The Tehran born, Toronto raised artist aims to both countries he represents and fuse them into something new on his forthcoming EP, aptly titled “Tehranto.”
At 22 years of age, Arya Safakish has already been making music for over a decade, so the polished, pristine production on his records should be no surprise. Early in his career, he released beats under his producer name, Safakash, and managed to get exposure on Youtube via Casey Neistat, CloudKid, Kota, and Czech Sound Vibes.
Despite the notable cosigns and recognition, he wasn’t satisfied being known only for making beats. He believed he had a voice, an image, a vision, and, more importantly, potential and drove to execute it all. He expanded his repertoire to include songwriting, rapping and singing while still handling the majority of the production on his music.
Fast forward to today. Afta has accumulated over 10,000,000 total streams, cracked into Spotify’s “Just Vibing” playlist, and now the stage is set for his most ambitious release yet. Already having mastered the art of making smooth, intoxicating, provocative R&B infused pop hits, Afta now comes at the genre with a new twist: influence from his Persian background.
Using his distinct established sound like a foundation, Afta masterfully weaves in classic Persian pop samples to create a familiar yet otherworldly vibe. The production incorporates popular modern sounds that are easy on the ears but laced in are musical cues from a completely different time and place – namely, a pre-revolution Iran of the 60s and 70s, which was ripe with artistic creativity and experimentation.
What Afta Hill is drawing heavily from on this project is known as “The Golden Age of Iranian Pop Music,” a psychedelic era featuring songs of love and heartbreak, unlike anything the country had seen before or since. After the revolution, Iran’s government intentionally suppressed this kind of music, as it is opposed to their values. To Afta Hill and other young members of the Iranian diaspora who did not experience that era directly, hearing these songs can be eye-opening.
“It blew my mind. I didn’t know anything like that even existed. I guarantee some of these artists would have crossed over internationally if they could’ve kept growing.” Afta says the passion in his voice is infectious. “The sounds are also perfect for sampling in modern hip-hop/R&B, so the inspiration and ideas just kept coming. That was the beginning of what later became Tehranto.”
Looking at popular modern music, it’s not hard to find a slew of samples, influence, and interpolations of hits from the exact same era of American and British music. Usually, the sources for those samples are from known and often celebrated songs, however, Afta is pulling from hidden gems utterly unknown to most listeners. That makes for a sound that often sounds like it’s coming from a different dimension, like something you’ve heard before in a dream.
Another example of this vibe is Afta’s incorporation of the famous Persian folktale passage “yeki bood, yeki nabood” a traditional beginning to stories similar in use to “Once upon a time…” While it’s origins may be more innocent and playful, Afta’s use of it to set up the dreamy melodic “mg SIN” is haunting and suspenseful, even without understanding the words themselves.
Thinking back to his process, Afta explains, “The goal was to create something authentic, and unmistakably my own. It’s two sides of my unique reality blended. I grew up in Canada, so I’d never been out here making classic Persian songs, but that influence is still a part of me that no one can take away, and you can hear it in the music.”
Dubai-based artist Sobhhï lends his vocals to the track “Burner,” giving the project a more modern middle eastern connection. Being one of the top streamed artists in the Arab world, his collaboration with Afta can prove to have plenty of crossover potential.
After the massive rise to prominence of Latin music on a global scale, interest in international music is at an all-time high, and both Afta Hill and Sobhhï are growing fan bases on all parts of the world. For middle eastern artists, however, there are obstacles to connect and their fans overseas because of inconsistent legal rulings with music streaming between countries.
The album releases under Afta Hill’s independent label, Bad Faith. The name consists of a team of creatives put together by Afta personally and includes creative director Klauss Vogel, who frequently collaborates with Afta on videos and cover art; “I never wanted to sign to a big company and be under people, I had to build it myself.
There was no question about that. Bad Faith is people I know and trust, it started with just me and my best friends, and we just grew it from there.” With his grassroots team behind him, Afta has done production work for Viacom via cue music and scored the entirety of indie film Hunter’s Moon.
Moving into 2022, Afta is looking to take all his accumulated experience and focus his efforts on dropping a slew of EPs to follow up Tehranto. When it comes to Bad Faith as a collective, Afta and his team plan to help upcoming artists in this industry they’ve become so familiar with.
“We want to use our studio space as an incubator for the talent we believe in. There’s so much talent in the city, but not everyone knows how to put the whole package together, monetize it, and break into different markets.” Afta says, adding, “And we want to make sure artists get to keep the rights to their music, their work, and get fair pay.”
This release will coincide with a boiling point in Iran’s political climate, which has culminated in mass protests and a government-administered internet blackout. With Persian voices high in demand, Afta Hill shows listeners a glimpse into the dystopian atmosphere of “Tehranto.”