Ady Suleiman graced the coffee house sessions stage on 19th October and gave a simple and unpretentious performance, yet simultaneously wowed the courtyard by the power of his voice. As soon as his performance progressed his vocals transfixed those watching, and raised eyes from those buried within their books who were attempting some form of study. Just him and a mike, along with a session guitarist; he was apologetic for the fact that he had a sore throat, not that this was detectable in his voice, and truly his sound is as powerful and soulful as his audio. Former student at Liverpool, Ady grew up in Grantham, Lincolnshire – just outside of Nottinghamshire – though it wasn’t until he was 18 and at Liverpool that he really started to pursue his music career seriously. Favourites performed by him were State of Mind, as well as Serious and Lost, which thanks to the acapella harmony between him and the guitarist drew a temporary silence from within the courtyard. After his set had finished he stayed to chat to everyone, and I managed to get a quick interview with him in which we talked about various topics from his musical influences to Italian gastronomy, and how Ady draws upon this cuisine and reflects this within his own work.
So how would you describe your music to other people? If someone asked you, what genre would you categorise yourself as?
Yeah it’s difficult, because I think nowadays it’s very hard to put artists in a box because I feel like so many artists draw upon a range of genres. I feel that’s because of the way we consume music today: there’s not one radio with one genre throughout. I think for me and my music, you can’t put it into one box – I’m influenced by so much music. On my record I’ve got one song that’s reggae, another that’s more R&B, rhythm and soul. I would say I’m definitely influenced by hip hop, R&B, soul, blues and jazz.
Who are your key influences, and who do you draw upon?
The person that got me into music was Jimi Hendrix. I was about thirteen, and for some reason I started getting into the electric guitar; I asked my dad and he said the best guitarist was Jimi Hendrix! He bought me a CD, and on first listen I hated it – I just didn’t get it. Then I took it on holiday, put the CD back in the wrong case, and inside was the Jimi Hendrix CD, and I was really gutted. But I put it in my walkman, and eventually I got it, I started to understand it, and as soon as I understood Jimi Hendrix I felt superior of other people my age, you know I felt like something clicked in my head and felt really proud that I related to that kind of emotion. Then I just became obsessed with music, and therefore bought loads of fifties and sixties stuff. But nowadays it doesn’t really have an impact on my music, and now Amy Winehouse is a really big inspiration to me. Bob Marley is another, as are Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Chet Baker, and loads others.
What’s your favourite Jimi Hendrix song?
Little Wing. I honestly felt like I was having an epiphany!
It’s magical, isn’t it?
I honestly felt like I was having an epiphany, and because I understood that, I went back and listened to the whole album again, and then it all made sense.
And Amy Winehouse?
Probably…Some Unholy War.
So what do you prefer, smaller gigs like these or sessions, or bigger venues?
It really depends on the show; I love them all to be honest. They all have their positives and negatives, and I find smaller shows a lot harder to do – you can see if someone hates it. I don’t like it when I have people in the audience that I know; I don’t know why, they just distract me. There’s no pressure when you don’t know anyone. But I enjoy both: smaller shows, when you do smash it it’s an awesome feeling, because you feel the audience is won over and it can be silent, whereas no matter what you do in a big show there’s never pin-drop silence. When that happens you’re so much more focused on the performance, whereas bigger shows people are chatting, it’s more about big movements, it’s more about your performance than your vocal ability…it’s much more running around. But I enjoy both.
What’s been your favourite performance, if you have one?
Probably when I was twenty-one and I went to the south of France on my birthday to play a gig for Giles Peterson. It was just amazing, because I’d always listened to a lot of the records that he put out, and I didn’t think that he’d actually like my music, so it was amazing for him to first of all say that he liked me and that I could play at his festival, and also get some free tickets for my mates! The setting as well was a bombed out church overlooking the sea, and at the time it was the biggest audience I’d played to. You can’t write that, it’s like a dream. Then afterwards I got to stay for the whole week, usually after a show you’re immediately off to do another show, whereas because it was my birthday I decided I was going to stay for the rest of week and enjoy the festival.
So what else do you love doing besides music?
I love film, and I love football and food – I’m a massive fan of food!
What’s your favourite type of food/cuisine?
(Deep sigh) There’s two ways I can answer this, because if I was eating out, and someone was taking me out for a meal (and if I wasn’t paying for it), then sushi. It’s so pricey! I can’t afford it, but if someone else is paying for it though… But when considering a cuisine that you had to eat for the rest of your life and you couldn’t eat anything else, then I’d choose Italian. Yu can do so much with it, and I just love the simplicity of it. I like to actually do that with my music, I like only having a few ingredients, and I don’t want to overcomplicate it with loads of spices and this and that…I just think tomato, nice olive oil, some nice pasta and some olives: sorted.
Is that the recipe for your music?
Yeah! Put some pasta in there mate, four minutes in the oven, boom.
Is that what you’d advise to up-and-coming artists?
Don’t overcomplicate it, imagine it’s raveoli, you’ll be fine.
Do you prefer the music scene in Liverpool or Nottingham?
I’ve got to say Nottingham. I love Liverpool, I absolutely love it and I think it’s a wicked city, the history here is phenomenal, and it was very good for me when I came over here to develop my craft, but Nottingham’s where I from, it’s my home, and they supported me. I’ve done a lot of shows in Liverpool, and unfortunately the media just didn’t get behind me.
Were they critical of you?
No they weren’t even critical of me, they just don’t really get behind you, like if you want to break out, then your local community really has to flag you in Liverpool; they’re obviously going to back local lads, and I’m not a local lad. To be fair there’s a lot of amazing talent here, but when I went back to Nottingham it was crazy. That reaction when you play a show; in your head you think, when I play this they’re gonna go “woo!”, or when I do this they’re gonna go “aah!”. I never got that anywhere else, and as soon as I went back to Nottingham, it felt like I’d started something – that spark had sparked, and people were coming up to me like “Yo man do you wanna do an interview”. That was the first time that happened, and once it happened it never really stopped; without Nottingham, no way would I have got where I’ve got, or be doing what I’m doing, because they just really got behind me. When I was in Liverpool, there wasn’t a huge amount of soul acts, there was probably Eska who was breaking through (who’s a wicked guy) and that was kind of it for soul, R&B, reggae and hip hop, there were a lot more rock bands. So my music always stood out, I wasn’t part of the scene, whereas in Nottingham, as soon as I started playing there, I felt like I had a community that I belonged to and everyone spoke like me too!
Did it help you, standing out in Liverpool, or do you need your community to gel with?
I’d never done a solo thing till I came to Liverpool. Liverpool has very open arms: it was like my training ground. I played my first songs here, got my stuff together, wrote some songs.
Was there a moment when you said to yourself “I want to do music”, or “I want to be a musician”?
You know what it was, the Jimi Hendrix when I was thirteen, that was when I was like “I want to do music, I want to be a rock star, I want to live off music”. When you’re that age, you don’t really think about career, you just do it for fun, and when people asked what I wanted to do, I felt so stupid saying I wanted to be a musician, because I just didn’t have the confidence. It’s like saying I want to be a footballer. It wasn’t until Amy Winehouse, who was kinda hiphop-jazz, but she was massive, and she gave me the belief that you can make the music that you want to make, whilst still being successful. I’m very lucky, because I went to a great school that was very supportive and they always got behind me, and my family too. You hear those stories of parents who say “don’t do music”, and the kids fight back, whereas for me it’s the complete opposite. The school put a soulband around me, and I was like, why am I doing this, it’s stupid. Then I went to the University of Liverpool, and that’s when I found condfidence, as it was the first time that I was around like minded people who wanted the same thing. At the same time I had competition, and my competitive streak kicked in.
Do you think competitiveness gave you an ‘edge’, as it were?
Um, I don’t think so. If I wasn’t scared of being embarrassed, I probably wouldn’t do that much work. When I was younger I had to learn lines, because I did drama, it was the only time I learnt them as I didn’t want to look like an idiot. I put a lot of pressure onto myself – I’ll book myself a gig knowing I haven’t got songs, so I force myself to write songs.
What is the end goal with your music?
If I’m perfectly honest, there are two things that I do music for. One is because I love to make a positive impact on culture and people. When I was younger I used to get really frustrated with school – a lot of my friends struggled with mental health and I think it’s because we don’t talk about it enough in society that these problems persist. We have a massive perception that we have to be a certain way: lads don’t cry, or girls have to be skinny, you know, stereotypes. With me, it’s really important that I talk about it in my music, so that when people listen to it they say “Oh I’m the same, I’m not alone.” The other one is that nowadays, financially, it’s so difficult to survive: it’s so easy to be in a conveyor belt of work and sleep. Sadly, music was a way out of that, a way of breaking out of that gap. I don’t like the idea that someone can tell me my time, my life, is worth £8 an hour. It’s important for me to live this lifestyle whilst I’m fit enough, and can afford to have late nights out.
What can we expect from your next album?
The album’s going to be very similar, across R&B, hip-hop, reggae, and it’ll feature pretty much all of the best songs that I’ve written to date. Hopefully you’ll see the maturity in the records, and I want it to be a conceptual album; how I’m going to do that at the moment I’m not sure, but I’ll figure it out!