Photo: Press (Guedra Guedra)
Abdellah M. Hassak makes it very clear that he is not Guedra Guedra. Instead, the Casablanca-based producer, DJ, sound archivist and teacher considers his musical output under this moniker as only one outlet for his multi-faceted work and countless interests. What they all have in common though is a love and appreciation for African cultures whose musics are being explored and juxtaposed on his debut album Vexillology for On The Corner. His mix for our Groove podcast is dedicated to the label’s unique signature sound, but also features tracks by kindred spirits.
You’ve just played a slew of gigs, your first since early 2020. How has the experience been so far?
At the moment there are only very few and highly restricted events, but I’m happy that this break from events and festivals has given people time to listen to my music carefully. Now that we’re starting to come back to our normal rhythm of life, they more and more want to experience my music in a social space and club context on a real soundsystem that allows it to be felt physically. I receive a lot of proposals but I prefer to wait until traveling will be easier so that I can move and share my music internationally.
Apart from being a musician and DJ, you also work as a writer and recently have published an overview of the forgotten Moroccan electronic music from the 1990s. How does that tie in with your practice as an artist?
In addition to my practice as a DJ and music producer, I am also a music producer for theatre and dance as well as being a sound artist and researcher. I have a sound archive radio show called Mahattat Radio and I am also a substitute teacher of sound practice. I write a lot of articles for my research about sound and collective memory, but sometimes I want to write about music in a way that retraces the history of contemporary Moroccan music, because it is music that has nourished me since my childhood. However, it needs support and that begins first with a mapping of music genres and producers, which is my responsibility.
Field recordings are prominent in your music and you have described yourself as a “sound archivist.” How do you structure your research and what is at the centre of your interest when working in the field?
We can say that I am rather a reactivist with my Guedra Guedra project, because I am more interested in how I can rework field recordings to create a new contemporary music that can occupy the dance spaces. I think of Guedra Guedra as a kind of an immersive, narrative essay that explores geography and territorialities from a nomadic and subjective perspective. I also find that the studio changed the nature of the traditional sounds and this is the reason why I am interested in field recordings. They capture something that is deeply imbued and contextualised, oriented towards the experience of space, which is how it raises questions about the transmissibility of real listening.
The notion of tribalism is one of your key interests and the starting point for your artistic practice. What drew you to this notion in the first place?
Tribalism continues to permeate the continent while the tribe has disintegrated without anything replacing its structures. My album Vexillology features immersive and chaotic arrangements that reflect the first epithets that are still commonly misapplied to the African continent, such as savagery and barbarism. The arrangements reference Sub-Saharan African and specifically Amazigh cultures from North Africa. Images of human animalism are reused in a move of reappropriation, driven by a percussive response to the ignorance of widely held stereotypes. It’s the notion of the tribe as a universal social structure that inspired me. I draw on the historical perspective of African societies and culture found in the histories of Africa, and Africans across history. Mapping out this contemporary musical landscape was done with the concept of ethnocentrism as an expression of the exaltation of tribal consciousness at its heart.
Your music mediates between Arabic-influenced Northern African culture, especially gnawa and berber music, and, occasionally, Sub-Saharan traditions from Central or Eastern Africa. How does the concept of the tribe help you overcome the geographical and cultural borders between those different regions?
I think it’s the other way around, tribalism existed before borders, since borders in Africa are a new concept, a legacy of colonial rule. Africa was home to a vast array of cultures and rites. The presence of cultural connections and differences could be heard in rhythms and folklore. In parts of North and West Africa, tribal peoples share overlapping cultural traits and everyday practices in the sacred and profane, through which whole cosmologies could belived, from kin reckoning, fertility and harvest rites to lullabies, worksongs, tales of warriors and the dead. Such traditions are threatened or long forgotten. It’s normal that in tribe music we find connections that overcome the geographical boundaries between the different regions.
Your album is called Vexillology, a term referring to the study of flags on a historical level, but also in regards to their symbolism and usage in everyday life. What is the idea behind the album?
Vexillology is not necessarily just linked to my album, but informs my whole political and poetic approach and my research in socio-musical archives and practices in Africa, especially North Africa. Territorial separation in Africa is a relatively new phenomenon, but does this mean that borders did not exist in Africa before contact with foreign influences, and is that why social-musical experiences are so common? And for me I find that the societies which use similar techniques of social, cultural and musical production in reality belong to the same civilization. I think we recompose the borders when we take into consideration the cultures and social practices, so I think we will have new territorial compositions … It is a process of reflection which will make it possible to recompose the borders and the composition of flags, which explains my interest in this term. As a fiction, Vexillology recomposes the territories according to socio-musical crossings, which recomposes the borders where each song represents a different flag. I interpret Vexillology as a new way of reading Africa with through a new composition of territory and flags.
So-called primitive or traditional musics from the African continent have been a source of inspiration for musicians based in or from the Global North and West for at least four decades. What’s your stance on this – does it offer the potential of a more borderless international music culture or instead fortify existing divisions?
The so-called primitive or traditional music in general have, thanks to nomadism, have been serving as an inspiration for artists and peoples for several centuries! It’s just that in recent decades, the world has started to have borders and mobility difficulties that made it difficult to seek out and meet other cultures. Today, the Global North and the West are more fortunate and entitled to travel and to meet and discover other cultures. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Global South and the Middle East … But the definition of nomadism has changed so much since the democratisation process initiated by the internet. Today, we live like nomads from home, where we consume faraway cultures, which results in more openness towards others. That creates a global and international culture, but this could only be fully realised when the media give everyone the chance to share this way of consuming and producing culture and music. Today, culture is something that we choose, it is not given to us.
From the mask you are wearing at gigs as well as on some of your promo photos to your album cover artworks, elaborate bricolages, visual aesthetics play a hugerole in your overall concept. What’s your philosophy when it comes to the visual aspect of your work?
I do not use the mask to hide my face, but to distinguish between me and the Guedra Guedra project. The music of Guedra Guedra is a small part of me, but that’s not to say that Abdellah M. Hassak is Guedra Guedra. I don’t wear it very often. The mask was created by the artist Meryem Aboulouafa, a Moroccan artist and musician, songwriter and singer. We were inspired by the Moroccan Zayan people from the Middle Atlas. The Zayan people are renowned for their attachment to the ancestral land, to its rudimentary social organisation and its independence. Maybe one day I would change it according to other cultural influences. I like to give recognition to a specific culture that has had an impact on my life. The artwork for both albums was created by the British artist Victoria Topping who mixes media pieces inspired by music and contemporary culture. I love her artistic work so much, whether it’s for my covers or the other artworks on On The Corner Records.
Reviews of your records often point out a similarity between your music and the Chicago footwork sound. On the surface, that makes sense since you make heavy use of bass-heavy kickdrums and skittering hi-hats and have even released a track called “Juke Lockstep” on your debut EP. What’s yourrelationship with that particular style like?
Seriously, I never think about producing music in a specific style, the most important issue for me was producing some new stuff that reflects the true reality of African culture without distorting it. Throughout my life, I have listened to a lot of music – dub, rock, ambient, juke, house, jazz … and I feel that all these kinds of music have a place in my music. Concerning “Juke Lockstep,” at the beginning the objective was to produce something without thinking of it as juke, but in the end when I listened to it I said to myself that juke influences were very noticable on this song. I find music in Africa to be an element that connects humans with the divine world. There’s never a ceremony or rite that is not accompanied by rhythm.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
On The Corner is a label that I love so much, we share the same musical vision – experimental electronic field recordings from the future … With this mix, I wanted to share some songs from the On The Corner family from jazz to electronic music that I love a lot and that inspire me, but also a few songs from some friends with whom we share the same vision.
Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?
Right now the only plan is to get back to normal life and to be able to meet my audience again and experience and play this music in a physical space in order to feel it physically. I’m also working on a new EP for this year, and I’m taking my time to do some sound research.
Stream: Guedra Guedra – Groove Podcast 304
01. Rebecca Vasmant – Freefall ft Nadya Albertsson (On The Corner Records)
02. Azu Tiwaline – Magnetic Service (feat. Cinna Peyghamy) (On The Corner Records)
03. Tenesha The Wordsmith – Dream so loud (On The Corner Records)
04. David Hanke – These Times We’re Livin’ In (Shapes of Rhythm)
05. Anz – Gary Mission (Hessle Audio)
06. Karu – Blackbird (Beat Machine Records)
07. Addison Groove – Bass Trips (Gutterfunk)
08. DJ Delish – Mother Jaja
09. Leila Samir – Ends
10. Pulo NDJ – Bazaka – (Magénta 2step remix) (Wonderwheel Recordings)
11. Prace – Temperere (Mawimbi)
12. Badawi – Final Warning (Asphodel Records)
13. Dengue Dengue Dengue – Semillero (On The Corner Records)
14. Uffe – City’s Dead (Wrapped in Plastic) (On The Corner Records)
15. Clive From Accounts – The Rain (On The Corner Records)
16. Collocutor – Instead (Emanative Remix) (On The Corner Records)
17. Falu, John Zorn, Billy Martin, Flea – Djebala Hills (Howe Records)