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Deena Abdelwahed, territories in motion

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Deena Abdelwahed, territories in motion

Busy week for producer Deena Abdelwahed: this Thursday, February 15, she presents the live performance of Jbal Rsas, his second album released last year, still signed by his parent company, InFiné Music. The day after this evening, the musician will release an EP of three remixes taken from her project by DJ Plead, 33EMYBW and Ehua, proof if any were needed of mind set without blinders or boundaries, which has guided his musical creation for more than a decade now: “ I love the work of these three artists, whose songs I often play during my DJ sets » specifies the Tunisian. “ It is also Ehua who will play my first part, this Thursday ».

Composer of electronic noise, from very dark Tunisian collectives World Full Of Bass et Arabstazy, Deena is now looking for the light: “ art is an extension, a sublimation of an idea that we cannot express otherwise. And this is also the reason why a large part of current musical production is negative, dark, melancholy. The world is. Only certain artists, very few in fact, manage to draw very beautiful and luminous things from the period. Managing to express resilience in all the current shit, that impresses me a lot. »

Singer of musical territories « in movement », Deena Abdelwahed cites the Palestinian oudist Kamilya Jubran, the Algerian rapper TIF or the producer of Angolan origin Nazar. She received us in her small Parisian studio. On the menu ? His recent residence in Atlanta, his love of abstraction, or the expression of struggles, on both sides of the Mediterranean.

You have the image of a musician who advances solo, but you are rarely alone to perform your music. Were you also accompanied for the production of your last album Jbal Rsas ?

I compose alone, but in the studio or on stage, I surround myself. Khalil Epi, has accompanied me on the arrangements since the release of the EP Flagranti (released in 2023 on InFiné and Shouka, NDA). Khalil is a fucking arranger who knows exactly where to position himself on my songs. You will also see him on stage with me at the Gaîté Lyrique this week for example, since he also accompanies me on stage when I play Jbal Rsas. And then you know, I’m alone when it comes to creation, but I play my models a lot to the musicians around me. Especially since they don’t necessarily have the same musicality as me, so it’s so good! Sometimes they are the ones who stop me in my research. Without them, I would perhaps naturally go too far into the experimental! I write to reach very different samples of people. I don’t want to reach a mass, I don’t want to be anyone’s standard bearer. I want my music to reach a few people, but for them to be very varied! I see it in my track purchase reports sent by my label, it goes from Sweden to Kazakhstan, I love the idea. Me, a Tunisian living in Qatar at the time, I was touched by African-American music, I like this dynamic of musical territories which are moving, I find it healthy.

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We imagine you to be quite demanding in your musical tastes.

Let’s say that you’re unlikely to find me listening to derbouka loops on a gabber track, that’s for sure (laughs)! But you know, I trained myself in music through patience. So my experience of learning music is first of all an experience of slowness, of waiting. Because I started with Deejaying. So I spent a long time listening, and very attentively, to all musical genres. I studied many musical palettes, without blinders or preconceptions, because I did not come from an academic background. In Tunisia, initially, I was obviously very close to the noise and experimental scenes of the time, but since then, I have widely explored all genres. It’s only rap, ultimately, that I don’t really listen to anymore.

You just came back from a residency in Atlanta, didn’t you get into Trap?

Frankly, not at all. Jazz, soul, nu-soul, conscious rap or trap, I have quite a catalog stored in my head, if it dates from before 2010. In fact, since I’ve been making music, I can’t really remember listening to rap… It’s strange isn’t it? It happened around the time I started making music. From the moment I got into the machines myself, I sort of uncovered something that wasn’t working for me, in the rap of that period. I believe this comes from the disconnect between the instrumental parts and the vocals. I find that it is too often incoherent, as if the presence of one hindered the existence of the other. Music should not be cosmetic, I don’t like things to be placed in a random way, simply to support a style or simply to highlight a voice. Afterwards, recently, the Algerian rapper TIF gave me a huge slap in the face, I love his placements. His flow merges with the productions, it’s crazy.

What do you learn from your experience in Atlanta, a highly symbolic city, cradle of the American civil rights movement?

The quality of living together in Atlanta man! I was jealous, really. Atlanta is a human city, healthy, hyper functional. Atlanta is a black city, where the African-American community manages to enhance and enrich its members from within. Obviously there are also lots of people in trouble but it’s more linked to the American federal system. It’s fascinating to see how this former slave bastion managed to reconcile with itself, to give birth to the American civil rights movement. The residents there have spoken their own militant language since the beginning. There is an astonishing mastery of archives such as personal stories, written or oral. There is this very strong connection between the inhabitants, their territory and their ancestors. In Atlanta, everyone knows which street their enslaved ancestors lived on, for example. Transmission, even if it is linked to trauma, occurs naturally, almost organically, and on a neighborhood scale. So there is this very side peaceful in Atlanta I find, linked to the fact that people are not at war with their social environment. In Arab countries and in Europe too, when things aren’t going well, we expatriate. We very easily tend to break with our own territory. Europeans or Arabs, when we find that things are not going well, we cut things off with our parents or our grandparents. It breaks up territories.

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© Yassine Meddeb Hamrouni

There is an activist dimension in your music, is it complex to express one’s commitments in the era of the great entertainment society 2.0?

It has indeed become extremely complex to formulate, to stage a message, political or social let’s say. Because social networks have hyped a form of branding around commitment and activism, and I don’t want to feed this shitty algorithm. The idea is to be able to impact people, without participating in the big spectacle of socials. But it’s delicate and I spend a lot of time thinking about it, probably too much in fact. I find that poetry remains one of the best ways to express yourself, to be able to convey the purest form of message possible, without being personally attacked. Criticism of power has been formulated this way for centuries. In the collection of tales of Indian origin, Kalila wa Dimna (Editor’s note: the collection of animal fables which would later inspire the Fables of Jean La Fontaine.), the author made moral remarks or reproaches to the king as early as the 8th century, through the medium of a fox and a crow.

More poetry, less Instagram posts.

But listen, if for example I became passionate about the quest for identity and the demands of the Angolan musician Nazar, it is first and foremost because I was touched by his music. I became interested in the Angolan civil war through an artist’s poetry, not through his Instagram posts. To post Free Palestine on the networks is just an invitation to take part in a hubbub. This does not encourage education or commitment. This does not provide any tools of knowledge or struggle. It’s just noise. This noise can even have frankly harmful effects. More than ten years ago, when Femen demonstrated topless in front of the Tunis courthouse in support of Amina, the effect was catastrophic. Incomprehension here, bad interpretation in Europe… Result? The small advances made in Tunisia have taken a big hit back. Because we don’t fight in the same way in Europe as in the East, we have to accept it. The same for the forms of struggles initiated by the Queer or LGBTQI+ movements in the United States, they are not ready-to-use kits that can be imported and slapped like that, without thinking, on any society. in the world. There is a differential narrative of the struggles between the East and the West, it must be integrated, otherwise, the result obtained is dramatically counterproductive.

It is the question of identity and positioning that arises here.

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That’s it. For me, my musical positioning in relation to my Arab identity is precisely that there is none. In my practice of music, I don’t have to position myself in relation to my identity. I am not for it, I am not against it, I do not feel forced to ignore it or erase anything, as some people do. And conversely, I have no bias, I do not compose with the manifesto of Arab electronic music under my belt. With each album release, I am almost asked to justify the provenance and origin of a particular sample, a particular loop. Explaining the use and origin of a rhythm, Tunisian for example, I do it in the studio with a particular collaborator or producer, because he or she needs to understand the origin and symbolism of a sound in order to be able to arrange it or use it. That’s okay. But why should I do it in the press frankly? I hope to be beyond that now. I really hope that in a few years, I no longer have to justify the sound components I use in my music. The very essence of my music is pure technique applied to forms of poetry, expressionism, imagination. Me, I am at the service of my own abstractions. I’m not in the service of I-don’t-know-what electro-Arabic music. I dissect the material, then I reposition it in my own way, according to my impulses, my imagination, my ideas. Kamilya Jubran is an oudist, okay? But Kamilya Jubran’s goal is not at all to perpetuate the oud tradition. The goal of this musician is to create, in a completely free and instinctive way, music that can serve the movements of her singing and her words. It’s the same for me.

Deena Abdelwahed, Jbal Rsas Live at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris, February 15 (Guest: Ehua).

Jbal Rrsas remixesreleased on InFiné on February 16.

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