AHI Offers Compassion and Hope on 'In Our Time'

AHI Offers Compassion and Hope on 'In Our Time'
Photo: Jess Baumung
In the song "Just Pray," from AHI's sophomore album In Our Time, there's a line that captures his work ethic: "Every go-getter goes and gets it himself."
 
In 2016, AHI (Ahkinoah Habah Izarh), a Brampton-born singer-songwriter who now lives in Toronto and characterizes Nashville as his second musical home, independently released his debut, We Made It Through the Wreckage. It was the result of a whirlwind ten-day recording session that, as AHI tells Exclaim!, was the "craziest experience" he's had.
 
The next year, AHI attended the DIY Musicians Conference Presented By CD Baby in Nashville. There his music caught the attention of NPR's Bob Boilen who personally asked AHI to perform a Tiny Desk Concert. It's a significant gig to get, in general, but for an independent artist seeking a following, it's monumental. Clad in his trademark stage uniform of an equestrian helmet and all-black clothes, AHI's Tiny Desk performance is captivating and feels like a turning point in his career.
 
"I really believe in having control, especially in this era," says AHI about being an independent artist. "I believe that when you have ownership and control, you can make the music you want to make. If it wasn't for me having independence, I probably wouldn't exist in this industry."
 
In Our Time is an expansive offering whose tracks range from brightly anthemic pop to bluesy rock to tender folk. At the heart of these songs, relayed by AHI's distinctively raspy vocals, is words of love and honesty. AHI credits his optimistic songwriting style to his love of Bob Marley. "I remember saying to myself, 'I want to make music that makes me feel the same way Bob Marley's made me feel.' And not to be narcissistic or vain, but I felt that there was nothing out there, so I thought, 'I'm going to make it,'" says AHI.
 
Honesty and positivity are some of AHI's personal core values. New songs like "The Honest One" and "Straight Ahead" exemplify this, as AHI urges listeners to keep their heads held high and to live honourably. "Trust your heart and don't look back," AHI sings on the latter track.
 
"My life has been about being honest and finding the truth," he says. "I believe there is good in humanity. I believe that we are connected creatures so when people draw out good from people, it creates more good. When people draw out negativity from people, it creates more negativity. We open doors to things by what we promote. I believe that behaviour and character and honesty can be viral too."
 
We live in a time when hate and anger feel magnified and so it's easy to be a glass half empty type of person. AHI's music is not without conflict, but the hope it contains is fortifying and serves as a reminder that with the right attitude, maybe things can get better.
 
"There's no objectivity without compassion. You can't be objective about anything if you can't have compassion. So whatever side of the political spectrum you're on, whatever side of the religious spectrum you are on, if you lack compassion, you can't see your point of view objectivity," explains AHI.
 
"The way I look at it is that I could empathize with anybody. I can try to get into your head and try to understand, whether I agree with it or not, why you are going through what you're going through and why you do what you do. You pick the worse type of person and I try to find an avenue to compassion where I can understand that person. I think that's what helps me create."
 
In Our Time comes out independently on July 13.