Elyas Khan – Musician & Magic Maker

On: Collaboration, Cooking & Colonialism


Elyas // Bells


The New Colonialists. A band name or reality?

My soul brother and artist extraordinaire Elyas Khan and I are sitting together in his Berlin kitchen, where he loves to cook recipes from the women in his family and tell stories. This being his favorite activity along with working in his little studio in the bedroom.

My universe is between this kitchen and my studio

Well. He is an extremely charismatic and magical performer as well, if you did not know already. Let’s start with a Quickie Quiz.


E: “It’s Sunday. Something I’d have to Google to answer, or gardening questions.”


E: “As little as possible for maximum effect.”

S:  WHY?

E: “Efficiency and grace.”


E: “Yes. We used to call those sneakers ,Plimsouls’ and paint them white with a wet chalk every     morning to look sharp in school with the uniform.”


E: “Buying two Motz papers from a couple of friendly homeless dudes, calming the nerves of a very nervous young performer and doing hard labor in a friend’s garden, getting ready for a big planting session.”


E: “Emancipation of mind and deed. My music has a job. To propel the imagination into an omni-dimensional reality and to excite conscious interconnectivity of the body, with all that surrounds it, through the justice of tone and timbre.”

S: Who said  ‘You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think?’

E: “Dorothy Parker? Mae West?”

I’ve known Elyas and his wife Melissa since 2001. We all lived in a little area of Brooklyn called DUMBO, an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, which is a lovely waterside area, now mostly taken over by the rich and greedy a.k.a. The New Colonialists.

DUMBO was once a scrappy community of artists, working-class residents and the leftover remnants of industrial factories and shipping docks in New York. The cobblestone streets were our stage, where we as a community, strived with humour and passion, to do our work and take care of each other.

Who is Elyas Khan?

Elyas was born in Tower Hamlets London to Indian parents (whom I adore). Shipped to Pakistan when he was two, to live with his grandmother, aunts, uncles, their respective husbands, wives and kids.

His parents were very young and stayed in London to make money etc. … (colonialist triggered) war ensued in India/Pakistan. His parents returned after four years to take him back to London. This all comes out in his voice, songwriting, storytelling, performance, bravado, as well as his cooking.

Elyas + the stove

In his teens his family moved to Minneapolis. Young adult Elyas ventured to New York, where his journey as an actor and dancer led him to his the natural extension of his self expression – music.

Founding the seminal band Nervous Cabaret, after performing acapella at a local DUMBO open mic, quickly signing with the Naive record label in Paris and touring Europe for five years. Jump a few adventures forward to Elyas & Melissa’s current home and artistic headquarters in Berlin. This happily collided with my ten year Berlin adventure, giving me some family to help me survive the mean streets of Berlin!

What does Collaboration mean to you?

E: “Most successful things are collaborations. To trust another. Collaboration in music or anything? You know? Most things are a collaboration.

In music, let’s say you’re a solo artist, for instance Caribou, I am just bringing out a name. He produced the record all by himself and then he collaborated with three other musicians in order to bring it out to the stage. Beethoven composed by himself. When he went to the performance hall he had to get the orchestra to play it. He had to deal with a lot of people. So that’s bringing something to the finished end.

You always have to work with other people. How do I feel about it? Even if you’re composing with somebody the best way it works, is if your are really comfortable with each other. You trust one and other. You take criticism. Like a critique. You have to sort of prepare yourself for it step by step. When I meet someone I want to work with I don’t tell them right away. I have to let it percolate a bit. Can I envision a result from that? I have get to know them better and make myself more available to them. Present myself to them more and see how they react off of me and see how I react off of them. Naturally in conversation. Whether talking about music or art  or what ever.

Are we listening to each other?  All these things indicate to me how the collaboration will be.

Skate park in India promo was a labour of love but as with the Velodrome Bike race promo, it was a commercial project and had deadlines. I had to work sight unseen. With only an idea of what they wanted.”

A Few of Elyas’s Collabs:


Elyas + Oxelo

Elyas + Martin Mosert

Elyas + Amine Bendriouich

Elyas + Moe Jaksch, 17 Hippies, Melissa Fowler and Martin Mostert

Interviewed by saudia young