Interview: Q&A w/ Guedra Guedra – A Contemporary African Reader

guedra guedra Photo credit – Fayssal Zaoui – Photographer and director_143

On the 12th of March, On the Corner Records released an album which has already “booked” its place in our ‘end of the year’ list. Vexillology, by Moroccan musician, producer, sound archiver, field recording and sound artist Guedra Guedra, goes far beyond the phonographic boundaries.

The debut LP of the Casablanca-based artist is a link between the past and future of African music. To write and produce Vexillology, Abdellah M Hassak (his real name) set in motion and jumped onboard his music time machine, powered by his own sound archive recordings and items, to extensively drive through the African Continent at its wheel. Doing so, he connected as many dots between the traditional and contemporary  as he connected dots between the countless so-far-so-near traditions of the Continent.

A few days ago, we took the opportunity to reach him to ask him a few questions about his idea of music, his city’s music scene and it goes without saying, Vexillology…

Vexillology, your new album, was released only a few days ago. How was it to think, record and give life to a brand-new project in a period like this?

The project behind the new album started in parallel with my first EP, Son of Sun, a few years before 2020. But then, the pandemic gave me more free time to re-work, produce and remix some tracks, so I gave priority to some songs instead of others.

How would you introduce your new album? I’ve read that one of the starting points was Histories of Africa and Africans Across History, so I’m wondering if we can consider Vexillology as a Pan-African work retracing, in its very own way, African music history as well.

I find that in Africa, music is the element that connects the human with the divine world. You’ll never find a ceremony without the support of rhythm or the intersection between songs, percussion and instruments.

It’s the notion of tribalism as a universal structure that inspired my music from the historical perspective of African societies and cultures found in Histories of Africa and Africans Across History. I was inspired by this concept to create the album.

At the same time, Vexillology explores Morocco and its traditions in a pretty extensive way. It fully embraces gnawa and its rituals, traverses the Sahara Desert shining a light on its people, it reaches and hikes through the Atlas Mountains… What’s your relationship with your country and its culture?

The African Continent is characterised by its diversity and rich cultural heritage. Every country and every tribe within has their own traditional music constituting an intangible heritage. The concept of nomadism has made possible the intertwining of cultures, origins, forms and colours.

The music of my country is so connected with the rest of Africa in one way or another. And the same happens in my music, where I try to reconnect every element with the other, even if it’s in a fictional or utopian way.

Also the album’s title, Vexillology, is quite peculiar. It refers to flags, the study of their history, design and meanings. What’s the reason you picked it?

I think that borders in Africa are only a heritage from the colonial political order. Borders are still something new for all of us here. The intervention of colonial powers created new borders, which were born from a division according to external political and economic interests.

Africa is relatively new considering its territorial divisions. This means that borders did not exist in Africa before the colonial powers arrived, and that is why social and musical experiences are so common in the majority of the Continent. In my own perspective, I find that the societies using similar techniques of social, cultural and musical production are in reality rooted in the same civilisation. So, I interpret Vexillology as a new way of reading Africa through a new combination of territory and flags.

As it happened with Son of Sun, you’ll be releasing Vexillology on On the Corner. How is it working with Pete and the OtC family?

With Pete and On the Corner we are really family. Since the beginning, when I started with the Guedra Guedra music project, I wanted to look for a producer who has the same concept of music as I do. That’s when I discovered OtC Records, with whom I share the same musical vision characterised by experimental elements and field recordings “from the future”. 

I love the label so much and I wanted so much to release my music with them. Then, beside the fact that I release my music with OtC, I also have a really good human relationship and communication with them.

Despite Vexillology being your debut LP, you can hardly be considered a music novice. Can you briefly retrace your music career for us? And how much has your approach to music changed in these years?

I started as a bassist and drummer in rock and metal bands. I played with them for a long time, also listening to a lot of music beyond the instruments I was playing. My first influences were very diverse, as a musician I started with rock, reggae, dub and electronica. 

Then, when I discovered some bands and producers like Aisha Kandisha’s Jarring Effects, Muslimgauze, Badawi… They changed my way of thinking and producing music. But also, my practice as a sound artist, field recording, and sound archivist influenced my musical production to develop the current project Guedra Guedra. 

Right now, I try to make everything organically, I even try to play all the instruments myself, to give a more organic touch. The idea of mixing electronica with folkloric music from my country has been an idea for more than 20 years in my previous projects and collaborations. I find that African music is generally hybrid. It’s a music that has been around for a long time and is considered by Western media to be exotic music. Despite its rhythm and festive potential, the idea in my music project, like many other bands before me, is to give a more contemporary life to this culture. For me, it’s a new technique to create a new identity with music, and also a way of creating and starting a new interaction with other cultures.

What can you tell us about the music scene in Casablanca? Is there any local or Moroccan artist/band you’d like to suggest we listen to?

The music scene in Casablanca is really entertaining at the moment. There are a lot of old and new collaborations and initiatives that are exciting. For example, you can find many bands in world, jazz and electronic music like Jauk, Abdou El Omari, Momo, Barraka El Farenatshi label. 

Today, there are more and more fans of electronic music and we also have some excellent festivals like Atlas, MOGA, Oasis… They are very interesting as event proposals, but very few of them try to diversity and democratize their line-ups and genres of music they cover. Today, the digital medium has helped to diversify the practice and act of music listening, and festivals need to share the same process. 

A year ago, I published an article and a mix on Trippin’ World called ‘A Brief History of Morocco’s Electronic Music‘, in which I trace the history of electronic music in Morocco from 1988. I mentioned some examples of Moroccan bands like Amira Saqati, Momo, Ucef, Sapho, but also different collaborations between Moroccan artists and international musicians and producers like Talvin Singh and Bill Laswell.

What albums/artists are you listening to at the moment? Is there anyone in particular who influenced you when you were writing Vexillology?

To be honest, I hardly listen to other music. I usually spend a lot of time listening to what I record and produce, like soundscapes and field recordings. As said, I’m also an archivist so I put in a lot of time editing sounds as well.

Covid-19 permitting, what are your plans for the future? When we will have the pleasure to see you performing live in the UK?

I hope that after Covid-19, we will be able to go back to our normal life and freely meet each other once again; to make experiences, play music in physical spaces and fill them with people once again. I hope to and I already have some offers to come to Europe and play in France, UK, Germany, Netherland and Belgium… I feel so much that after the pandemic it is going to be even better…

Concerning the “live dimension”. Are you planning to go on tour with Vexillology? And how are you envisioning its live rendition considering its complexity and many-sidedness?

I already played some of the songs on my new album in my last gigs of 2020. The live show is almost ready right now. That’s because I like to play my songs live even before I publish them. 

I think that my next concert will be with some songs from Son of Sun and Vexillology, but there is also going to be new stuff that will be published in the future.

We usually close our interview with a tricky question… How would you introduce your music to someone who has never listened to it before?

I like to call it African music. Actually, I like this Moroccan proverb that inspired me a lot in my music, “the newborn has his grandmother and the elders never lose it”. For me, each new creation has the same etymology and source, but memory, knowledge and practice must be protected. I think my music is like a new way to define African music. 

Photo ©: Fayssal Zaoui

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