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Artists On The Rise: Get To Know Abdul Hakim Bilal

Abdul Hakim Bilal are an avant rock/noise magus based in Richmond,VA.

Their growth in Virginia was challenging at times due to the undeniable racism displayed in that region, but it was yet the ground that gave them the strength to be who they are today.

The support of their family is the most important thing for them, as they helped them to embrace themselves like never before. It is true that unconditional love is the best cure and motivation.

They started their artistic path at a very young age by painting and being involved in fine arts until later in life they discovered their ability to actually express themselves through the power of music.

This led them to initiate and take part in different music projects, building a plethora of archives throughout the years.

I’ve had the chance to connect with Abdul on social media, as both of us being out of the ordinary black creators, our connection was definitely instant and unspoken.

Words weren’t necessary, we knew who we were and understood the importance of each other's existence in the artistic realm.

I consider Abdul to be my new friends, someone rare whose energy can be felt from a long distance and that’s what I believe makes them a full blown artists.

My curiosity regarding their artistry led me to have the special and exclusive opportunity to listen to their brand new unreleased project named “Silene Undulata”, an experimental and alternative sound with unorthodox structures and rhythms, and an underlying rejection of commercial aspirations.

An inspiration to many, I couldn’t help but getting to know them more and I’m glad to bring you this in-depth interview.

Where are you from and how does that affect your work?

I’m from Tacoma, Washington. I always say, “I may have left Tacoma, but my soul stayed there.” Honestly, that place is the quintessential wooded pacific northwest dream. It’s vast, grandiose and filled with life. Even upon closer inspection of a piece of moss, you can see life moving in and around it. That place fed my curiosity toward this world and the non ordinary. That mystery and wonder is what I live for, which is why I am currently using sound to explore my inner workings as well as send messages to those who listen.

When and how did you begin your journey as a musician?

Well, about eight years ago, I was a painter. I started that journey very young, about seven or eight years old. Up until then, I never considered playing music. I loved music and I definitely was a bit obsessive when it came to listening to it. I could see now that I had been studying it for as long as I could remember. One day, while I was painting with my friend, he told me that I wasn’t a painter. He told me that I was a composer and that he could tell by the way I painted. So, I decided to acquire a bass and since then, I’ve never stopped playing.

Who are your biggest influences?

I’ll be honest, I don’t really use people as influences. I get inspired by mostly the deep sense of curiosity I have toward this world/reality/existence. Things I’ve experienced, lessons that I’ve learned throughout a very wild upbringing. I’ve lost everything many times, but grew so much during that process, with those stories, I have an endless palette to choose from.

What was the inspiration behind your most recent project "Silene Undulata", and when did the idea occur to you?

Like many of my solo projects, a lot of where they come from is a need to challenge myself as an artist. I want to create an “experimental rock” band and play every instrument on the album. Something like Massive Attack, meets Radiohead, Portishead and “The Great Annihilator” era Swans. I didn’t know I was going into this to make an album, I just wanted the challenge, to prove to myself that it could be done. The result isn’t what I expected. For now, it’s the first iteration of a collection of songs. The follow up will be much more on point and is currently in the works.

Are you from a musical or artistic family?

My grandfather was a musician. Other than that, I am an outlier in my family.

What are the biggest obstacles you had to overcome as a black individual in order to advance in your personal and professional life?

Richmond WAS my biggest obstacle, a city filled with white dominated scenes that needs to check off a box to be perceived as an ally. I’ve been tokenized, fetishsized, witch hunted, stalked and the lot. I chose to distance myself from it. I don’t even go to local shows that I’m not playing. In fact, I mostly avoid playing locally in general. One thing I’ve learned here is that everyone has an alternative motive for including you with anything, especially when your a black queer. A lot of white people see that as an opportunity to befriend, control and manipulate you. Whether it is to seem cool, signal flex or use you for their own benefit. This place is filled with people just like that, even people who want to be romantically involved with you because of these things. I had to fully distance myself from that as well. People also know how motivated I am and use that to their advantage. For years, I was actively playing in two solo acts and four bands. I am constantly trying to push out compelling work even if I have to do everything myself. I’ve been in bands where I put myself at financial risk just to push the dream forward. I’m still learning, growing and developing boundaries around this. I realized that because I am black, my parents had to prepare me to survive and to stand out. I was told to work harder than the white people who will be handed opportunities much easier than I would. This has been a great benefit for my growth and a huge detriment to my mental health. To advance as a black artist is a dangerous and difficult thing, especially surrounded by white artists.

Have you ever said 'no' to an opportunity?How did you decide to say no?

I say no all the time, I don’t compromise with my principles or my expression anymore. As a black people, we are forced to compromise in order to survive. I’ve decided in the last two years that compromising, especially for white people, is no longer an option. How would you describe your work, and what message do you aim to send across?

I wouldn’t describe my work, that’s what listeners and critics do. I don’t feel the need to explain what I do, or even how it is created. I feel and do things without much dense thought, that comes later. I don’t try to convolute my work with thoughts, it makes things too busy. If I move with instinct, who I really am and what’s true to me comes out.

What's the greatest fear you've had to overcome to get where you are today?

Not being good enough WAS my greatest fear. I no longer allow fear to affect my work. Mars in Aries placement forces me to face them. Do you have any advice for aspiring songwriters?

Be fearless in your self exploration, even if it hurts. You’ll never know who you really are until you peel back the layers of everyone’s idea of you. Let your heart guide you and your intuition be the driving force.

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