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Amsterdam Faces: Cero Ismael

Cero Ismael is the artist wearing his heart on his sleeve, as his music is a deeply introspective exploration of tangled feelings, as well as a tight hug to anyone healing their own wounds. The title of his latest project, Eureka, comes from the Ancient Greek term that defines a lightbulb moment – a celebration of long-awaited discovery of what you have been searching for. Within this, Ismael departs from the darker, heavier tones of his earlier projects into more hopeful territories, as his ethereal honey-dew vocals swiftly glide over layered electronic productions. Crucially, the gentleness of Ismael’s mesmerising coo is not to be mistaken for fragility – his work is a testament to the unbreakable resilience found in unconditional vulnerability. A breath of fresh air to the Dutch music scene, Cero Ismael is here to break down any genre walls and industry’s expectations – and he is only getting started.

Congrats on the recent release of Eureka! Tell me more about the project…

I started working on it two years ago. My first project was Blue Man and the second was AS MUCH AS I DID BEFORE, and both of them were quite dark, also in terms of the topics they tackled. For this part of my life, and in my musical career, I wanted to shine some light on the things where I feel I’m witnessing a eureka moment – in my love life, friendships, fatherhood… I aimed to make a realistic project and include all the sadness that was going on before, but I also wanted to give enough space to these moments where I feel like I’ve found what I was looking for. In these last two years, I was really finding what I was seeking. 

With so much of your work revolving around healing, do you find healing in the process of music-making itself?

It’s definitely healing. It’s therapeutic in a way that it helps me understand myself and process different situations. Sometimes, I can’t put words to certain things on a daily basis, but when I make a song about a particular feeling, I manage to find the words. It’s kind of guiding me through a healing process.

And then what you create within that also connects with so many people as a result…

It’s one of the most important and beautiful things when it comes to creating music, or art in general. Of course, I create for myself, but I also what to make people feel like they’re not alone in the feelings they’re witnessing. We’re all human beings and we are all confronted with our own hurdles. I want my music to be a reminder that you’re not alone in whatever you’re dealing with.

Top Mai-gidah

Coat and trousers Miles Delfos, top Zara, shoes Terra Amsterdam, gloves stylist’s own

Translating this message when performing live must be even more powerful. You’ve just finished your Eureka tour, how has the experience been for you?

Amazing. I always describe performing as the most pure form of presenting art to people. We live in the age where everything is happening online, which is nice in its own way. But when you perform live, you can take people into your world completely, at least that’s how it is for me. It allows me to present all the emotions and what I’m feeling directly to people and see their immediate reaction. I really enjoy performing. I went to India in February, and to London and Brighton recently. It’s been a beautiful experience.

Let’s talk about your visuals – I loved the music video for Temper! Can you take me through the concept?

On every artwork for Eureka that I’ve put out, there is one object that lights up against the darkness in the back, symbolising a Eureka moment. For the video, I wanted to be lightened up fully to represent this Eureka moment in human flesh, and the storyline was around standing up for yourself.

Top Mai-gidah

You’ve been described as ‘Dutch Frank Ocean’. How do you feel about that label?

It’s a big complement, of course, Frank Ocean is a great artist – one of the best in our generation in my opinion. But it just feels like it’s super easy to give that label to any Black male artist that makes something experimental.

…Especially if they also share difficult feelings within their work. It’s still so rare for men to show vulnerability in the industry, that anyone who does will just be grouped under the same archetype instead of being recognised for what they are.

Exactly. I don’t think there are enough Black men being vulnerable in the industry, but there should be way more room. That’s also something that I want to bring to the table – I want to start that conversation as a Black man for myself, but also for the rest of the world.

Coat Mai-gidah, top and trousers Pop Trading Company

What draws you to the genres and sounds you explore musically?

There is no one specific genre of music that I really like. What usually happens is that for every project, I just get into one genre that I have been into for years, and then add a bit of everything on top. For Eureka, I wanted to dive more into electronic and club music. Also, I wanted to include drums because my previous projects were very instrumental, with just guitars and synths and stuff. So, for this project, I aimed to look at the other side of electronic music that I also love. I wanted to combine those worlds of previous projects and brings something new to them – and you have Eureka.

To me, ‘eureka’ as a word implies a certain sense of finality – achieving a point of clarity within your journey from which your perspective shifts irreversibly. Has healing been a linear (as much as it can be) process for you?

 Of course, growth is a continuous thing in life, but for me, there were certain points where I finally started feeling grateful again, coming out of a really dark place I was in. I had a lot of moments in these two years where I felt that way. Growth is an ongoing process and it never stops, but I would say that there was a more clear-cut point where I could feel grateful, and be happy about that gratitude. I wanted to capture that in the project.

What’s on the horizon for Cero Ismael?

I want to put out a lot of beautiful music. Eureka is out now, but I’m busy with a lot of new work. I definitely want to do more shows, and travel around the globe to share what I have for the world.

Catch Cero Ismael playing this Thursday, June 29th, at Dr. Martens Summer Jam!

Elandsgracht 57, Amsterdam // 17:00 – 20:00

See you there <3

Photography Nick van Tiem

Styling Indiana Roma Voss

Photography Assistant Louis Oomes

Styling Assistant Anne van der Last

Location De Bank


Words by Evita Shrestha