Electrifying international club sounds.
"People back home say, 'Oh you're in Europe, why not live in Berlin or Paris?' And I say, 'I’m done with big cities. Just give me a cow and some land. Over here I can see the density of my music more rationally. I can control it more," Deena Abdelwahed told Hypnonik in an interview earlier this year. Space and control are a large part of what makes the Toulouse-based Tunisian artist's work so captivating: what might be jarring, startling or jagged in other producers' hands becomes sinuous and musical in hers.
Abdelwahed broke through in a big way with last year's Khonnar album. Marrying modern club music with her own manipulated, Tunisian Arabic singing voice, as well as synthesized versions of Arabic instruments, the LP touches on all manner of dance music subgenres. But its approach is totally unique, with a seductive rhythm and an ear for sounds rarely heard in contemporary club music.
The same goes for her DJing. This set, recorded live in Geneva, showcases a DJ who can mix disparate sounds together in an idiosyncratic but natural way. There's a strong sense of control and careful pacing that undergirds her DJ style. In Abdelwahed's hands, even rambunctious drum tracks feel almost meditative. The mix also showcases some of her favourite producers from the Middle East and North Africa, lending it a distinctively Abdelwahed flavour. So far, she's been lauded for her productions, but this mix—released ahead of her appearance at Sónar next week—positions Abdelwahed's's DJing as a crucial aspect of her cross-cultural artistry.
What have you been up to recently?
I have been touring a lot every weekend, DJing or presenting the Khonnar live Set for new cities and venues. I am very happy and proud of this. I have done a remix for Domenico Torti for his track "Radar," featuring the legendary Afrika Bambaataa, and it just came out on the Parisian label Ed Banger. It was very funny for me to mutilate a voice that I used to hear on and on in 2003 during break dance rehearsals!
How and where was the mix recorded?
This mix was recorded with three CDJs and a Pioneer mixer at ZOO/Usine in Geneva during the Mapping Festival’s afterparty. The lineup had Moroccan Driss Bennis and local DJs Kia Mann and Ramin&Reda. I had really good company and great food. A old friend from Tunisia passed by and I remember that I talked and drank a lot that night. The audience was super fun that night and the atmosphere was euphoric thanks to the VJ installations around the stage.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
Well, the idea is to push forward raw songs which are not particularly DJ friendly (could be folkloric, noise, experimental…) and mash them up with sophisticated electronic sounds or/and intended club music tracks. It helps me to offer the vision and the sound that I'd like to hear in the future without being too ambient or monotone.
On your album Khonnar, you worked Arabic rhythms into dance music. Does this approach affect the way you DJ at all?
No, I would say the way I DJ affected on how I work on Arabic rhythms in my productions. I am super excited when I mash up two tracks with different cultural backgrounds and rhythmics, especially when they match so well. So I try to recreate that with samples that are from an Arabic background, or seem to me as Arabic, on top of what I composed (MIDI-clips) using synths, computer and drum machines.
The purpose of working only on the Arab side in my productions is because I consider it "research" project for how I can re-appropriate Arabic music and confront what was imposed to us (locals in Arab regions) as only national popular music. It is my artistic choice here to bring up or express my disappointment and my personal feelings about what is going on socially and politically in the Middle East and North Africa region.
To cut short, I'd like to quote Khyam Allami from the amazing article by Tom Faber in Financial Times magazine:
"If [a government] cared about its population, it would care about preserving and disseminating their culture," he adds. "But by doing that you empower people. Autocratic governments want control...?That's probably half the reason why culture is not respected, because it would allow people to connect with their history. It would give them a sense of dignity."
Are there many artists in the Middle East who make electronic music that you're excited about—and who are they?
OH YES! Ismael., 1127, Abdullah Miniawy (the writer of two songs from my last album), Two Or The Dragon, ZULI (and I am super excited of how active he is), Muqata'aa, Hizz records label with Bashar Suleiman and more. But I'd like to hear more from Thoom and El Mahdy Jr.
What are you up to next?
I am in the process of writing new tracks for a new EP this fall or early winter. I am designing my website and figuring out how I can have a loyal (to me) following on social media and internet and last but not least, I am trying to find a solution to perform Khonnar live in all Arabic-speaking countries before I release any new music.