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Pulse Mini-Interview with Idris Rahman

Saxophonist Idris Rahman is a familiar face at jazz gigs in the capital city. He plays, teaches and records music with dedication and humility that Pulse found totally awesome.

Idris, can you tell us how you and your two siblings, all came to be musicians? 

Our parents (Bengali dad and Irish mum) weren’t particularly musical. They bought a piano when my oldest sister Sophie was five and she really took to it- playing concertos by the time she was eleven. My second sister also took piano lessons (Zoe Rahman, jazz pianist) as did I. I didn’t get far with classical music. Then in the second year at Chichester High School the new music teacher gave me a clarinet, that started my road to jazz. ( I contacted my music teacher recently-she was brilliant, revitalising the school’s music department ).  I did study music at Oxford but that was purely theoretical, I am basically a self-taught jazz musician.

You play the sax and clarinet and sing, working across jazz, Afrobeat, how did you become such a versatile musician?

You can say that I diversified to survive. I have a studio at home, so I spend a lot of time writing and recording. My regular teaching is also very important to me. I am a peripatetic music teacher at two schools- a well-heeled school in Dartford and a school in Croydon, with a high percentage of kids on free-school-meals. I work with them. I have to battle for resources to keep the music going. But I do that because I know that music can be life-saving.

I play jazz at gigs in clubs and festivals (Europe had become an important part of my touring circuit now sadly lost with Brexit) but I also enjoy mixing things. With the Soothsayers band, we mix jazz with Afro-Beat and Reggae. We took a decision that we didn’t want to jazz to be perceived as ‘sitting down’ music.

What is the biggest challenge and the biggest reward of your years in music?

The biggest reward is just being able to do what you love doing. I am still amazed that I am playing music for a living.

One reads about the South London music scene do you consider yourself a part of it? Where can we next hear you play?

I have been playing fortnightly at Effra, a pub in Brixton. The live music scene is very active in Brixton and also in Peckham and in Hackney. I love playing with the youngsters on the scene, their energy and creativity inspires me- like with Ill Considered. (Interestingly double bassist Liran Donin who is part of the Ill Considered collective also produced Ranjana Ghatak’s Butterfly Effect album. Ranjana was featured on DITK 2).

Pulse is looking forward to featuring Idris Rahman at Dancing in the Kitchen with DJ Ritu Friday 30 April at 9pm BST on Zoom. Tickets £3.50/£7.50 Eventbrite: