Although best known for his work with Simply Red and The Stone Roses, for guitarist and composer Aziz Ibrahim, some of his proudest work has been using his solo projects to detail his family’s journey from Pakistan to Manchester and supporting various music education initiatives. He delves into what ‘the Asian blues’ means to him, being recognised by The Queen for his contributions to Great Britain’s economy, culture and the music industry, and why Celestion speakers have always been a part of his sound.
Born in Manchester to Pakistani parents, Ibrahim is known for his role and work as lead guitarist for Simply Red, The Stone Roses, Ian Brown, Paul Weller, Steven Wilson, Asia, Rebel MC and Hot Chocolate’s Errol Brown. Joining me on a Zoom call in early 2021, he suddenly remembers that he can use the title ‘Doctor’ these days.
“I've just remembered! I’ve got an honorary degree here from Salford University,” he clarifies, adding that he needn’t be addressed as such, and that simply, “fool” will do. You’ve got to love the Manc sense of humour; although he suddenly turns serious when reflecting on the car crash that was last year:
“It was pretty horrendous, but I'm an improviser of life in general. When I perform, I perform in that Frank Zappa-esque way where I never want a show to be the same; I never want a guitar solo to be the same, and I react to situations. There's two sides of me: there's a South Asian side of me, and there's the musician side of me – the improviser.
"South Asians are improvisers because their history comes from colonialism, and settling in this country comes from growing up and reacting to situations, whether it be racism or quick thinking on your feet just to survive or to fit in. Last year that intuition told me that I needed to make changes immediately.”
Ibrahim immediately set himself the task of brushing up on certain things, particularly when it came to embracing the digital world.
“I embraced it in the sense that I started to study gamers, YouTubers, influencers, digital influences, podcasters, anybody who was utilising that digital skill set, and I was learning those tricks of the trade,” he explains.
"I also looked at the music industry to see how that's changed in terms of a business model – record labels are still applying the old model, even though they are selling digitally and applying their rules and laws digitally, but they can't compete with the gamers and the content they put out every single day.”
Ibrahim has only had eyes for the guitar since he was seven, inspired by his teacher that would play while he and his classmates drank their free milk. He begged his parents for a guitar of his own for his birthday – no small feat on what his parents were earning at the time (“I grew up poor but happy,” – and when he finally got his hands on one, it was “the beginning of the end” as he puts it.