All Work and No Playlist? | Ammar Haj Ahmad

What helps you create? Whether it’s writing, drawing, shooting or even whittling, for so many of us, music makes the world go round. In fact, we couldn’t imagine working without it. Fascinated by how other creative souls get stuff done, we decided to unpick this causal connection by speaking to different creators about their practice, process and how music fuels their fire. This issue, it's Syrian-born storyteller, writer, dramaturg, performer and director, Ammar Haj Ahmad...

By: Clare Howdle,   3 minutes

Ammar Haj Ahmad knows the power of music – whether as a constant bass note as he walks and thinks, or a specific moment to focus the attention. Well known for playing the lead in critically-acclaimed The Jungle (Young Vic/West End/USA), this year Ammar is working with director, DJ, activist and magician Matthew Xia (The Wiz Hope Mill, Rice National Tour, Blue Orange Young Vic, Dynamo); theatre designer and architect Tina Torbey; and Island artist, magician and illusionist Chris Cox to develop Escaping Houdini. This exciting new show will explore the parallels between Ammar’s own story of freedom – seeking asylum and finding magic – and the experiences of the world’s most famous illusionist, Harry Houdini.

We caught up with him to find out more about how music shapes his creative process and his day…

"Playing, listening to music while doing a creative work is like a dance."

It’s the start of your creative working day. What do you do first?

I tend to find a freshly-cleaned t-shirt that I like to put on. Then either I walk to the café nearby to grab an oat latte, or I make Turkish coffee indoors. Usually I make a smoothie at the same time.

At what point in your day do you turn to music?

It’s first thing after coffee. Music must always be there.

Do you have a go-to track that gets you going and motivates you to start?

All depends on what the day looks like – weather-wise and tasks-wise. These things have a big influence on me and the sort of music I’m drawn to.

Where do you create? Do you have an office, a specific room or a space or place you find yourself to be most productive?

Funnily enough, if I’m working on my own, I’m most productive when I’m walking. I keep walking and thinking and writing bullet point notes on my phone or a piece of paper. Then I go to a desk and do the work.

Is music an important part of your creative process and if so, why? 

Yes, definitely. Especially if I’m working in a café. I need something to hone in on, to drown out everything else around me of course, but also to bring focus. I guess having good music playing makes what I’m doing at the time – creating – similar to a dance. I stop sometimes and pay attention to the music and that brings something new.

How do you listen? Headphones or out loud? Online or old school?

When I’m in my place, I listen out loud. When in a café I use headphones. And it’s all mainly online now.

Do you have different types of music you listen to, to achieve different results?

Yes I do, though not necessarily to achieve different results. Sticking with the metaphor that I mentioned before, that playing music while doing creative work is like a dance, I think I choose what to listen to in a way that fits with the progress and the journey of what I’m doing. Different work requires different music because of that. Some work might require Bach. Other work needs Eminem.

Is the music you listen to for work different from the music you listen to recreationally? 

Yes. Recreational listening engages a different part of the brain. When I’m trying to do creative work, I can’t just have background music. I need to have music I love and I pay attention to. That’s what helps me create.

What one song or album can you rely on to get you creating?

I love the album OK Computer by Radiohead. And Magnificat by Bach. I can rely on them both.


"I need to have music I love and I pay attention to. That's what helps me create."

Ammar Haj Ahmad's Playlist to Create By



Slated to come to Cornwall in May, Ammar Haj Ahmad will be performing a scratch show of magic and storytelling as part of Impossible Producing’s Delight Festival. We can’t wait.

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