Listen to her mix on Radio 1 here.
When I spoke to Deena Abdelwahed on FaceTime, France had started to lift its quarantine measures, which means that she's now allowed to see people other than her wife and little sister, who have been cooped up with her in Toulouse since lockdown was imposed on March 17th. She used the free time to brush up on her video game skills, she said with a smile, adding that she didn't feel comfortable with the idea of making dance music while all this is going on.
It's hard to imagine Abdelwahed's music in a world without clubs. It's lithe, kinetic stuff that feels like it's constantly in motion, its melodies and rhythms twisting and taking the shapes of dance music genres from around the world and across eras. I'm reminded of Tom Faber's early feature about her in these pages, when he discovered her through a sign on a door in Tunis that said "UK bass," music which seemed a world away at the time. It turns out that Abdelwahed held different nights for different regional sounds and genres, seeing what would stick or what people would show up for.
That anecdote gives you a good idea of Abdelwahed's omnivorous taste in dance music, and the way it shapes her own art. On records like her stunning 2018 debut album, Khonnar, her music will briefly inhabit a specific subgenre before flitting off with gymnastic ease. She's a musical shapeshifter, sometimes subtly incorporating traditional Arab sounds into what she does and other times blasting into something completely new. And her songs aren't just sonically impressive—they tackle real issues in Arab society, including refugees, gender inequality, youth culture and more.
Recorded at a friend's place just after France lifted its strictest quarantine measures, Abdelwahed's BBC mix has a sense of joyous relief to it. It was a moment of celebration, Abdelwahed said, the closest thing to a return to normalcy in months. They smoked cigarettes, drank beer and refused to turn the music down while recording, to make themselves feel more like they were at a club, where Abdelwahed's acrobatic rhythms and stirring melodies truly come alive.