By Patrick Harney
“Bringing beauty from ashes” is the mission statement from Juno award nominee Ladan Hussein a.k.a. Cold Specks in regard to her upcoming album Fool’s Paradise. A Toronto artist in the most technical forms of the word Hussein has always seen the suburb of Etobicoke as her true home. “The most interesting stuff is found in the suburbs outside the downtown. Kids get lots of Youtube views but no radio play.” Says Hussein, showing her slight bitterness toward the Toronto music scene, “I had to leave Toronto, no one gave a damn after I tried, it wasn’t until I moved to the UK and got press coverage there did I get any attention. It’s a classic story, you have to leave the city to become successful, which is kinda sad.”
After getting her start in the UK music scene Hussein felt she had to leave after seeing the gentrification rip the area apart. “It’s very sad. I watched rent prices skyrocket, I watched low income areas become infested by hipsters and I watched cute working class cafes turn into chic wildly expensive coffee shops,” comments Hussein, reflecting on the very place she left. She commented on the most interesting work in the UK being their working class grime scene. “The best art comes from people that aren’t really trying to be something that they are not,” similarly to the suburbs of Toronto “it’s exciting that it’s coming from the hoods.”
Coming home to newly found fan fare, Hussein has had the opportunity to work with and learn from many different artists. “I have been able to work with a number of artists. For me, recently working with Moby has helped shaped some of the songs, namely “Solid”.
On the record after I had a session with them, I just became obsessed with Shara Nelson’s voice and the way that she projected but still had so much control.” Stating some of her favourite memories to be working with others she speaks of how, “[Working] with Ambrose Akinmusire was a wonderful session lasting an hour and he didn’t tell me what the subject matter of the song was. Afterwards he asked me what to call it and I said “ceaseless inexhaustible child” and he told me that it was about a 16 year old child prostitute who murdered a [man], it was really quite special that we could just kind of hit something really wonderful in that hour.”
Despite having great experiences working with other artists Cold Specks has been first and foremost a solo project. “I could never be in a band. In school next to works well with others it would say: needs improvement.” Working with only a small team on her upcoming record “I did work with a couple of people, Tim Anderson (producer) and Josh MacIntire (additional production) also La Timba (additional production), a kid from Toronto who we will be touring with; it was just the four of us.”
Constantly having to move schools since her youth, Hussein has always viewed playing music as a form of escape and Fool’s Paradise will be carried by that idea of “detaching during the apocalypse as a means of self care.”
On Fool’s Paradise Hussein takes a departure from her earlier work attempting to shed the “Doom Soul” moniker she had gained when she started in 2011. Hussein never truly understood the “Doom Soul” title understanding there was both a dark side and a light side to her work but seeing it more as a label that doesn’t fit. “I used to be quite a pretentious lyricist but on this new record I don’t think that is the case any more. On Wildcard (one of the singles) the chorus is “I’ll be there for you” I don’t know why it’s just one of those things that fits.”
One of Hussein’s greatest influences for Fool’s Paradise was a series of VHS tapes of her father performing in Somalia during the 1970’s. After gaining independence from Britain in the 60s, Somali began to swarm with art and culture and by the time the 70s rolled around Somalia had a deep rich art and music scene which people began to flock to. Hussein became obsessed with analyzing the VHS tapes, causing them to have a huge impact on the lyrical and sonic quality of her upcoming album referring to them as her “number one influence”.
This isn’t a recent thing for her though she has always been connected with her heritage saying “It’s always been something that has affected me, my songwriting has only recently reflected it because I have become obsessed with these VHS recordings but it’s always been a part of me, it’s just who I am.”
Fool’s Paradise enters a world in a state of turmoil with bans to muslim immigrants and the rise of the extreme right artists are moving to politicize their music, and Cold Specks is not left behind. Hussein explains “as a black muslim woman who is a songwriter I just wouldn’t know how not to reflect on the times.” With allusions to Somali mythology Hussein is finding power in the characters of her past. In a time that she refers to as the “apocalypse” she believes that self care is what is most important.