ZAKHAR: GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN

PHOTOGRAPHY: WARYAMUS / STYLING: STATERAA /
INTERVIEW & WORDS: BUEZ HADGU

At just 18 years of age, Zakhar showcases maturity way beyond his years through his music, each release proves to be a step up from his previous – a hallmark of a great artist. “You see all of my aunties, they’ve all got good voices, they’re GOOD singers,” he explains, “I grew up going to church, I was in the choir and that’s kind of where I got it from”.

The best way to describe his rapid progress would be natural, with the transition from dropping freestyles on Instagram and TikTok to hitting over a million streams on Spotify appearing to be seamless. We often hear the phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover' and that can’t be emphasised enough in reference to Zakhar. His vocal ability and versatility are often overlooked in first impressions. Being a teenager from Islington, typically always wearing a tracksuit, people assume he’s just another rapper.

“When people hear my music, I don’t want them to see me. I want them to hear the song and think rah he’s talented, then see me and be like, oh, that’s not what I expected. I think that element of surprise is what will keep them engaged because I forever wanna be a relatable guy”.

It is clear to see how confident he is in his ability, but it’s perhaps his bravery that is the most impressive thing about him in such an early stage of his career. Zakhar routinely crosses the lines between rapping and singing due to his talent in both genres, however, coming from a certain background – at a time where UK Rap and Drill is in such a healthy position – choosing to sing would definitely not have been an easy decision for the teenager. “When I first started singing guys were telling me Nah, Nah, don’t do the singing ting, do the rapping ting, only certain man can sing,” he recalls, “but now that I’m starting to grow and things, it’s the same guys that are telling me I’m hard and stuff.”

His reluctance to listen to those people around him and go against the grain he felt society imposed on him has proved to be the best choice he could have made. Deciding between rapping and singing wasn’t the only dilemma Zakhar had to tackle, he hit a crossroads at 16 which saw him have to choose between his two loves, football and music.

“The more I played football, with the repetitive schedule I had when I was at Brentford, I realised I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I did. It’s everyone’s childhood dream till you’re actually doing it type thing” he explains, “and these times I’d just started doing music, so I preferred writing at my boy Swiftz’s yard over going to training and things.”

A big factor in Zakhar’s rise through the ranks was his social media freestyles, mainly the snippets and duets he posted on TikTok. His first public video singing was an open verse challenge to Sadie Jean’s single ‘WYD Now?’, today the duet sits on just under nine million views. The success of that video led to an official remix being released which has amassed over four million Spotify streams. Seeing the reception to his talent from TikTok convinced him there was a place in the music industry for him and further solidified his belief in the decision to sing.

Ever since, Zakhar hasn’t looked back with continuous single releases in; ‘Never Hiding’, ‘Fly Away’, ‘DND’, and ‘Better Things’. For someone so young, the way he has flexed his creativity and versatility just goes to show he’s really in his bag and just warming up for his debut body of work.

Labelling him as an artist with ‘potential’ almost feels like a disservice to his talent, however, the sky is the limit for Zakhar, and it is only a matter of time before his sound is at the forefront of the music game.

To explore the journey through his early career and gain insight into his vision for the future, we sat down with Zakhar.

Growing up, who were you listening to?

I was a One Direction guy, real shit, I’m not even going to lie to you. I had this old cd player that was passed down generations and it only used to work with headphones. I was banging JLS, Justin Bieber, bare guys. It was only when I got exposed to like the ends that I started listening to Rap and stuff.

Who is someone that’s inspired you on this journey so far?

My older brother inspires man to do better bro. He’s a producer init and he just wakes up and is making beats already, it’s like 9 am and he’s working. Even on his breaks, he’s just making beats, so yeah, he’s lit man.

Why did you first start doing those Instagram freestyles?

I must have been in year nine or ten when I did my first like music freestyle. A girl broke my heart init and these times the mandem were always slapping on beats and I sorta knew I could rap a little bit, so I thought why don’t I just do a freestyle for the gram.

Talk me through the decision to do the open verse challenge on TikTok.

I was so scared bro. I recorded the video in the booth, I didn’t want anyone to hear it. Nobody knew at the time that I did it because it was my first time doing proper singing. So, I had my air pods in, but they must have bugged out and disconnected, then Swiftz heard it and was like what’s that bro? Obviously, I showed him, and he was just telling me it was hard, so I said fuck it and just posted it.

Did you imagine it would end up going viral?

Initially, I posted it, and it was on like 900 views so for my first TikTok video I was gassed, but my A&R called and said I uploaded it wrong, so I took it down and reposted it. These times eight hours had gone by, and I was only on like 18 views, I was too pissed off, but he was just telling me to be patient. Then suddenly, I just see it hit 10k and it kept going up, 20k, 30k, 50k. I was with my boys, and we were just thinking Nah it won’t hit 100k. I was like let’s play a game of FIFA and guess what number it’s on after we’re done. We were seeing 150k, I woke up the next morning to 300k and by the end of that night, it hit a mil. It was crazy.

Have you always been able to sing?

I used to have a really high-pitched voice growing up, I could probably sing better then, than I can now. Because even now, since my voice broke, it’s taken man a while to adjust to what I can do.

What has made you the confident person you are today?

I’ve always been confident bro because I remember in primary my music teacher Mr Allanson called me up in an assembly to sing in front of everyone and I was panicking, sweating, everything. He made me perform ‘Lean On Me', and ever since then I’ve just believed I can do whatever I want.

How did you decide you were going to carry on singing despite what people around you said or thought?

It was only when man started to mature that I realised at the end of the day I needed to do what was good for me, I needed to do the things that would make me succeed, and if I wanna do singing, then I’ll do it.

Tell me one of the best things about being able to do music for a living.

For someone to be able to go and put my song on, out of all the songs in the world, and then come and tell me this or that, it’s actually a crazy feeling! I remember someone messaged me around the time ‘Fly Away’ dropped and they basically just told me they were going through a lot but listening to my song was helping them. You can’t put a price on that feeling, knowing you’re making a difference in people’s lives.

What advice would you give someone worried about other people’s opinions or a bit hesitant about stepping out of their comfort zone?

If you’ve got something you know you’re good at, just do it. At the start, people will always have things to say, but the second you start to get noticed for it, those same people who were negative, to begin with, will start showing you love.

Talk me through your song-making process.

I try to use real-life emotions that I’ve gone through and broaden them so that everyone can relate to them. Every love song or whatever that I make, I’m not chatting rubbish, it’s actual emotions and situations that I’ve been through. Even if you only listen to the song for that one line that you can relate to, I want it to really resonate with the listener, it's 100% authentic.

How did you make the decision to stop playing football?

I was always saying to my mum I don’t want to go training today and she was always like come on Zak go, these times she was dropping me as well, but I just remember this one time saying I’m not going today, and that was my last session. After that it was lockdown and I was playing PlayStation with the mandem, eating bare food. It sounds dumb but it made me realise there are so many ways to have fun besides football.

Do you have any regrets about that decision?

When I stopped playing football I went through a phase where I didn’t want to watch it because it was getting man depressed thinking about the what ifs. It’s always the what ifs, they’re the deadliest thing, where would I have been if I put in more effort? But I don’t regret that decision, everything happens for a reason, if things didn’t happen the way they did, I wouldn’t be doing all this so I can’t complain.

Who would be your dream feature?

Justin Bieber, no cap!

What has the future got in store for Zakhar?

I’ve got a project coming soon, I think a few singles from that will come out just after Summer and then next year we go again. You’ll hopefully see me on stage not too far into the future naturally, but yeah, I’m loading man.