Ramzi is a man of many talents and influences. Born in London and raised in Lagos and Lebanon, he is a multi-instrumentalist who sings, writes, performs and produces. A true a citizen of the world, Ramzi has performed in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. He’s shared the stage with Amy Winehouse, Flo Rida and Gipsy Kings and collaborated with Rudimental, Taio Cruz and The Overtones. He self-produces his own material and is also in demand as a producer and songwriter for other artists.
He spoke to Line Hilton.
iSing: Musically, what do you enjoy doing most?
R: Performing and singing live tops everything else. When you sing, you express yourself. It’s such a fun thing to do! The rest have their benefits. They all work hand in hand, but I love singing most.
iSing: Does being a producer help or hinder you as an artist?
R: Working with artists gives me ideas for my own projects. I work with a lot of different artists across different genres and styles which is great, but it does mean sometimes you lose focus of what you need to be doing as an artist.
iSing: Do you produce your own material as well?
R: I produce most of my own music although, once in a while, I get other producers in to get another perspective. On my new album Artist there are three songs that I wrote but were produced by other people.
iSing: How does the songwriting process work for you?
R: I use different methods depending on what I’m trying to achieve. I still write the traditional way, where I sit at a piano or guitar and come up with some chords, a melody and some lyrics. That’s how I wrote songs when I first started and I think it is songwriting in the purest form. But there are other times when I’m writing a promotional or pop track and a song builds around the beat or the production.
iSing: Which song do you wish you had written?
R: Grenade by Bruno Mars. I love the way he approached it and the metaphor about catching a grenade for the person you love. Bruno Mars is a very talented songwriter.
iSing: Which singers inspired you growing up?
R: Female vocalists like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston really got me started. Then, as a young teenager, I discovered Boyz II Men and later Brian McKnight. I also listened to a lot of gospel music and singers from the Middle East, India and Pakistan.
iSing: Your music has a strong R&B influence. What is the state of R&B in the UK now and where do you see it going?
R: R&B isn’t really a genre that thrives in the UK, but at the moment there’s a lot of new age R&B or electronic R&B; the music has R&B vocals over a more electronic style of music and dance-style beats. I think that’s where it’s at, and it works in the UK. In terms of my own work, the core of my music is R&B, but I see a lot of fusion in my music. I describe my genre of music as R&B/soul/world fusion.
Ramzi – Way Out
iSing: Tell us more about your background. How has it influenced your music?
R: I was born in London to Lebanese parents and raised in Nigeria. I also spent quite a lot of time in the Middle East, so I had quite a diverse upbringing as you can imagine. It’s really influenced my songwriting. Having lived on three different continents, I see life from many different perspectives. Life is very different in these three places but, at the same time, music brings everyone together. You can see the influence on my new album: one track has an African touch and another a hint of Middle Eastern music. There’s also a Reggaeton fusion track.
iSing: Do you feel your background has affected your career?
R: I do feel that having an ethnic background in the Western world can work against you. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m not a Top 20 artist in the UK. Who knows? There is so much going on in the world with Donald Trump and Brexit, but I want to be a positive influence. I want to appeal to everyone, of course, but I would especially like to reach people like me to make them feel better about themselves. I want to show that someone like me is out there doing this and other people can go out there and do it, too.
iSing: How has the music industry changed since you started?
R: It has changed immensely. Gone are the days of bubble gum pop and manufactured stuff. To succeed now, you must be genuine and have your own unique selling point. I think these days artists need to be active. Major labels are no longer in charge of everything. You have to work a lot harder because you don’t have so many people working to help you break through; you’ve got to generate your own heat now.
iSing: Tell us about your most recent album, Artist.
R: I feel it’s my best work to date. It’s a mature body of work and it shows so many different sides to my talent. I have been signed to labels in the past, but this is my first entirely independent album. It’s been tough, character-building. It’s been nearly six years since my last album, but it’s been amazing and rewarding because everything about this album is me. I called it Artist because, in a nutshell, that’s what I am. I create music, I express myself, I play instruments and I make the music in the studio. The word “artist” sums up everything that I am.
iSing: Tell us about the song Forbidden Love. For whom did you write it and why?
R: I wrote it because I’ve been in relationships in the past where there have been conflicts due to my background and the other person’s background. The conflict could be around culture, religion or status. I felt many people would be able to relate to the subject.
Ramzi – Forbidden Love
iSing: What is the most difficult aspect of being an indie artist?
R: It’s a Catch 22 situation. A lot of people in radio and TV won’t give you a chance if you’re not backed by a major label or a massive machine, but to get a major label or a machine behind you, you need radio and TV airplay.
iSing: What advice would you give someone starting out in the music business?
R: Find out who you are as an artist and who you want to target. Do not expect overnight success. The music business is like any other business or profession: it takes time. You have to be patient and you have to persevere. In my experience, if an artist does get lucky and has overnight success, it doesn’t last, because they haven’t built the foundation.
iSing: What advice would you give a singer to prepare them for working with a producer?
R: Nowadays, you can record yourself pretty easily, so get as much experience recording rough demos as possible. Get used to the sound of recording with headphones on and through a mic; it’s a very different experience to performing live. I find a lot of singers who are used to performing live struggle when they come into the studio for the first time. If you have a friend who is interested in producing (they don’t have to be a professional producer, just an aspiring one) do some work with them. It’s a good way of practising before you get in the studio with a professional.
iSing: Do you have a specific vocal regime?
R: I’m a self-taught singer, but over the years I have worked with various vocal coaches. I’ve taken the best advice from these different trainers based on what works for me. I do the lip trills, the bubbles and the “goo, goo, ga”. I also do vowel exercises and scales. Sometimes I’ll work on singing just one or two lines from a song; I’ll start in a low key, gradually take it up a semi-tone and sing that same line all the way up. I look after my voice as much as possible. I drink a lot of water, stay away from alcohol, and rest. I find rest is so important for the voice.
iSing: What’s your next career goal?
R: The ultimate goal is to tour with the album. I have a worldwide fan base already and a lot of fans are angry at me because I haven’t been to their countries to perform. My main aim is to build on my fan base and share my music with people.