We all have those friends who talk a big game. The pipe-dreamers. They spend years musing on the same ideas, negotiating ifs and buts, never any closer to fruition.
Kaasam Ali Aziz (that’s just Kaas to you and me) is not one of those people. He does not wait, nor does he negotiate.
Call him sure-footed. Call him nomad, explorer, adventurer. But only if you mean it. Kaas doesn’t do wanderlust or #vanlife; he wears the bruises and blisters of his work. The calluses on his hands aren’t nuisances, they’re hard-won by thousand-mile cycling trips.
I meet Kaas in a bar on Falmouth’s Old High St. It’s been ten years. The last time I saw him he was a fresh-faced first year without a passport in his name. As I sit across from him now, a 3,500-mile cycle ride to Africa is just one of his recent accomplishments.
Samuel Crosby: Let’s start with the obvious. Last year you got back from cycling between Falmouth and the Sahara desert. How can you sum up something like that?
Kaas Aziz: It was massive. But it wasn’t one thing in and of itself. It was so many tiny stories along the way. The people were a big part of it. You’ve got to trust them; they’re actually all right! Not the dodgy ones. We put a lot of faith in the kindness of strangers.
SC: Did you start the trip with that faith?
KA: Actually no, I thought Morocco was going to be bad. I thought poverty might play against us. I thought people might be desperate. When we got there, people literally opened their doors to give us their homes. All we knew how to say was thank you and God. We would make this pedalling motion with our hands, then they’d give us tea, olives, bread. They’d show us their whole families. We’d hold babies and pose for group photos. Crazy experiences. After spending the night we’d share breakfast the next day, then the whole street would wave us off. Generally the people were so wonderful. We probably wouldn’t have made it without them. That motivation.
SC: Do you have a perspective that seems obvious now, but took you a while to cotton on to?
KA: How to puncture repair? No, really, it’s that life is about balance and you should only do things that you love or make you feel good and bring you closer to your goals. Clothes, stuff you just don’t need. Whatever we didn’t need, whatever really didn’t matter we ended up giving away. We’d try to give something back to any grand gesture. Oh and keep an eye on where you pitch your tent. We got flooded four times during the trip. Three times thanks to torrential rain, once because we pitched up on a sprinkler.
SC: Let’s go back a few years. You’re a creative, photographer, filmmaker, chef. Where did your journey start?
KA: I come from a background of lawyers and politicians, so that was always the trajectory my family had me on. I went to study a theatre degree, but with the death of my granddad in the middle of my finals, I had to move back to Manchester. I took up a sales job and deferred my second year. I think I was trying to prove something to my family. One night, my friend Alexi drunkenly poked me in the chest and told me to follow my heart. I threw in the job and moved back down to Falmouth. I got some restaurant work, then started my second year of uni. My friends were all graduating, so I was starting again on my own. That’s where the journey really began. Okay I thought, I’m at uni. Who am I, what do I want to do?
SC: And who were you?
KA: I struggled to connect with my peers. After a year out I think my head was geared up differently. But I had access to all of these great resources. I got into motion capture, film, digital installation, dance. I worked on my own a lot. I worked so hard, but still almost failed a module. I thought the world was against me. I thought my teacher was against me.
"As soon as I started to collaborate, my work excelled. It wasn't that I was inherently better, but people started to question what I was doing more. I learned how fundamental collaboration was to my work."
As soon as I started to collaborate, my work excelled. It wasn’t that I was inherently better, but people started to question what I was doing more. I learned how fundamental collaboration was to my work. In my final performance, the same teacher who’d almost failed me marked me above a 1st. I graduated with a lot of faith in myself.
SC: And this is around the time you started to produce film work. Movement and Light, up in Bristol?
KA: Actually straight after uni I started a food venture, Salvador Thali, with a friend. We called it a guerrilla dining experience. We’d go to ad-hoc arts events and cook rice, dhal, chapattis.
I started working with film. 35mm is something I really appreciate. For me something that I’ll always strive to capture is lens flare. I love lens flares. Anamorphic is my thing. I love it so much. The cinematic feeling. Most people will shoot in the same direction their light source is coming from. I always shoot towards it. I bump up my exposure, just because I want to capture that. I think it just gives a sense of nostalgia. Open aperture. Nice bokeh.
Shortly after Salvador Thali I moved up to Bristol and started working full time as a chef again, at the Spoke and Stringer. During that time I made Movement and Light and found the old itch for more creative work.
I had some holiday and talked Alexi into cycling with me to Berlin.
SC: How do you just cycle to Berlin? Did anything dodgy happen?
KA: We free-camped. We’d look on Google maps and aim at green patches.
SC: And you just cracked on with it?
KA: Yeah we just cracked on with it. One night it was like –16°c and we were just in a tent. We slept with those golden marathon space blanket things because it was so cold. My beard was covered in frost. I went to wake Alexi up and my hand just crinkled through his sleeping bag. We had to get up at 4am to do press-ups and star jumps. We got drunk that day.
SC: Where does the idea come from to just get on a bike and go?
KA: My partner, Madds and I always tried to arrange micro adventures when we met up. We’d try to fill the 5-9 with a camping trip in the Brecon Beacons or around Penryn and Falmouth. We read Micro Adventures and Grand Adventures by Alastair Humphreys and started to plan a bigger trip.
Years before, the first time I got a passport, I went to Morocco with some friends. Looking out of the window on the flight back I’d realised how much distance there was. How much I’d missed. Politics and culture, food, climate. All sorts. I vowed to cycle it.
So when Madds and I were trying to figure out what to do and I said, “Why don’t we cycle to the Sahara?” She wasn’t that keen on cycling, but, well, she said yes! So we got some sponsors and started Path Adventure there and then.
SC: She recently said yes again, I heard?
KA: Madds gives me motivation, perspective, balance. She’s a lifelong friend, we lived in a tent together for almost a year and during the trip I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. You heard right, she said yes again.
SC: Congratulations! Your life and career have gone through so many different stages. Is this kind of trip part of your creative process?
KA: Absolutely. We’re roaming creatives. Cycling has given me time to reflect on what is and isn’t important in life. Things you just don’t need. Clothes. Furniture. Stuff.
Spending more time nurturing yourself. To do that you need less baggage. Physically and emotionally. So you can be the best version of yourself. To take the best version of yourself to the people around you. That’s my motivation.
SC: Why is food important to you? Can you talk about Pink Milk?
KA: It’s the centre of my universe. My family aren’t one for showing love through emotion, but they’d always make sure you were full. So now I live my love for others through strange satisfaction in watching them eat and hearing them mumble “mmmm it’s good”. Always ask on the third mouthful for best results.
Pink Milk started with a friend. We enjoyed cooking together and started holding a few pop-ups around town and got a bit of a reputation for it. It’s a bit of fun really, we make food we really want to eat and then share that street food style of eating with banquet style feasts for our friends. It’s great.
SC: What’s next for you and Path Adventure?
We’ve done the feast and famine thing. We’ve gone freelance, which has its ups and downs, but now we’ve started to find a balance. It’s tough to be creative and commercial, but we want to do both.
Madds is a brilliant photographer, but I haven’t had a chance to work together on a shared project since we got back from the trip, so we’re looking at that. And we want that to be massively collaborative. And here, in Falmouth, it’s the perfect place. It’s a melting pot for so many different talents and perspectives. The students coming and going. Freelancers. There are so many artists who work in the hospitality industry with a job to support their creative side. And I’m trying to convince Madds to come with me to do the Silk Road. Istanbul to China.
Watch Kaas’ creative collaboration with the Stranger Collective team:
For the longlist of Kaas’ projects, or if you want to work with him, I suggest you arrange a drink in Falmouth. He’ll let you chose the pub.
For the shortlist:
Kaasam Aziz: @kaasam_aziz – instagram.com/kaasam_aziz/
Path Adventure: @pathadventure – instagram.com/pathadventure/
Pink Milk Falmouth: @pinkmilk.falmouth – instagram.com/pinkmilk.falmouth/
Luna Tees: @luna_tees – instagram.com/luna_tees/
Madds’ website: maddisonaraceli.co.uk
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