In conversation with Zain Jafari, the Pakistani DJ making waves in Atlanta
Zain Jafari represents the lifeblood of the arts and Pakistani sensibilities converging into an American ideal. While Zain works out of the country’s music capital in Atlanta, which has catapulted its favorite genre in hip-hop to the global preference, he maintains a dense discography of deep house, electro, and more. Grandson to Pakistani poet Syed Muhammad Jafari, DJ ZeXter sticks to live shows both in Atlanta and around the world. Mosiki sat down with the artist and DJ to discuss his label situation, earliest memory of music, and what’s next for him.
Mosiki: Zain Jafari. Welcome, I appreciate you coming out this Sunday. How have you been?
Zain: I’m pretty good.
Mosiki: And, what you got on right now? What’s the arm bands?
Zain: These are just a part of my aesthetic. I just keep them there.
Mosiki: What’s your earliest memory of you having a relationship with music?
Zain: I just used to always like the music that my parents were playing in the car. And as I got a bit older, my parents bought me my first keyboard and I would play around with that. I started getting into percussion with a paintbrush and a ruler and I’d pretend that I was playing a drum set or something. My very first live music performance was in Egypt when I was five years old. I played “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on a kid xylophone, so I call it my very first performance.
Mosiki: Do you have a musical family?
Zain: Yes and no.
Mosiki: Your grandfather was a poet.
Zain: He was a very well known poet in Pakistan back in the 70s. And I think in the 60s as well. He was probably one of the most successful creative members of my family.
Clerk by Syed Muhammad Jafari - Urdu Shairyi
Mosiki: Have you ever been profiled against for being brown and a DJ?
Zain: Not yet. Hopefully not anytime soon.
Mosiki: Right, how do you associate your identity with your music?
Zain: I’m definitely starting to associate a bit more because I incorporate a lot of classical and Pakistani sounds to my music and I play that. So I use a lot of that. I’m definitely coming up with ideas for it.
Mosiki: Do you think that you’re more connected to the Pakistani scene than that?
Zain: Not ever there. There is not a huge scene over there as far as I know.
Mosiki: What are your thoughts on the Atlanta scene, being a DJ in Atlanta that has spun at various venues in the city? What approach do you take for certain crowds as a DJ in Atlanta, what have you noticed about the crowds?
Zain: I just noticed that they’ve gotten really good at putting several different genres in the same space. One of the venues I played out, they had like four separate rooms. They used to play at the rush lounge and they had four different spaces, a main stage, patio, a side room, and a second bar. And we all had different genres and one would be like trance, one would be house, the main stage would be dubstep or trap or hip-hop. The side room.
Mosiki: Are you into trance?
Zain: Not really. But I do listen to trance.
Mosiki: And what is the latest track that you have recorded?
Zain: A DJ mix or like a song?
Mosiki: A full DJ mix.
Zain: A couple weeks ago at the Sunset festival coming up, I was entering a competition they have not announced the winner yet but I know I’m possibly one of the winners, we will see. And yeah, that mix has been great so far. Their spots have been good. [Editor’s Note: Zain won the competition]
Mosiki: When was the first time you played a non-venue set?
Zain: The first time I ever did that was in I believe April 2015 and that was one tree house in Savannah where I used to live and went to college. Yeah, it was definitely interesting. One thing that I will have to say that DJs have to go through when you’re first playing to an empty room or people don’t like what you’re playing and you have to make requests, it’s stressful, something that we all have to go through. The more work you put into it, the more you know what you want to pick, and what is going to be best for you. Savannah is just a city that is very touristy and it’s definitely more of a top 40 sound, so the music I want to play and learn to play didn’t always work.
Mosiki: What would you say is the intangible thing about techno that motivates you to keep doing your thing?
Zain: If everything about techno is… it is a very hard and aggressive sound. It is one that I just love the groove, the speed on the drive. And there’s just something about it that I can’t really explain. It is the environment you’re in when you’re listening to it in a club. The repetitions of the effects. It’s like hearing the journey it takes you on when you have a good techno sound, it is always very inspiring.
Mosiki: Moving forward, how many songs would you say that you’re sitting on? How much music is waiting to come out?
Zain: I have around 10 tracks that are still either in the warehouse or haven’t found their home yet. And some I’ve had open for a while and then bring back. I’m always going through multiple projects during the day.
Mosiki: What is your favorite thing about the music industry?
Zain: I just like the community, people who like the same music as you. Especially with people who don’t care who’s the next big hit. They’re non-judgemental. You just have to come together for it.
Mosiki: What are your goals and music? Right now you’re 24 you’ve got two parallel careers running under two different aliases, what is the cut off? When is enough going to be enough? Do you see a ceiling? What are you trying to accomplish?
Zain: I just want to be someone who is able to put music out regularly and get a lot of emotion from the bigger artist. Someone who strikes get played by bigger artists and just be able to start touring a little bit more and touring outside of Atlanta preferably cities like Miami, Brooklyn, bigger cities where my music is popular.
Mosiki: If you could speak to your 13-year-old self today about music what would you say to him?
Zain: I would say to him: always turn to music when you’re feeling down, because it is always there. And that was around the time that I started really getting into this type of music.
Mosiki: What did Bob Marley say? He said when the music hits you you feel no pain.
Zain: You’re in good company. It’s always there no matter what. If you go through a break up or a financial situation or some social awkwardness with people there’s always music.
Note: This interview has been edited slightly for length and readability.
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