Niki Mukhi: that defining moment

Niki Mukhi tells Andrew White why he is constantly seeking the moment when “your brain and your whole being ceases to exist”

Niki Mukhi was nine years old when his elder brother Pavan bought him a mini electric guitar. The youngster, who was born in Dubai and raised in the UK, never looked back. “That thing was so cool because it was my size and it could plug in and make a racket,” he recalls fondly. “He showed me how to play [heavy metal track] Cowboys from Hell, and I’m still playing it today!”

Niki’s musical education started at birth, as his “rock-chick” mother preferred Bon Jovi lyrics to nursery rhymes: after his first day in school, he came home in tears as the other children were well versed in traditional poems whereas he was the only one who wanted to sing Livin’ on a Prayer. With a guitar in hand, however, Niki was finally able to begin his own adventure in the world of music. In the intervening years, the 29-year-old has worked on a string of projects in the UAE and UK, from writing albums to composing musical scores for television and radio, and performing live across the globe.

Something I feel all these guys do is make music just by playing, basically sitting and tinkering, tuning into a space where your brain and your whole being ceases to exist

“Inspiration comes from everywhere if you can tune in to it,” he says. “I find it comes through most when I am busy, as people are generally happiest when they are busy, spending their time doing things that are of value, however small or big. The busier I am with my music and other quests the more exciting the time I play music gets - and then the more exciting the music gets.”

There was certainly excitement in April this year when Niki could be found jamming in the desert outside Dubai with British soul icon Joss Stone and UAE musicians Hamdan Al-Abri and Gayathri Krishnan. The young guitarist relishes the opportunity to play with talented artists from different backgrounds and boasting different styles: the one thing that unites them all is a love of music.

“You can fall in love with music regardless of where you are from or have been brought up,” he says. “Even 20 years ago in Dubai we would get tapes from all over the world, it was just a question of wanting to discover all the amazingness that was out there. Today with the internet everything is there at our fingertips: artists from everywhere have the opportunity to hear everything there is out there, and strive to create new world class sounds.

“The great advantage of growing up in two places was to be able to meet and play with guys with so many differing approaches to playing and composing,” he continues. “Luckily the guitar is a wonderful chameleon of an instrument that has the ability to work in so many musical settings.”

He is encouraged, too, by Dubai’s growing music scene.

“Actually there are several scenes, the rock guys, the incredible Iranian musicians, a whole bunch of singer-songwriters, hip hop and drum & bass producers, and more,” he explains. “The more artists there are, the more people you get to play with, and learn from first hand. In the last few years there have also been new places to play opening up, and more artists coming to play here that aren't just Jay-Z status, but also other smaller great artists.”

Niki Mukhi Soumik Datta
Niki Mukhi with Bengali sarod player Soumik Datta

Niki counts Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett as two of his inspirations, for the way that they “threw themselves so deep into the music that they discovered new music as they were playing it”. He is also thrilled by contemporaries including Questlove – “today’s most exciting artist” – the Roots, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, and reserves special praise for heroes Dimebag Darrel, Paco de Lucia and Derek Trucks.

“Something I feel all these guys do is make music just by playing, basically sitting and tinkering, tuning into a space where your brain and your whole being ceases to exist,” he says. “At that moment, you are in the music.”