The patchwork storytelling of Rahill Jamalifard

Sahara Shrestha

Rahill Jamalifard is the frontwoman of New York fourpiece Habibi, who just released a self-titled record on Burger Records, and has only been playing music for the last three years. She has been drawing since she was a kid, though, and remembers winning an art contest in elementary school for a painting she called “The Dope.” Persian tales and art reflect heavily in her more recent illustrations and collages. For example, Persian women by tradition used to have set expectations in terms of the standard appearance. One of the said qualities you can find in her art is a pair of widened eyebrows, painted until they appear to meet.

Habibi, technically the male conjugation, means “my love” in Arabic, and the band also has its own picture of the ideal woman, though it doesn’t say anything about her looks. She’s a fierce lady. Jamalifard says “she” is also much wiser and less affected. “She” doesn’t make any mistakes.

How did you guys start the band?

Honestly when we started playing music it was just like some half-assed idea of fun between Lenny and I. We weren’t worried about formulating a band, we were just into sharing the music we loved and had written with each other. Then suddenly it was like, “wait these girls, Erin and Karen wanna play too, and now we can play shows, and put out our music AND tour?” We did SXSW in 2012, and it basically put us on the map. We had eleven shows and they all happened to be really awesome lineups so we got some cool exposure and people seemed to be into it. I was stoked. The band came about so naturally and effortlessly, too, that everything did and still catches me off guard. Anyway SXSW sort of affirmed that we could pursue our music outside of just recording on Lenny's four-track in my living room. And that felt really good.

You're playing with Black Lips at SXSW this year. Do you also design stuff for them? How was the show with them a while ago?

I was going to make a T-shirt for the dudes for the last SXSW but it didn't end up happening. I've known the Black Lips boys for years. Good friends, good people. The show was so rad; it was really cool and honestly an honor to play with them. They've been doing this for so long, and they really worked hard for where they are and are passionate about what they do. I respect that.

James Franco uses one of your songs for a jeans-commercial he directed. How did that happen?

My friend who used to work for an ad agency asked if she could pitch a song of ours for a potential commercial, we said yes. Then I guess they thought it was too rough, but Franco liked it.

Do you think you'd think about Persian tales and art any differently if it weren't for your family roots? What did you think about it growing up in Michigan?

It's directly linked to my family roots. I grew up listening to my pops schooling me on really deep Persian tales and religious stories, he was full of them back then, but I think about them still so often. All the imagery I’ve seen and music I’ve listened to, deeply affected me. I have such an affinity to my culture back home, that I can’t help but identify and really appreciate that stuff, so it’s always been reflected and has influenced my artistic ventures. I mean in Michigan, back in high school, I was like whoa I’m totally NOT white, it was pretty obvious to me I was different, and that my parents were from some place different than America. That was a cool/challenging experience. It definitely made me who I am, and I definitely appreciate the ostracization even if it hurt my feelings as a kid.

The Persian story, Hassan Sabbah, you mention in an interview where Assassins drugged men and took them to a garden full of naked ladies has me thinking about the idea of “paradise.” Seems totally male and ancient. What do you think a woman's idea of paradise would be? What is your idea of a paradise in this world?

Whoa. I donno if I represent all women. But I guess we wouldn't need a garden full of naked women, or men, for that matter. Women would probably be more persuaded by more substantial things than a virgin’s pussy. My idea of paradise? Damn. I guess a harmonious existence, where all worry and fear is lifted. There wouldn't be anything to question, and there would be a unified unspoken law of benevolence and an impenetrable trust. Or, maybe just a dream world of me living in the mountains with my grandfather in Shiraz. Smoking opium and chilling with him every day.

Any art projects?

I had a group art show here in Brooklyn, with a few of my collage pieces. Lately I've just been drawing, but they are just silly doodles. Might do a series of linear drawings of portraits of my friends. That would be fun/funny.

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