The Sound of Futbol: Chatting with Rahill Jamalifard
Rahill Jamalifard is a special kind of artist. Raised in a household that served as a confluence for Iranian heritage and American upbringing, New York based Rahill has always been able to draw on her roots for inspiration, expertly curating her experiences and love for Iranian culture into an eclectic body of work that explores themes around identity, individuality and nostalgia.
A self professed lover of Jogo Bonito, the beautiful game, earlier this month Rahill released a mix on NTS called ‘Futbol Special’. A 2 hour musical tapestry featuring iconic tunes like Jorge Ben’s ‘Ponta de Lança Africano’ and Soccer Fan’s ‘Real Sounds of Africa’, the mix serves as an example of her deep knowledge of the game’s rich musical history.
Following the mix’s drop, Rahill released her single ‘Futbol’ on 2.05.23. Part of a wider album release called ‘Flowers At Your Feet’, ‘Futbol' was only intended to be a working title. In fact, she never imagined writing a dedicated song to her “favourite past time”, as she calls it. Instead, the single kind of just came about- a case of the right time and place. The resulting work is brilliant and I highly recommend you give the track a listen as well as the rest of Rahill’s album.
After connecting on Instagram, I had the chance to ask Rahill a few interesting questions on topics ranging from Iranian poetry, Pasolini, football as an aesthetic and whether she sees any similarities between football and music as a form of expression. Here’s what she had to say…
IH: You’ve said in a previous interview that both your parents are from Iran, your mum from Isfahan and dad from Shiraz and that it’s your dad who really loves music. Was he involved in music at all? And did that nudge you in the direction of becoming an artist?
RJ: Dad is a music lover, not musical, though he writes poetry. Although he fully wanted to introduce me into his world of music and poems he loved, I don’t think he had any intention of me pursuing the arts as a career path. He always wanted me to be a lawyer.
IH: Who were your musical influences growing up? Did you listen to a lot of what your dad was playing?
RJ: I loved Aliyah and Googoosh
IH: Iran is the land of poets and one of the most famous, Hafez Shirazi comes from your dad’s city Shiraz. A lot of these poets wrote lyrically and were essentially the rockstars of their day. How important is music in Iranian culture today?
RJ: It’s ever present, never not playing somewhere in the distance. No gathering happen without music, it it is as important as it ever was because it remains a fabric of our being.
Generally speaking, how did growing up with essentially two identities to get inspired by impact who you are now?
I think it is the sole reason for the exploration in search of meaning through every medium of art I pursue. That desire to carve my own path along a grey in-between area, and find my voice, it’s always been my goal to forge both identities into one singular understanding.
Have you ever felt conflicted or drawn to one side more than the other? How do you reconcile the two?
I’ve always felt more drawn to being Iranian, since I was a kid. I don’t let that completely override but I allow it to be the compass at all times. It’s the part of me I trust the most, which I feel is a direct connection to my strong family and ancestral bond.
Chat to us about ‘Futbol’. Give us a window into the creative process, inspiration for the track and how it came about generally.
Ok I love the sport, I never wasn’t imagining an epic song written about my favourite past time, it just was an idea that was always on the back burner in my mind, I had been patiently waiting to make this song. And with this solo record it felt like the correct time and place and body of work to write the track into.
How were you introduced to football? What are your first memories of the beautiful game? Were you a football household growing up?
To be honest when it was first introduced by my father, it was so foreign to me because I was going steady with basketball, my first love. I played basketball very competitively from grade school through middle school, my travel team was third in the nation, it was a huge part of my life. I loved the pistons, and so many of the basketball players and coaches from my childhood inspired me. It wasn't until 6th grade that I truly discovered football. All those years until middle school I was coached by the same basketball coach who grew to really dislike me and made it his business to punish me during practices resulting in confidence loss and truly a heartbreaking break up with the sport. So in 7th grade after I retired (ha!) from basketball I overheard a few of my teammates talking about tryouts for Eclipse, the U12 football team. I grew curious about the sport and welcomed the idea of another sports outlet, the freshness was refreshing to me and sort of eclipsed any fear of not having previously played. My father who closely supported my basketball accomplishments was elated to know I was shifting gears and the sport closest to his heart was coming into focus. So I went to this tryout, and boom- made the team, the rest is history. I just caught up, I knew I had arrived at the front door of the football universe and I made sure to let everyone know I had a strong foothold in it. All the dots connected from then on, we played soccer as a family, my brother and sister, my father, our cousins, we watched the world cup together, we watched premier league on satellite television together. I made friends with a whole new group of girls from my travel team, I got my confidence back and I never looked back.
Who do you support and why?
Iran's national team. They remain the underdog and whenever they get to the WC it is like a whole month of a holiday for my family. I don't really support any teams anymore, FIFA is a bit of a mess (when has it not been) but when i was young and cheering for Juventus, Inter Milan, Man Utd, Barcelona I was really just a kid believing there was true allegiance and camaraderie amongst my idols and life or death battles. Now I mainly watch the World Cup because it's less about $ and contracts being the driving force, but instead a birth certificate. Not to knock any of the leagues at all, if a game is on I WATCH IT, being from America it just feels phony to put down life allegiance to a club team. Now I just get excited to see underdogs crushing titans in the world cup, Morocco was incredible to watch this year, along with Croatia.
Who are your favourite players? Both now and growing up- are there reasons you were drawn to them?
Back then, Zidane, Batistuta, Rivaldo, Carlos, Cafu, Raul, Kaka, del Piero, Davids, Figo- the list goes on ! Now I kinda watch the old legends transitioning out, but with absolute class and respect like Modric and Forlan in the previous WC. When it comes to new guys, I think Kvicha Kvaratskhelia is exciting to watch and Vinicius Jr and Achraf Hakimi!
As football fans we’re often yearning for period of the game that we enjoyed when we were younger. Just as your music is heavily inspired by 60s/70s/80s, is there are a particular era of football you resonate with a lot and why?
Probably the one I mentioned that included all my favourite players, 90s-2000s - I had the great fortune of watching them as a kid and it was pretty magical.
What role does football play in your life? Does it go hand in hand with your music career or does it serve as a form of escape from the studio and that world?
I never took therapy but playing football feels like it. When I play a game it feels like a reset button for my nervous system, after a match I feel totally rejuvenated and inspired. It's necessary to have that kind of balance and escape, rather, an outlet. I think it’s just a different expressive outlet and it helps inform every other practice, music included.
Europeans have this view of the sport in America- MLS doesn’t have promotion or relegation which annoys a lot of people. But at the grassroots- the game is alive and kicking- everyone knows and loves CSNYC.What makes football in NYC, a city built by immigration- where people from across the world call home, so special?
I would say NYC feels like the most worldly city in the United States, because of the diversity, and the great mix of cultures, religions, and people, so to happen upon a match is never surprising but always makes me smile. I've played pick up games where I was the only one who wasn't speaking Spanish, I've played games where literally 5 different languages are spoken on the field, it's honestly pretty special to see a group of international people coming together through a common denominator, football, in a country where the sports popularity stalls in fourth place behind baseball, basketball and American football.
CSNYC is a special club for so many reasons, I've been playing with them on and off for the past decade. The location of where they play is so extremely New York, inside a fenced field, with handball and basketball courts on either end, benches along the perimeter where onlookers often come and sit, catching a match before or after work, some are old retired men from the neighbourhood, others are just enjoying a coffee or what not. It pretty much feels like you’re completely exposed, whether it's the traffic headed past on Forsyth street or onlookers, or passers by, there is a continuous audience and soundtrack of a very lively city happening around you. I find it pretty romantic and harmonious ha. The squad is made up of a bunch of creatives, who all make time and effort for this past time that connects them. So many international players, people from the city, people who moved to the city, all of various ages, it's really a wide spectrum which contributes to the excitement of the game. I am grateful to be a part of it still after so many years!
Do your music and football worlds cross, in the sense that do you play with your industry colleagues/band mates?
I have played with some friends who also happen to play music, but sadly it doesn't happen as often as it should! Shout out Dev Hynes and Steele!
When you turn up to football sessions, what position do you play? Does that reflect your personality at all?
I grew up playing striker, I was always tenacious, and ready to attack. About 6 years ago, when I realised I would be outrun by the insanely fast 20 year old guys I was playing with, I decided maybe I’d try for defence. I never had any interest in playing back, but I started playing right back and I gotta say, IT IS SO FULFILLING AND FUN. I love to see the field before me, to distribute, to still tackle and intercept the passes with the same tenacity, but using knowledge of the game over physical speed. I’m pretty damn good at it too. Maldini is my role model now. ha.
A trend that has gripped social media is Blokecore. What’s your take on it? Do you subscribe to this style?
Thank God I have zero clue what you are talking about.
Is football basically now an aesthetic?
Sadly it has been co opted by the fashion world, and I’ve seen it sort of grown in popularity in a very phony way, but at the end of the day, I still celebrate the sport because it deserves that celebration. And the reason models are suddenly wearing jerseys and fashion brands are making football inspired clothing is because deservingly the football kit is in my opinion the best sportswear. So I try not to think on that too much.
Does football influence your style choices at all? Have you ever played a show in a shirt?
Sure, I always hated tucking in my jerseys, that influenced the way I wore t-shirts, always oversized and untucked. I've had a collection of kits for the past decade so I am often wearing jerseys, as i type this I'm wearing an old Holland jersey I was gifted 16 years ago with my name customised on the back.
Is there a shirt that holds a particularly special place in your heart? Why?
Yes, I have a prized t-shirt from the 1990 Italian world cup with the mascot Ciao on it, I am obsessed with this graphic, I think it's genius, I even made ciao awards one year for a league I played in. Just really love the design. The other football clothing close to my heart is a vintage Persepolis FC jersey, my dads favourite team from Iran.
You’re a musician, a poet, a writer, an all round creative. Are there any similarities between football and music? Both could be seen as forms of expression.
Absolutely. Football is an art, the field is a different kind of canvas, it is NOT a brutish sport, it takes mastery, finesse, and true vision to play the game. When I am on the field I am as focused as I am playing a show, or painting a portrait, it is all coming from the same place of connection and expression for me.
I’ve seen you like Pasolini. The Italian poet is often quoted by football anthropologists/researchers and many take comfort in his words. What’s your take on these two views of his:
“Football is the last scared ritual of our time.”
“The top scorer in the league is always the best poet of the year.”
I quote the first view of his often and at all times. And the second line I love, but i'd say, with my new appreciation for defence, it could be argued, it might not always be the scorer, I believe the playmakers are incredibly poetic with a vision that foreshadows a goal.
Let’s talk football in Iran. What were your hopes heading into the World Cup (which turned out to be disappointing)?
As long as Iran beats US I am happy. They didn't this year and I was definitely looking forward to that victory, but I felt like the players were going through a lot and had a lot of pressure with the political movement that was happening at the same time, so I do believe they were playing heavily affected.
They say football reflects the society it serves. In Iran, female fans are barred from entering stadiums while on the streets they’re harassed and told to live a certain way. Can football play a role/does football have a role to play in bringing people together/reconciling and helping Iran progress? Or should football and politics stay separate?
Football has always been political. I use to get yelled at in the streets in Iran for playing soccer with the street kids, for being a girl. I still played, but even as a kid I was being told I had no place in the sport. I think it’s extremely important that sports are inclusive and encouraging of all genders, and yes it has the ability to also unify and help progress in Iran.
You recently put together a mix for NTS called Futbol Special. Take us into the process of putting it all together.
You gotta just listen to it!! Its heavily influenced from my youth, mixed with what I listen to when I’m headed to play, mixed with some laughable, possibly cringeable 'football music'
It’s overplayed but I love Mas Que Nada, partly because I loved the 2006 World Cup. What’s your
favourite football song and why?
I love Mas Que Nada, how could you not. I don’t know if I have a song designated as a football song. Mas Que Nada would be up there though for sure bc of the nostalgia and the association.
To you, what does football sound like? Musically.
A wall of sound that feels like a pulse emanating from inside you. powerful and magnificent.
Listen to 'Flowers At Your Feet' and 'Futbol' now on Spotify!