ZAiiO, the fierce female Hip Hop artist originally from Casablanca has recently relocated to Planet ZAiiO, but I first met her way back when she was still a college co-ed named Myriam! At that time, she was the demure kid sister of a friend, tagging along late one night to drink Moroccan mint tea poured from a silver teapot at a hole in the wall café in Manhattan.
Read on to hear how she discovered her own voice and created a Hip Hop planet. Then listen to her latest single, Voodoo (featuring Afrikan Boy).
Q&A with ZAiiO
DANNA: When I met you, you were sweet and painfully shy! Can you please describe your metamorphosis into the fierce artist you are today?
ZAIIO: I was always ZAiiO! I just decided to let the world into my little secret! At a very young age I was drawn to music, whether it was composing melodies on the piano or coming up with weird rhythms on the drums. I’ve experienced so many different things throughout my life, and I’ve been to so many different places that I was compelled to share those moments musically. When I moved to London a few years ago, I randomly stumbled upon this Hip Hop Karaoke night where I started to perform regularly. The crowd went insane every single time I got on stage and people started posting videos of me on Youtube. The buzz around me grew organically and that’s when I decided to pursue music more seriously!
DANNA: You were first Mimz and then recently changed your name to ZAiiO. Explain your renaming and how it has impacted your music.
ZAIIO: Renaming myself as ZAiiO was a result of my evolution in music. Mimz was a nickname that my friends used to call me – actually some of them still do! But I wanted my music and my image to be out of this world – and ZAiiO is out of this world. It means, “first born” in Zaiionese, the language we speak on Planet ZAiiO.
DANNA: So what is Planet ZAiiO?
ZAIIO: Planet ZAiio is a space that brings people together from all different paths, backgrounds, and walks of life. It’s about being from another place and being “the other”, but still finding similarities in our differences. I often felt like an outsider trying to achieve something that’s so unconventional, but with time I realized that there are so many others who felt just like me. So now we built a community and it’s called Planet ZAiiO. If you look at our symbol, it’s a triangle – a symbol that has a rising point but is equal from all angles.
DANNA: You are originally from Morocco, a country positioned as the ultimate crossroads between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. You have collaborated with Afrikan boy and performed at Diesel’s Studio Africa project. Has your home country and culture influenced your lyrics at all? Do you have any plans to perform in the Arab world?
ZAIIO: I grew up in Casablanca and it has influenced how I feel music and how I see the world. It’s such a big, diverse, and busy city – and I was literally exposed to music from all over the world. Shout out to the pirate satellite dish! I could listen to MTV Germany, Rotana and then switch to Bollywood movies in a matter of seconds – and this was before Youtube! Afrikan Boy is also open to the world and everything it has to offer and he blends so many different styles really well – that’s why it was so great to work with him!
I’m really excited to perform in Morocco at the Hit Parade festival in June.
DANNA: There are very few female Hip Hop artists from the Middle East. Is there social pressure up against you as a female not to be so outspoken? Or alternatively, is the time right for a powerful woman to step into the Arab Hip Hop scene and take over?
ZAIIO: Being a woman, it’s that much harder to shine in an industry that’s so male dominated. So you have to be good at what you do, but you also have to be ten times better than the average male artist just to receive the same amount of recognition. But once you step it up, they have no other choice but to respect you!
Because of social media, we have access to each other so we don’t have to ask permission anymore to speak our mind. I’m personally addicted to Twitter! #Zaiionese http://twitter.com/Zaiio
DANNA: Gold is definitely your power color. Tell me about your personal style.
ZAIIO: All Gold Everything! That’s how I roll, ha! ZAiiO is the future, but it’s also the past. And I think there is no better way to represent that than with gold. It’s pure and beautiful and bold. Gold also reminds me of the sun, the stars, and the sand – all elements symbolizing where ZAiiO was and where she is going. I like to play with sharp angles and I’m a sucker for jewelry!
DANNA: You are slowly dropping singles and are in the studio a lot these days. What has it been like to write and record your first album and when do you plan to release it?
ZAIIO: My album is a collection of ideas, people, and places. The way it was recorded is really a testament to my life – some parts were recorded in London, some in Casablanca, some were recorded in super sophisticated studios and some vocals I recorded on my iPhone! I wanted to share my cross-border diverse world with my Zaiionese fans. I wanted to include them in my world, Planet ZAiiO. For a lot of us in our generation, borders don’t mean anything. I wanted them to feel part of it because they’ve really been there since day one and I would be nothing without my fans!
Photographer: Chris Yates
Hair & Makeup: Nisso International
Stylist: Riece Forde