Deena Abdelwahed’s Swana electro: syncretism, commitment, a new standard

Entrevue réalisée par Salima Bouaraour
Genres et styles : Electronic / Maghrebi

renseignements supplémentaires

FIFA, MUTEK and the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT), with the support of the Consulate General of France in Quebec City, present an exceptional line-up, this Friday March 15 in the SAT Dome, of electronic artists from North Africa (Tunisia) and the Middle East (Lebanon). The event is part of the Regards de femmes program in partnership with the Paris-based Institut du monde arabe.

Deena Abdelwahed is the evening’s star artist, one of the most promising producers and DJs to emerge on the alternative electronic scene in recent years. This Tunisian, based in Toulouse since 2015, has produced numerous critically acclaimed albums on the sublime Parisian label InFiné.

Entwining an electro musical body, deep bass, percussive rhythms as well as an Arabian envelope, Deena has developed a unique and innovative sonic identity. PAN M 360 had the pleasure of speaking with her to shed light on her career path, her creative codes and her perception of the ever-evolving scene

PAN M 360: Deena, your path and rise on the alternative electronic scene are remarkable because your musical and artistic identity are totally unique. Whether it’s your musical selections for your DJ sets or your productions (EP, album), we sense through it all an immense amount of research and thought, but also your individuality shining through. It’s undeniable that you’re one of those female personalities with unparalleled charisma. How would you sum up your career so far?

Deena Abdelwahed:  Woah! Thank you for this very flattering introduction! I feel like I’m still in my infancy! Even after 8 years of touring… and it feels like it’s far from over. In any case, I’m very grateful for the years that have gone by, and I’m very grateful to the people who’ve had faith in me and helped me move forward 🙂 Jbal Rrsas loosened things up in me. Since this album, I’m keen to go even further and develop more live performances such as touring, or to deepen my political and philosophical views in relation to music, as well as acquiring new and innovative creative skills.

PAN M 360: Since 2017, your releases -Klabb, Khonnar, Dhakar, Jbal Rrsas, having been very successful- have been on the InFiné label. This is an extremely eclectic and famous label-Carl Craig, Clara Moto, Murcof to name but a few-offering a broad musical spectrum ranging from classical to pop to electro. How did the two of you come together?

Deena Abdelwahed: Quickly! I’d even say it was love at first sight, or maybe a stroke of luck too. My tour agent had discovered me and was already working with InFiné. They asked if I had any demos for them to listen to, and the Klabb EP came out.

PAN M 360: Part of your artistic beauty comes from the authenticity and sincerity of your message through your creations. For example, Khonnar is a work that acts as a manifesto, declaring war on the violence and oppression imposed by borders, migration rules and repressive legislation. Your musical selections also send out a message about the Swana community’s ability to explore modernity and creativity in music, and to break away from folklore clichés, which are certainly an asset, but can also compartmentalize. Could you tell us more about this aspect of your commitment?

Deena Abdelwahed: Indeed, I couldn’t make music just for the sake of making music given my life path. Certainly, I’m in love with club music and its constant innovation, nevertheless, in view of my personal experiences in terms of geopolitics in connection with my region, with the fact that I’m the daughter of Tunisian immigrants and evolving in the Western world, it’s more than natural for me to draw on all these influences to compose, In addition, when I’m looking for tracks to mix, it’s a great source of inspiration for me.To be honest, it’s not an easy path I’ve chosen, because electronic music already has its school and so does oriental music. It takes talent and patience to turn all that on its head and develop my musical universe so that it too becomes the new convention, the new norm.

PAN M 360: You’ve performed extensively in Europe and North Africa: Sonar Festival, Dunes Electroniques in Tunisia, CTM Festival in Berlin, Dekmantel in Amsterdam, Dour festival in Belgium, Lunchmeat Festival in Prague, not to mention clubs such as Feu-Concrete in Paris, Berghain in Berlin, Mutabor in Moscow and more recently the Trabendo (Arte Concert broadcast). Mutek has programmed you in Mexico and Montreal (2023). Today, what brings you here to Montreal is a collaboration between Mutek and FIFA in partnership with the Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris). How are you going to approach your DJ set for this evening?

Deena Abdelwahed: I’m thinking of approaching this DJ set in a very personal way, i.e. as if I were at home! During my last Mutek performance, I quickly familiarized myself with the audience. What’s more, I’ve got a lot of friends here. This time I’d like to play a challenging, charged DJ set, THICK.

Live at ARTE Mix O Trabendo 2023

PAN M 360: In the fall of 2023, I wrote a long report on Montreal’s Swana electronic scene, which is under-represented in terms of programming even though the population represents the 2nd largest visible minority group and the pool of artists is abundant. So it’s fitting that Mutek should offer a line-up of 100% Swana electronic artists! Nevertheless, on the international scene, we’ve seen the rise and dynamism of many artists on the electronic scene. How do you perceive all this in Europe or internationally?

Deena Abdelwahed: I agree with you. Looking at the situation in Europe or internationally, I can see that there is more “visibility”. What’s more, Arab artists are finally starting to deconstruct and re-establish their relationship with Arab music. Sometimes for its own sake, sometimes for its musical aestheticism! It’s a pretty complete and rich cultural baggage! Before, I had the impression that we were just out of step… out of date. The democratization of club music and the facilitation of musical composition via computer has encouraged everyone to get involved, and to discover multiple ways of demonstrating and making visible one’s authenticity.

PAN M 360: To conclude this interview,  PAN M 360  would like to know what your future projects are?

Deena Abdelwahed: Answering my emails on time 😀 meeting deadlines 😀

I have quite a few projects, but I can’t talk about them right now. They’re all commissions. And I’m continuing my Jbal Rrsas Live Set tour too.

That’s it! Thanks for this interview! Hope to see you soon!

Presented jointly by MUTEK, the Society for Arts and Technology and the Art Film Festival, this program including Deena Abdelwahed, Liliane Chlea and Nahash is scheduled at the SAT this Friday, March 15, 10pm. Info and tickets HERE

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