How Farhot reconnected with his roots on his sample-heavy LP Kabul Fire Vol. 2

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How Farhot reconnected with his roots on his sample-heavy LP Kabul Fire Vol. 2

Words by August Billy

The Hamburg producer's eclectic new album is out now.

Kabul Fire Vol. 2 is the new solo album from German-Afghan producer Farhot. It’s more than seven years since the series’ previous instalment – Kabul Fire Vol. 1 – which was Farhot’s debut solo album. 

The Hamburg-based producer runs the corresponding Kabul Fire record label and publishing company and has produced tracks for artists such as Isaiah Rashad, Selah Sue and Talib Kweli. This has occupied the majority of his time in the years between albums, but Vol. 2 has been gradually taking shape. The boom bap inspired ‘Pul’ was actually intended for inclusion on Vol 1.

“We tried a very spectacular rap combo on that song that didn’t happen,” says Farhot. “After that, Action Bronson took the beat and recorded to it and that didn’t happen. After that was Nas and I was very excited about that, but that also didn’t happen. I find that a little funny, but I’m very happy. To me that’s my favourite hip hop beat that I’ve ever made.”

Farhot’s production style take cues from expert beat makers Madlib and J Dilla as well as Portishead and Quakers’ Geoff Barrow and the sampledelic sounds of The Avalanches. But Kabul Fire Vol. 2 isn’t a wholesale immersion in hip hop to the exclusion of all else. 

Farhot – whose real name is Farhad Samadzada – derives significant influence from the culture of his homeland, Afghanistan, which he left as a child more than 30 years ago. There are samples from numerous Afghan films on the album as well as various motifs inspired by Afghan modal concepts. 

“What I released so far as Farhot was always like, ‘Okay I have that material on the side, I can put it out, it’s not that much of a big deal,’” he says. “I thought for volume two that was going to be the same, but it became a very personal album to me because I had time and was digging into Afghan film history and what I found there was gold. 

“After I had that angle, [I was] digging deeper and trying to shine a light on art that has been there in the past, but people forget about – great films and great music. That was very inspiring to me.”

Farhot and his family moved to Germany in the 1980s after fleeing the Soviet-Afghan War. Some of his extended family resettled in the US and it was during a trip to see them in the 1990s that Farhot was introduced to hip hop artists such as LL Cool J and NWA. 

Farhot has never been able to return to Afghanistan, but his connection with Afghan people and culture is strengthened through his artistic endeavours. 

“Afghan language, Dari, is the first that I spoke,” he says. “After that German came and as a kid you realise more and more, ‘Okay this is two cultures,’ and you go through different phases. Sometimes you try to be something different, but you are different, people see you as different. 

“With this album I was looking back and appreciating where I come from. I was trying to connect with people who made art in Afghanistan. I was very happy that I made personal contact with one of those filmmakers and he allowed me to use his films. It’s [about] reconnecting.”

Along with the sampled film audio, the album features guest vocals from rappers and vocalists JuJu Rogers and Nneka (‘Check’) and Tiggs Da Author and Maverick Sabre (‘Feel Ugly’). 

“‘Feel Ugly’, that song happened a couple of years back when Ms. Dynamite came. She brought Maverick Sabre to help her out on some writing and then he heard something that I made in ten minutes and he was so inspired that he freestyled. So everything you hear on ‘Feel Ugly’ by Maverick Sabre is a freestyle and first take. 

“Maybe a year later I had Tiggs Da Author from Tanzania, he’s living in London now. He heard it and he just fell in love with it. I’m very proud that I’m part of a song like that. I love how pure and honest they are on ‘Feel Ugly’.”

Both the Berlin-based MC Juju Rogers and Nigerian-born vocalist Nneka are Farhot’s close friends.

“Making music with [Rogers] is very easy. Nneka, I’ve been making music with her for over 15 years, but on all my artist projects she never was a part of [them]. I played her what I did so far with Juju Rogers, she jumped on it and loved it.”

The track ‘Sampling Watana’ features a spoken word piece by fellow Hamburg-based Afghan artist Moshtari.

“She’s a visual artist and activist and she was helping me out a lot on Kabul Fire Vol. 2, helping me with the titles, with the transcriptions in Arabic language. On ‘Sampling Watana’, it’s the first time someone explains what I do with my music. That blew me away. This album pretty much is collaging, because I take bits and pieces from here, from there and I put them together. She sums it up really in a good way.” 

Farhot’s methods for initiating a production vary. It could stem from a drum loop, a sampled vocal or a scratchy recording of some piano chords.

“I’m trying to find something that inspires me to continue,” he says. “Now that I have a kid, I’m spending more time at home so I play just piano and make iPhone recordings. Actually the album starts with an iPhone recording. So the piano you hear in the beginning [of ‘Bale Bale’], that’s recorded on iPhone.”

When given the chance, Farhot prefers to work in his studio space in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district, which is becoming something of a keyboard museum. 

“I have plenty of old keyboards – all in all maybe a thousand years of keyboards. The one I use the most is an upright, maybe 100 years old. I have a celesta, over 100 years old. It’s an orchestra instrument, I love it. That was the most expensive piece that I bought. I use [Yamaha] CP-70 a lot. Old keyboards are what inspire me the most.”

Kabul Fire Vol. 2 is out now via Kabul Fire Records with Caroline Australia.