridge and a hook.

HAKIM: No. No.

SHAPIRO: No, not at all.

HAKIM: No, no, because songwriting isn't - it's not about that. It's like, who can tell you what a song is, you know? A song can be anything. If you say it's complete, then it's complete.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICK HAKIM SONG, "GOD'S DIRTY WORK")

SHAPIRO: Even though the album deals with serious themes, you never seem to take yourself too seriously. Like, you filmed a Tiny Desk home concert for our friends at NPR Music. And after each track, you played an applause sound effect.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: It just, like, really kind of punctuates the moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

HAKIM: Thank you. Yeah - hope everybody's doing all right. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

HAKIM: Yeah. You know, I like to create a little world. And it was really strange, like, releasing music and not being able to play for people. So I have this little thing that I bought at - I don't know - maybe like CVS or something. And it has all these, like, applause and, like, sound effects. And there's, like, a boo. Like, boo.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

HAKIM: And there's like - it's really funny. So we all kind of hide behind something (laughter).

SHAPIRO: You're hiding behind a little thing from CVS that plays applause and boo sounds - or trying?

(LAUGHTER)

HAKIM: Oh, yeah. Yeah, maybe not hide, but we all like, you know - I think we all try to find fun ways to make light of something that might be really serious, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEEING DOUBLE")

HAKIM: (Singing) Reorganize and try to find your self-love that you've suppressed.

SHAPIRO: Well, Nick Hakim, it's your turn to Play It Forward and tell us about someone who you are thankful for. Who do you want to tell us about?

HAKIM: Laraaji.

(SOUNDBITE OF LARAAJI'S "I AM SKY")

SHAPIRO: Tell us about him. Like, how did you discover him?

HAKIM: So a friend of mine showed me Laraaji because we were talking about music therapy. And he told me that I would really like this artist Laraaji, so I checked it out. And I am completely just infatuated with the world that he has created and the amount of music that he has just composed. And it feels like an absolute stream of consciousness. The first thing I heard was "Vision Songs, Vol. 1."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IS THIS CLEAR? III")

LARAAJI: (Singing) This is where this is going on. This is where this is taking place. This is how this is going on. Is this very clear?

SHAPIRO: His own website describes him as a musician, mystic and laughter meditation practitioner, so he's clearly so much more than just a composer. Yeah.

HAKIM: Exactly. And I love that because he actually said something incredible in this Record Magazine interview. He said that laughing opens the singing voice, which makes me understand that he has a lot of knowledge about how to use his body and how to connect in different ways to yourself and outside of yourself.

SHAPIRO: He's old enough to be your grandfather. He's about 50 years older than you. Is there something about looking up to an older generation of musicians...

HAKIM: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...That teaches you something you don't learn from your contemporaries?

HAKIM: Absolutely. You know, the music industry is very fickle and kind of gross, and so I just feel like he represents a mentality that I want to keep within myself.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to go to Laraaji next. So what would you like to say to him?

HAKIM: I would like to say thank you. I've learned a lot from you. I appreciate every album that I've heard. And I would love to make music one day. And just thank you. I really appreciate what you represent and what you do.

SHAPIRO: Nick Hakim's new album is "Will This Make Me Good."

Thank you so much for talking with us.

HAKIM: Yeah, thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IS THIS CLEAR? III")

LARAAJI: (Singing) 'Cause you are this, and this is all you can be.

SHAPIRO: And we'll talk with Laraaji in the next episode of Play it Forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IS THIS CLEAR? III")

LARAAJI: (Singing) You couldn't be that 'cause that is that.

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