Selwa Abd's heady, ever-changing productions are just one part of her larger mission to unite artists outside capitalism. Zoë Beery joins the prolific New York-via-Casablanca artist for a revealing afternoon tea.
I didn't ask Abd what exactly she was working on when I arrived, but there were many possibilities. Her own music, for one, which she mostly self-releases at the dizzying average of a record a month. Graphic design, which she studied in school and still does on a freelance basis, sometimes for labels like the Jacktone offshoot Dreamtone. Bizaarbazaar, the music blog she started as a teenager in Morocco and continues to maintain over a decade later. Or Pick Up The Flow, a private Facebook group she cofounded for local artists to swap gear and help each other find jobs and apartments. (Abd decided to jump onto the Mesh after her friend hosted a Pick Up The Flow skillshare at The Lot Radio, which uses the network to broadcast its livestream.)
Despite her clear aptitude for music, Abd still doesn't want to be defined by what she plays (she is adamant to highlight that it's not only techno), or the fact that she plays anything at all. "A lot of people see me as a DJ, but they don't see me out of that box, which I don't like," she tells me. "It's just one hat. It's like if you have six hats and someone saw you with a red hat and decided like, 'Oh, you're a red hat person.'"
Just as important to Abd is her organizer hat. Music might be her main form of expression, but building networks—in the true community sense, not the shallow corporate one—is what animates her. Throughout her ten years in New York, she's both witnessed and experienced the infuriating realities of making art in a country that doesn't value the people who make it. She uses each of her own steps forward to illuminate the way for her peers. Pick Up The Flow (which she emphasizes is a co-creation with her former New School teacher Stephen Decker) is at first glance one of many online posting boards. But under Abd's co-facilitation with Decker and other members, it serves a larger purpose: to increase transparency about the business side of art, as well as help artists share skills that can lead to more stable technical work. In other words, a way to show that making art is a real job, and that the time is long overdue to make it more sustainable. "Now is the time to fight for my friends—people struggling to find opportunities, relying on music but hardly making it," Abd says. "I want to fight for a structure that would allow more opportunities for people to flourish. I don't know how I can do it, but I'm sure I'll find out."