Ashibah hails from Denmark, but has roots in Cairo, Egypt, where she lived until she was 19. Now splitting her time between Denmark and Brazil, where she’s taken South America by storm, she’s inspired by her rich cultural heritage. With her signature sound and an innate musicality, she is breaking through the house music scene in Europe too. We met up with Ashibah and her dog Pablo, who lives on top of our Copenhagen office (literally) to discuss music, basket and Brazil.
Jonathan Soriano: Ashibah. Aka. Sarah.
Ashibah: Sarah. Yep.
JS: Thank you for joining Recreation. Let's just get into the mix.
A: Let's do it.
A: I am half Egyptian, half Danish. My mom is actually from a small island called Bornholm. And my dad is from Egypt, so I'm a bit of a combination. I was born in Næstved in Denmark and then we moved to Egypt when I was two years old, and I grew up there.
JS: And who's the tall one in the family? You are?
A: No, my dad was the tallest. He's like 193. I'm 186.
JS: Cool. We'll get back to the height thing.
A: Goes hand in hand with the whole basketball thing.
JS: Yeah. Exactly. Let's jump to the next thing. And that's the music. Your livelihood. So how did you get into this? You're a DJ, you sing, you perform?
A: Actually, I'm a producer, songwriter, DJ, and a lot of different categories, but I also sing, yes. Since I was seven years old, I’ve been writing songs, and when I grew older, I started working with vocals. And I then started writing top lines, producing top lines and everything for others. That’s when I started getting really interested in the whole production side of tracks; how you make the track sound the way it sounds. I pretty much taught myself how to produce. I did have a couple of mentors along the way, but I kind of took it from there. Now, I do songwriting and producing. DJing started in high school, where I would DJ at dances. Started with the whole vinyl thing. And when I moved to Denmark, I started playing at clubs. I then began combining the vocals and the producing and the DJing all in one. And that's what I do now full-time.
JS: Basically, you started at the bottom and worked your way up?
A: Yeah. And there's no such thing as a top. I feel like you can always challenge yourself and there's always somewhere you want to go. There should be at least.
JS: You've been producing for others as well? Any interesting names that we would know of?
A: I have, yes. In Denmark I've produced a track for Emil Lange who is a big DJ here. I co-produced it with the legendary Rune Rask. Also, I'm working on a tune right now. I can't say who that's for, but I've done a bunch of remixes for different artists. But the whole production for others kind of started during Corona because we had to make a living.
JS: Okay, perfect. So that was the music part…
A: In a very compressed version.
JS: Yeah, we're going to jump a little bit, because we know you, we've seen you in the streets here for years now.
A: I love that “we've seen you in the streets”.
JS: Yeah, that sounds so wrong.
A: I like it. It gives me a lot of credibility. I like that.
JS: But you have a sidekick, and I'm not talking about your partner in life, but about your dog, where did you find him?
A: I have the cutest little Brazilian street dog called Pablo. He's a Carmelo, that's what they call them. I am a huge animal lover and grew up with dogs. When we were living in Brazil, somebody put up a picture of this cute little puppy. He must have been like four or six weeks old. It was basically, someone take him, or else… you know what happens to dogs who don’t get a home. When my wife and I went to meet him, we took him right away. We’ve kind of regretted not taking his brother too, but luckily somebody else did. Pablo’s been my best friend ever since.
JS: So, you basically adopted a favela dog.
A: Yes, exactly.
JS: It might sound crazy, but he does look different than Danish dogs…
A: I know. And, he doesn’t like the rain. He’s a little vagabundo, a true street dog, and he collects stuff. Whenever he sees something edible, he will snatch it. Even though I’ve been training him for two years now.
JS: What’s the connection to Brazil? You’ve lived there, and it seems like you go back often?
A: I do. I'm there pretty much five to six months a year. Spread out during the year, depending on the high season. Back in 2013, I did a couple of tracks with Vintage Culture, who is now one of the biggest electronic artists in Brazil. I knew he was growing, and those two tracks were growing with him, but I didn’t know at what level, until a booking agency called me and said that people were singing my tracks. So, I decided to go, and they put together a tour. I fell in love with that country, it is one of the most special places I’ve been.
JS: It looks like they love you too. You’ve been playing some pretty big venues. What’s the biggest audience you’ve played for?
A: 20 to 25,000, I think. It was for a Carnival in Rio, it was insane. This New Year's, I played two parties – one of them for 4,000 people, the other one 7,000.
JS: So that's probably your biggest market?
A: Yes, yes. It is expanding now though. I’m releasing on labels and opening up regions in Europe and in the States, and working with other artists. So, it is expanding now, but Brazil will always be my big one. And Brazil is like a continent; you can literally live there all year long and never hit the same club twice in one year. There are so many parties, it's amazing.
JS: Are you planning on moving back, or are you okay with just going back and forth?
A: I think my base is always going to be Copenhagen, also now that we’re opening up the European market, and the US too. Right now, it's the high season in Brazil, so I was just there in November and December. I go back from February to April, and from May to June. But I spend summer in Europe, so June, July, August, September. It’s just kind of back and forth like that.
JS: You mentioned your wife. How does that work?
A: We basically make all my music together.
JS: So, she’s like your silent partner? You’re a duo?
A: You could say so. She's an incredible songwriter and pianist. She is amazing. Everything that I’ve created over the past couple of years have been together.
JS: So, it's a family business.
A: It is a family business; without her this wouldn't work. Even though I was doing music before her, and I've been doing music for many years, I think she was kind of that special sauce. When you have a dish, it might work, but you kind of need that special sauce and then all of a sudden you have something special. So yeah, she's that special sauce.
JS: So, we've done Brazil, we got your wife in there, we got Pablo, we got how it began, and your background. Let's get down to the nitty gritty stuff that I love, basketball. You played ball?
A: I did. I still do so for fun, but it was impossible to do music and ball at the same time. I started playing from the age of seven or eight. But as soon as I could walk, my dad put a ball in my hand.
JS: Is he a baller?
A: Yeah, he was a baller. He played on the national team and everything. He was a big baller.
JS: National team in Egypt?
A: Egypt, yes. And my sister and brother played. We all played. And my sister's kids both play and they're really great. So, it's a family business too. As a kid, I would go to camps in the US, and I started playing on the national team when I was quite young. And I continued to play when I moved here. But I didn’t have the best experience with my coach, and we have talked about this before. When you love something so much, but then somebody taints it.
JS: That's the reason why I quit.
A: Yeah. It was kind of the last straw for me. I was already considering quitting because of the music and everything, and that did it for me. I still love to play though. In every city that I go to, if I have the chance, I try to go to a street court to play with whoever’s there.
JS: Well listen, that's all I have.
A: That's all you got?
JS: That's all I got.
A: Well, it's been fun. I could talk like this for hours.
JS: Me too, but I think we covered quite a lot, so thank you for that.
A: You're welcome.