Hibo Elmi: “The world is going to be hungry to hear us”
Hibo Elmi is a dj living in Kampala, Uganda. Under her stage name Hibotep she combines different genres such as trap, hiphop and house, but also influences of Kenyan and Moroccan music.
After performing at the Monheim Triennale, Theresa van Kempen, Lieneke Halm, Fatima Alfyad and Hannah Pfeiffer sat down with her to talk about her musical origins, how she dealt with the pandemic and her aspiration of establishing female artists in the music industry.
HANNAH: When exactly did you start producing music?
HIBOTEP: Properly five years ago. Before, I used to just play around. After experiencing the harassment of women in Uganda’s music industry I felt like I had to do the job because we had to change the numbers for female artists who are active in the industry. That became my mission.
THERESA: Was music something you already did as a child?
HIBOTEP: No, I used to change my mind every month – I wanted to be an architect, I wanted to be this, I wanted to be that… I always loved music, but I never wanted to be a musician. That came later in life, after my mum died, because I wanted to talk to her – and for me, music was the way to do that.
HANNAH: Did you produce music with your twin sister Houdini right from the start or did you start alone?
HIBOTEP: We started alone because we had different styles, but in the end, something happened and it started sounding the same. Then we were like: “Let’s go, let’s do it.” Now we play more music together.
HANNAH: Do you produce your music alone or do you work with other artists or producers?
HIBOTEP: Sometimes I work alone, but during the last two years I was working with a lot of other artists like Lewd Beats itsmdnyt and Houdini. We clicked so well, and I don’t want to be this boring person who just makes music by herself. I like hanging out with them because then time passes faster – so I always like to work with my friends.
HANNAH: How do you find a partner for your collaborations?
HIBOTEP: It just happens. Everyone is just like: “Do you wanna hang out?” – And we just go to the studio and record music.
THERESA: It’s nice to do something that feels like friendship but is actually work. HIBOTEP: I’m not going to lie, a lot of people think that there is no money in music, especially where I am from. But because I’ve been traveling a lot, I found a lot of other ways to make money. And I want to share that with my friends and I don’t want them to give up because actually, they are more talented than I am. I have the chance to do it, I should not take that for granted.
HANNAH: Do you present your music in a lot of other countries?
HIBOTEP: Yes, we used to do a lot of touring. We used to travel every week or every second week with the whole team. People’s reception of our music was always positive. But after the lockdown happened everyone went back to making so much crazy stuff on their own. I can’t wait for the world to open again because it is going to be exciting to see all the new projects. Some of my friends feel like life has changed a lot because they were about to start their careers and then they had to stop because of the pandemic. But I told them: “Don’t give up, the world is going to be hungry to hear us.”
HANNAH: So, you’re saying that the lockdown was really hard for your friends. But how did you handle it yourself?
HIBOTEP: I took some time off. Around the time I gave birth to my kid, only three weeks later, I had to go to Barcelona for Sonar festival to perform. The lockdown gave me the chance to spend more time with my kids.
THERESA: Did having kids change your way of creating music? Did they inspire you?
HIBOTEP: Yes, I even record them sometimes and use these recordings as an inspiration. But it also made me want to work harder, because I want to impress them. You want them to be like: “Oh, my mum is so cool!” Before, I didn’t care, I used to go on stage without practicing anything. Now I have to show them that there is no shortcut, that you can work hard for something you love.
THERESA: If you say that you went on stage without practicing, did you not have any stage fright? Were you nervous?
HIBOTEP: I’m always scared. But as soon as I press play, that feeling disappears. And that fear also makes me want to explore more. Because every time I used to plan my set, it went bad. All my good sets I’ve ever done were random. I sometimes play something I have never heard before.
HANNAH: Do you have any projects for the future?
HIBOTEP: Yes, so many! I opened a record label names Kukaata Records with my sister. We are going to bring five female artists to release their first albums.
THERESA: It’s so important to give women the chance to release their music, because in a lot of places they still aren’t respected in this industry.
HIBOTEP: That’s why we chose the name of the label. Kukaata means: “The rejected”. So all the rejects feel like they have a place there. That’s the main goal: Girl Power!
HANNAH: That’s true. Where can people who feel the same way find you? Do you put your music online? Can people buy it?
HIBOTEP: Yes, it’s on Soundcloud, Spotify and Bandcamp. Lately I haven’t been releasing a lot of new music because I was still discovering who I am, and I don’t want the present and the future to contradict each other. But so far, what we have released, that’s what I like.
THERESA: How did you end up coming to the Monheim Triennale and what do you think aboutit so far?
HIBOTEP: Thomas Venker wrote to me and asked me if I wanted to join the lineup . I was like: “Monheim, where’s that?” I didn’t even know it existed. But it’s really surprising because first I was scared about being a colored person, but when I came to Monheim it didn’t hit me that I was different. That was the most beautiful part about Monheim – it felt like a home.