Inspired by the traditional melodies of Jerusalem and the glitchy experimentalism of Radiohead, Adi Ulmansky is the candy-coiffured artist from Tel Aviv surfing on a dreamy wave of pastel-nuanced, electro-rap.
Not your archetypal female star, the singer, rapper and producer burst onto the scene with her debut mixtape ‘Shit Just Got Real’, in early 2013. Said non-stop train of sparkling contemporary bounce and Middle Eastern beats preceded an acclaimed EP, ‘Hurricane Girl’. Her special blend of syrupy but feisty vocals, juxtaposed with fizzing synths and a techno pulse, gives her songs an infectious power that has seen her profile rise and rise.
Fresh from performing on the European festival circuit, we caught up with Israel’s very own rap-mermaid to talk London, Kaytranada and the heartbreak that inspired her latest offering, ‘Was It You’.
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‘Was It You?’, featuring Borgore
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You were in England for Glastonbury not so long ago. What did you like about it over here?
I love England generally. I’ve played there quite a lot. I feel at home in London, more than in Israel in a way. I don’t know why. It’s so weird, I just feel like [London is] where I should be. I keep saying that I need to move there, so I need to kind of figure out how I’m going to do it! Bleach did my hair the last time I was there, and they said it was the longest hair they’ve ever dyed, like, “Woo, I broke a record!”
The lyrics for ‘Was It You?’ are pretty sad. What’s the story behind the song?
I’ve been through a very tough period in my life. I’d been with this guy for two and a half years and it was a complicated relationship, he just finished it one day out of the blue and I wasn’t expecting it. It was like a bomb, just out of nowhere, and I was devastated. For almost eight months I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t create new stuff and I was trying to watch television all day just to keep my mind busy. ‘Was It You?’ was the first song that I did since we broke up, so that was kind of a way to deal with what I was going through. I feel like it’s really honest – it really captures what I’ve been through, and it’s nice to know that something good came out of it.
Is making an album something that is important to you, or do you prefer the immediacy of a mix-tape?
I feel like it’s really important to keep my followers updated and to keep delivering new music, so I am thinking about making an album – but it’s going to take longer. I really want my followers to have new stuff all the time, so I’m trying to work on a few remixes while I’m doing the next EP. After this though, there’ll be a full album. I do want the whole experience out there.
There’s a real culture clash at play in your material…
Well, I was born in Jerusalem and we have loads of different cultures here so I was always surrounded by lots of different styles of music. It’s funny, because my brother used to listen to a lot of electronic music – but at the same time there was always Arabic music around me. So I think I combine a lot of these ethnic elements in my music. I find it inspiring to combine these worlds and create something that has this electronic, hip-hop vibe and yet this live feeling too, of sitar or darbuka.
I read somewhere that you used to be a bit of a mosher?
Yes! I was really into metal and I used to play the guitar! I’m so happy it’s behind me (laughs).
What is your favourite song of yours you have done so far?
‘Was It You?’, but the other one that I really like is ‘Falling’. I think this one captures my vibe so well – electronic and yet ethnic in a way, it has kind of an Indian vibe.
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We have loads of cool parties in Tel Aviv but things aren’t quite the same at the moment. We’re trying to keep on living and doing what we’re used to, but it’s hard…
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What do you think of artists like Miley Cyrus, and their provocative personas?
I’m always trying to focus on the music and my creation. I have a lot of respect for Miley or whoever it is, but I think you should get the attention from your creation and not always your body. I mean, it’s okay to use your body and you know, I’m a woman as well, and I use it in a way. But I want people to focus on my production and my voice and my lyrics.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
I’m really inspired by Kaytranada, he’s amazing. He just came to Israel and I went to the party he DJed at and I was like, “Wahh I love you!” We’re so not used to having cool musicians around here, so for us to have someone to come from Canada… Once people that are cool get here we’re so excited about it. I guess you guys are used to it – you get to see them all the time!
What’s the music scene like in Israel generally?
It depends. On the radio you would mostly hear Israeli music, in Hebrew, that’s inspired by Arab music, but most of my friends and the people I hang out with listen to lots of cool stuff: electronic stuff, hip-hop, R&B kind of vibes. Also, lots of techno! We have loads of cool parties in Tel Aviv but things aren’t quite the same at the moment. We’re trying to keep on living and doing what we’re used to, but it’s hard.
How is it being a female music producer? Do you feel like you are respected at the same level as guys doing the same thing?
It’s funny. Once people hear my music, the first thing they ask is, “Did you produce it, did you make that, is this all yours?” And I’m like, “Yeah why are you so surprised about it?” You know? I tried actually to think about it, and I can’t actually name a lot of female producers. I mean there are amazing producers like TOKiMONSTA and other cool girls, but there aren’t a lot, unfortunately. I think people are still trying to get used to the fact that you can be a girl and be pretty and still make music and create it by yourself and create hardcore beats. I’m trying to look at it as an advantage for me, because it’s different and unique.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on an EP. It’s going to be six tunes and there’s going to be a few collaborations on it, which I’m really excited about. I wish I could tell you more. I’m going to play a few festivals in Europe and Germany mainly, and I hope there’ll be a US tour around February – fingers crossed! I hope everything’s going to work out fine.
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Words: Jasmine Cowler
Sunglasses photo: Orit Pnini / all from Facebook