Sunny Ali and the Kid talk scene politics, The Kominas, and the last Rockers! show of the year
Amongst punk-leaning and DIY-defined artists in this city, Sunny Ali and the Kid are virtually peerless. Singer/guitarist Hassan Malik and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Abdullah Saeed took their music through an evolution from cheeky rockabilly and minimalist garage rock to a newer sound that incorporates electronics and ethereal soundscapes – all the while vaguely repurposing South Asian musical themes and punk urgency in punchy songs that defy easy categorization.
The band took a significant break through a roughly year-and-a-half-long period that saw Saeed’s journalism work flourish (he works with several publications and writes a popular VICE column on marijuana) and both his and Malik’s ongoing work with The Kominas, a punk band known for songs that similarly play with South Asian and Islamic musical tropes while incorporating lyrics that involve jabs at Western misconceptions of Muslim belief.
As men of Pakistani descent with a comprehensive and intuitive understanding of why their music and livelihoods defy racial stereotyping, Sunny Ali and the Kid personify the mission that the folks behind Rockers! (whose events highlight artists who otherwise don’t fit into the white-male-heterosexual-dominated rock world) take into every show. This is probably why Malik and Saeed are playing their first show in two years by headlining the last Rockers! show of 2014 at West Philly Ethiopian spot Dahlak Paradise.
We caught up with Malik and asked him about their return, race and class in scene politics, handling geographical divides and making music with a mission.
The Key: It’s been a while since we’ve heard music from you guys – not a lot of gigs in the past year or so, no releases, – so what brings you back now?
Hassan Malik: We just missed each other. We wanted to hang out and decided to play a show. We’ve still been releasing music through different projects.
TK: Like The Kominas, who performed more recently than SATK, including at this summer’s Rockers BBQ. Do you feel like the two bands are still separate entities, or have the lines blurred enough that they feel like distinct projects?
HM: Definitely separate entities, both in sound and aesthetic. SATK made a big leap from punk rock/country to some grimey hip-hop stuff, and I think we did it and are doing it pretty well. We’ve been compared to the Beastie Boys because of how versatile they were, which I think is awesome. We’ve also been compared to people like the Black Keys, though, who I’m not really into at all…
TK: Both acts have performed before at Rockers BBQ and you’re now performing the last Rockers show of 2014. Can you describe why you find the preservation of non-white-male-hetero spaces to be so important to music nowadays?
HM: I mostly f••• with Rockers! because they are very relaxed when it comes to booking us – a lot of times at the last minute – and most hype and aware when it comes to audience participation and addressing race issues. A lot of scenes don’t address economic/class/race issues anymore, I suspect because they are filled with middle-upper class people mimicking the working-class stereotypes. Gentrification is totally the end stage. And although indie scenes are dominated by white males, I don’t think there is such thing as a “white punk” in America in 2014.
TK: The thing that draws me to your music is that you’re basically reinventing a language by which people – particularly people of color – can engage with rock music: faithful to indie, DIY roots, but allowing for some amount of sonic experimentation and adding different contexts to the ways we think about punk, rock, and who can or can’t make that music. Do you feel like you guys are driven to do something as part of some mission to change the way the music world looks?
HM: Maybe by accident, but that’s not why we started. If we can pave the way or help more POC artists then that’s great, but it’s really up to them to make something dope and not to give up hope.
TK: So you and Abdullah are split between, respectively, Philly and Brooklyn. The Kominas is split even further, with Basim [Usmani, bassist] living in Boston. How has that impacted your ability to collaborate and keep making music?
HM: It kind of sucks, but also works because the time we do spend together is more calculated and we don’t waste it. Just get it in. All night.
Sunny Ali and the Kid will be playing the Last Rockers of 2014 with Chiuatl Ce, The Mighty Paradocs, Bells Roar, and King Azaz. The show takes place at Dahlak Paradise (47th and Baltimore Ave.) on Wednesday at 9. Click here to learn more.