With authenticity at the forefront of everything she does, Psi.ko is truly in the creative world to make positive change. Discussing the motives behind concealing her identity, what sparked her latest release C.H.A.V and what’s next for her the London-based, Iraqi rap artist is wise beyond her years and a breath of fresh air as she continues to push social and political boundaries one track at a time.
So what first led you to music?
We're starting in the deep end! Well, I think it's quite a common story, like a lot of people I grew up with music in my home. My parents don't have musical backgrounds at all though. They’re both Iraqi and I was born in France so inevitably I grew up listening to different types of music. I grew up listening to Arabic music, and the French music that was playing on the radio, and then when we moved to England, I started listening to English music. I would say maybe the biggest hook into music was when I was seven and I started beatboxing. Before that though my parents bought me a guitar and I really thought I could play – when really, I wasn’t playing anything at all! I was like yeah; I can shred but I didn’t know any chords! I couldn't even tell you what the notes were. I still thought I was a rockstar though haha!
Haha Nice! All your music is politically charged. Has it always felt like the natural thing to discuss social issues in your music, and does it come naturally that social issues are at the forefront of what you write?
Now that I'm thinking about it, is all my music political? Yeah, I guess it is, isn’t it. I think it's partly because I've been politicised from a very, very young age because of both my parents background and because of moving countries at a young age. You’re especially politicised when your parents don't speak English as a first language and then having to step in as a young person to help translate etc. When I talk about politics, and everyone else talks about love songs, I guess it’s just what comes naturally to me. There are things that I really hold near and dear to my heart in terms of social, political and economic issues, that I feel like during this time, right now, if I'm not hearing other people say it, I'll write about it.
That completely makes sense. Is there anything you want to like gain from releasing that kind of music?
Well, my tagline is, “I'm just a nobody writing somebody bars”. I kind of live by that because I truly believe every person does “somebody things”, but right now, the social media era is very person and brand forward, so I’m like how do I share my personal self with the world? To some extent, it’s a powerful tool and to another extent, it's a very detrimental tool. I like the concept of detachment from my personality. I'm okay being a small person kind of in the shadows, but I do somebody things just like everyone else does. People who have context of me will see my music differently to someone who has no context of me, It’s also dependent on how you've been politicised, how you've been racialized, et cetera, et cetera. So, everyone's going to probably look at the music I make and consume it in a specific way. I'm not very much in the business of dictating to you what I say or how you should receive it. Overall if my music leads you to have a conversation around it with your family or friends that would be great, if it made you feel something then I guess that’s the aim. Conversation starters, I guess? Yeah. conversations and whatever the end result of those conversations are that's between you and whoever you had a conversation with, but it's about getting that conversation hopefully started.
I think that's important and a great standpoint to create from. I've heard the new single ‘C.H.A.V’ - the video is amazing. Can you just tell us how the concept came about? And a bit about the single?
So this track has actually been sometime in the making. During my time at university, I had heard what I think to be a lecture basically say, “we have a lot of Chavs in our department”. I was taken back, and I went straight to my dorm and just felt like I have to write a song about this because this is crazy! Growing up in the UK, I remember specific things like the TV show benefits Street, basically making fun of working class people. We have a culture of doing that in the UK, which is really odd to me. It's like this consistent demonization of the working class for reason. I just felt the need to write something especially because a lot of people incorrectly think that the word chav stands for an acronym, which is ‘Council housed and violent’ but that’s just a made-up acronym. The etymology of the actual word is also fake. The word chav is actually closer in relation to the root word for kid in Romany than it is to a word that is made up as an acronym to mean council house and violent. I wanted to reclaim the word, if you're going to call me a chav, then it's going to stand for council housed and vibrant. It's also a conversation to humanise the buildings and the social housing that houses people. How can we build social housing that actually makes sense for the people that we are building it for? in England we love to say that we are a social welfare state, and we treat provisions for the most marginalised and the most effective in our society, yet, as of right now, and it's been 12 years or more that they're rundown services and we're not getting them to be fit for purpose. I apologise for rambling.
I think you really get that from watching the video and listening to the track. I think it's a really moving and important piece of work and music. I know you've kind of touched on this a little bit, but obviously, on social media, and in person too actually you don't show yourself or your identity. What are the decisions and thought process behind that?
It's two things. Number one, psi.ko could be anyone and everyone. It’s kind of like, hopefully, if you relate to any of the tracks, you can kind of see yourself in them to some extent. It goes back to the whole, I'm just a nobody, right? Also because I like my privacy. I think in this day and age, it's really imperative because obviously, I don't know what's going to happen with my music I can do well or I can stay in nobody and that's totally fine, too. It's a detachment for whoever interacts with me. And then also for myself, to keep a good mental state. I say with hope.
I think there's a lot of artists now where their Tick Tock or Instagram personality comes before the music. Does not having your identify out there make social media feel harder?
Since I actually started making music, it may sound artsy fartsy to say but my intention really isn't to have my face on a billboard. I’m a very community person at heart so I want things to be grass roots and I feel like not showing my identity helps to maintain that grass roots thing. If things have to become social media I want to try and do it in a way where I’m not just doing it for the sake of it. I’d want it to have a secondary value.
That makes sense. This is my last question for you is just what are the plans for the rest of the year?
The plans for the rest of the year? I love that question. My plans are pretty simple, I’ll probably release a track a month, every month until the end of my mixtape so all the songs that you're hearing currently a part of the mixtape. You will be able to access that this year and then hopefully some live shows. Apart from that, a bit of community organising and creating music and seeing if we can push for change where change should be pushed for. Yeah, that was a really weird tongue twister.
Psi.ko's new single 'NO MORALS' is out this Friday, 10.03.2023.