Published on August 3rd, 2020 | by Christopher Wallace0
Ilhame the International Singing Sensation
I had a chance to catch up with Ilhame the artist and she was gracious enough to grant me an interview. She has a new dance hall song out with the one and only Beenie Man, King of The Dance Hall, himself. After coming off a hiatus from international tours she has found a new love for music. Check out the transcribed interview below.
Sarge: How are you doing this evening?
Ilhame: I’m good, thank you. I’m really good.
Sarge: So, tell us what you’ve been doing during the quarantine.
Ilhame: During the quarantine, honestly I’ve been thinking about what I want to do, where I want to go. And I’m really sad for all the death for this quarantine, but I’m taking it in a right way and I’m learning a lot about myself. So I pray, I take care of myself. I found out who I want to hang out with and who I don’t want to. I think this quarantine, I found my deep self and it feels so, so good, really.
Sarge: Yeah that’s interesting. Everybody’s been in the house and having a lot of time for introspection.
Ilhame: Yeah, well exactly. I did a lot of introspection. Excuse my French. I’m French, so sometimes I’m having a hard time to find the words, but this is exactly that.
Sarge: So when you say French, are you French from France?
Ilhame: I’m born in Paris, but I’m originally from Morocco. So north of Africa.
Sarge: North Africa in Morocco?
Ilhame: Yeah, uh-huh (affirmative).
Sarge: And so when did you come to the United States?
Ilhame: It was a long time ago. It’s such a long story. I came a long, long time ago to… I was working with someone and this person fucked me up. In the term, not from there, but my money and everything. And this guy is just… Because it’s just a little story, but this little story says a lot. And I remember he stole my money and he told me, “You will never do anything in music.”
So I was really, really sad. And I cried for, I think an hour. And I called my dad and he’s like, “Come back in Paris, and I’m like, “No, I’m going to stay here. I’m staying here in L.A.” So then I went back to Paris and I came back to record my second album here. And it did well. And this is when I did tour with The Roots, Erykah Badu. And one time, I saw that man that told me, “You will never do anything in music,” in the show.
So that was a beautiful revenge for me. It’s just like that taught me something. There is a lot of people that are going to try to put you down. I believe it’s because they see the strength that you do have. And I do have a really, really good heart, but I love that about me, and I cannot change that. And this person, and I’m still having some time, people like that. But that gave me so much strength. And that gives me strength even to go and get what I want and what I am here for. I know that this is my life, everything that I had, even all the artists I added because I believed that I could have them.
Sarge: Okay. So when did you realize that you had not only your love for music, but the ability to sing?
Ilhame: I was so little. I was at school. Maybe I was 10 years old. My teacher wanted me… I was doing contests. So it was just contests, but that was classical music. And my dad always pushed me to do that, so I always did that. I always sang. Honestly, I can say that music saved my life as my faith. And to me, they are both connected. So really music and my faith saved my life, to not go and take a wrong way. Even if I did. I did sometimes. But I came back from that and I came back strong. We can fail. That’s okay. We can do wrong, but we have to come back to who we are. And I believe that right now this is really who I am. And I know what I want to do. I know what is my message. I know what I’m fighting for because we are all here for something. I believe that. All humans are here for something.
Sarge: Who were some of your biggest musical influences growing up?
Ilhame: Minnie Rippleton, Luther Vandross, Rose Royce, Bill Withers. I know that might sound like what? You’re French, what are you talking about? Yeah, my dad, this is what we were listening. Yeah, this. I wish that I was still alive when he was singing. That would’ve been my biggest dream to see Luther Vandross performing.
Sarge: Yeah. Big Luther.
Ilhame: Big Luther, I love. Or J Dilla. I met him. I love J Dilla. And it was great. I really had the chance to meet him. And I remember he asked me to sing in front of him. And that’s why in my album, I have Slum Village and those people. That was such a blessing. He was just so simple.
Sarge: So earlier you mentioned that you went on tour with The Roots.
Sarge: And Erykah Badu.
Ilhame: I opened for them, Erykah Badu.
Sarge: Explain to us tell us about that experience.
Ilhame: Honestly, that was after when I came, I was like, “I’m going to come back and I’m going to make this album because this guy told me I’m not going to do anything. Okay.” And prayer has always been in my life, talking to God. And I met a wonderful person that helped me. And she loved my music and it was just like my album wasn’t done, that I was opening for The Roots in Paris. I did a show with Erykah Badu. I was so scared. I was so scared because they called me the week before. I had four days to prepare a show with musician, when the album wasn’t done.
It just taught me, showed me that I really wanted that because I was really scared, but you know this adrenaline that you have before a show or something that you love so much? When I get on stage, and of course, I was like “Oh, I was bad,” because artists, we have so much doubt. It’s horrible. But doubt makes us better. But after, I was just like, this is what I want to do. This is what I love doing. And I was so grateful, so grateful to be able to share the stage.
Sarge: Where do you draw the inspiration to still make music?
Ilhame: Honestly, I stopped for a moment. I’m not going to lie, I stopped for a moment. But the album that I… I went to Jamaica in December last year. Jamaica inspired me I think the most. Honestly, that was so magical. But I am someone that is really in love with love. I’m in love with people. That’s why I always say, “I’m in love. I love you, my sweet world,” because I’m always going to find something positive in everything. That might really sound cheesy, but this is who I am, so I might be cheesy. And I took honestly, the inspiration because as everybody, bad things happen to us, or something that was hard to take and it made me stronger.
And honestly, there is a lot of songs that I’m talking even about love. And those songs are about how I wished that someone would love me. I wish how this person will see who I am really inside with my fear, with my doubt and not just see this. Which is fine. People think I’m beautiful. Thank you, guys. But when you decide to be with someone, I always wish that someone will see really who I am. Be careful about the words that you use, because words are too strong. So there is a lot of songs in this album that this is kind of an itinerary about how I wish that someone would love me. I’m sure we all have that. Sometimes we meet someone I’m like, “I wish that he will see how I am in pain.” That doesn’t mean because you don’t show that you are not in pain. I am really strong, but I have my weakness and sometimes I want someone to tell me, “Oh, everything is going to be fine.” So it’s talking about that. It’s just like in my music, I say a lot about me really. And I talk a lot about love because I love love.
Sarge: So you went to Jamaica to record the album?
Ilhame: Yeah,. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sarge: And you end up getting Beenie Man on the song. Can you talk about that experience?
Ilhame: I swear, this is the true story. So I was with my engineer and we were in the apartment and we do this song and the song is named All of Me. Everything is recorded. And my engineer, my DJ says, “Girl.” No, he said, “Man.” Everybody says, “Man.”
“If you have Beenie Man in this record, that will be so crazy.”
I’m like, “Okay. Okay. So let’s pray right now to have Beenie Man. I swear to God.” And so I pray always. That’s why Just Wish It. So I really wish for that, but I’m really putting all my heart in there. So I asked my engineer, “You have to do it too.” And so we do it. I swear. So I call the person that I was writing with and I’m like, “Do you have someone that can drive us everywhere?” Because you need to be careful, even any country, but in Jamaica, even more. He called that guy. So this guy became my driver. He was so sweet, and I’m like, “Let’s go. Let’s go have some lunch.” And I’m like, “Can you have Beenie Man?”
He’s like, “Yeah, I drive him.” I swear to God. I’m like, “What? Really?
Two days after, he said, “We’re going to go in front of his studio, Beenie Man will be here.”
So we wait an hour, maybe. Fine, it’s not that long, to have Beenie Man, I would have had to be patient. So we go, we have a drink in the bar. So then I see Beenie Man. We talk. Me, I’m like, “What?” But we talk, he doesn’t know that I’m coming to the studio. And then the assistant to the manager told me, “Okay, so come. You’re going to talk to the manager.”
I talked to the manager. Of course, I prayed before. I swear, I talked to the manager and I’m like, “Okay, I have a song.” I think in three minutes, he listened to the song. He’s like, “Okay.” Two days after, we were at the studio and we did this song. Really, I swear, this is how it did happen.
And I wasn’t supposed to have… I did a song with Capelton too, but this is exactly how it did happen. And a lot of features that I have in the album, this is how it did happen.
Sarge: Now on a previous album, you got a song with Skip Marley as well.
Ilhame: So with Marley, I did two with Damian. The song with Ky-Mani Marley, I put it on internet, but I’m going to put it out because this song is so beautiful. I had someone that I was working with, she was kind of my agent manager. She helped me so much. This is by her that I did The Roots and everything. And she tells me, “Okay, so you have to do a cover of Bob Marley.”
I’m like, “What? I cannot do a cover of Bob Marley. You cannot touch a king like that.
And he’s like, “Yeah, do it
So I’m like, “Okay.” So I have to do something original. And I did it in Arabic and in French. So then I do it. It sounds great. Honestly, this is one of the songs in my life that I was so nervous because I do a lot of cover, but this one, I was so nervous. I felt that I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders because this is Bob Marley and I was doing something really different in French and Arabic. And honestly, it turned out beautiful. I’m so proud of this song. So then my friend or my manager told me, “Yeah, the Marleys listened to it. They loved it, and then I’m like, “I want Ky-Mani Marley.” It took me a few weeks. And then I was in Miami recording with him. And he was so humble. He told me, “No, what do you want me to do? My dad would love your version.” Even Rohan Marley listened to the track and he was like, “Wow, that’s so good.”
I was really, really touched. And I wanted him. The same, I prayed, but I worked too. I really do believe if you put your heart on it and you work and you do what you do for the right reason, for good, with love and passion, I think you have a big, big chance that it will happen. I really do believe that. And I do believe that you might have some tests. Of course God, or who you believe in, me, I believe in God really, really much, is going to test you. It’s not easy to do what you love. And you’re going to fail, but you have to get up and go get what you want. And it worked for me. I did, at one point, failed and I stayed on the floor because of life, because of whatever. But now I feel stronger, there is nothing that can stop me. Nothing. I’m so happy. I’m so in peace, I know that this is why I’m here and I just feel in the right place.
Sarge: How do you think that plays in your motivation to really make quality music instead of being force fed songs and messing with your inspiration?
Ilhame: Honestly, I don’t do what I don’t feel really. Really. I don’t do what I don’t feel. Which was a bad choice before because maybe I wasn’t a fan of this artist or whatever, but it wasn’t like maybe I won’t be here, but I don’t know. It’s just when I don’t feel something, I don’t do it.
Today, this is who I am. When I don’t feel something… I mean when I compose, the melody comes right away. And today, really right now, I’m really not picky, but yes, I am. I want to be picky with who is surrounding me because I wasn’t and that was a mistake, a big mistake. I want people that wants more than me, or at least wants good.
I want to be surrounded with positive people. And even if you are a little bit negative, but not haters, jealousy, I don’t want that. I don’t respect that. So I don’t want that around me because it takes too much energy from you and this is poison. So this is what I decided, honestly. And honestly, I thank the quarantine for that, because before it wasn’t like that. It’s nice to think about others. I do, but I’ve been thinking too much about others, and you have to be first. I have to be first to be better with others. So I’m still learning, but I’m doing better. It’s not being selfish, it’s being about what you want because no one is going to come and take you and say, “Hey this is what you want.” People are really selfish.
Sarge: So now you’re finally in a space where you’re putting yourself forward.
Sarge: And putting yourself first.
Ilhame: Yeah. I’m putting myself first to be able to help each other, because I’m working in so many things. And even to write or to compose, how can you… I am first, but I’m still seeing what is going on around me and I’m still helping, but I need to help myself. I need to be kind to me to get just stronger to whatever will happen because now when it’s clear, with the quarantine, it’s not done. So we need our strength. I need mine.
Sarge: And you have an international fan base, don’t you?
Ilhame: I hope so.
Sarge: What’s the furthest anybody’s ever reached out to you from?
Ilhame: Honestly, there is people from Germany, there’s people from Dubai, there is French. It depends. Even, honestly before, in America I had a lot in Chicago, New York because I was kind of doing a lot of shows. Yeah.
I stopped for a long moment. So I even toured with Scientist. He’s so famous. I did songs with him, I did a whole album with him. It was a crazy moment. But this is another story. We did a great album in dub music. Scientist, he is the… Yeah. I don’t know now. I don’t know who is my fan base yet. I think I’m building a new fan base. That’s why it’s pretty exciting because everything is new. I even feel that I’m a newborn. I promise you, this is… Yeah.
Sarge: A new Ilhame.
Ilhame: Yeah. A new Ilhame. A new Ilhame. I really want to… I am more Ilhame. I am not scared to show who I really am. I’m not.
Sarge: As long as you’re happy with yourself.
Ilhame: Yeah, I’m happy with… It’s hard, but I’m going to be really, really happy with myself. It’s just sometimes I’m a little hard with myself, which is normal. But I’m happy with myself, I’m proud of myself.
Sarge: So when do you think that we’re going to get the album?
Ilhame: I don’t know, but the single is out and…
Sarge: All of Me, right?
Ilhame: All of Me, yeah, with Beenie Man. Today, we’re on the 27th and this is the presale. Honestly, I don’t know. I’m going to say my wish out loud, even if people say, “No, don’t say it out loud.” I am wishing that this single is going to do really well, insha’Allah, and that I’m going to have a bigger team around me and that we’re going to grow together and I’m going to have the help of the label and that the album will be out.
Ilhame: I really don’t know about the dates, but I’m really wishing for more support, and to show you every day who I am and what I want to do and the help that I want to give to the world and everything. And I want to grow with my fan base.
So this is my wish. Just wish it. This is really what I’m wishing for. After this song, people to be, “Oh wow. I forgot about her.” And the label will be, or someone will be… Even if I do have someone that I’m working with and he believed me, his name is Jeffrey, he’s The one that made me sign at Empire, and I’m thanking him. And the same thing happened with him. I contacted him. I swear, I prayed. Because he contacted me and then I’m like, “Why don’t you contact him?”
And he’s like, “Okay. We will sign the song on distribution with Empire.”
And so I hope that this team is going to grow. And this is my wish, to have help from a label or to just be able to think about your music because it’s such a freedom. I’m doing everything, with your help, with a lot of… Even someone tell me, “You know what Ilhame? You should kind of do this song. Listen to it.” Less pressure, and just thinking about love, and love and music because to me, music is love.
Sarge: That’s dope. It’s beautiful at the same time.
Ilhame: Thank you.
Sarge: That’s the beauty of the part of our life that we get to use the steering wheel and turn the car around.
Sarge: And go in a different direction.
Sarge: Instead of crashing into the wall.
Sarge: But if we crash, it’s okay.
Ilhame: Yeah, it’s okay. We have to crash. I believe that we have to crash. I think I believe that for big things. But big things are not always money. Big things, I mean to be like, “Whoa, I found my thing.” I’m not talking about, “Yeah, I have a million,” which is great. I wanted that million too. I’m talking about, “That’s why I am on earth.” To find why you’re here. The big fight of your life, and then work on it and get better and better to believe on yourself when everybody’s telling you, “No, you’re not going to do it.” Oh man, I love when people tell me that. I lost more than a 100 pounds. They were like, “Big ass.” Yeah. All these things were like my strength. People are always going to put you down, but there is always a way.