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The body and beat: Guedra Guedra's unique music is inspired by the rhythms of life in Africa

Gemma Ross speaks to the nomadic Moroccan artist, whose new album explores field recordings, tribalism and the transcendent capabilities of music

  • Gemma Ross
  • 13 May 2021

A self-proclaimed nomad, Guedra Guedra channels the life experience of being well-integrated in a multitude of cultures into his music. The sounds he explores delve heavily into the rhythms that fall naturally around him, forming a unique approach that cannot be categorised under one single genre.

“I actually rarely listen to music,” he says. “It’s the notion of the tribe as a universal social structure that inspires me.”

Over the years, the Moroccan artist has visited tribal communities in both Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, culminating in his recent album ‘Vexillology’. Never one to shy away from experimental sound, he uses the pulse that runs through Africa as the backbone of his work - playing with vocals from Berber communities, clapping, dancing, and beats found across the continent which make for a new kind of sonic experience. ‘Vexillology’ is the producers’ first full-length record under the Guedra Guedra alias, which was recorded in parallel to his 2020 EP ‘Son of Sun’.

Growing up in Morocco, Guedra Guedra finds influence from his surroundings and the radical nature of Pan-African culture. He remembers an early love for rock, metal, reggae, dub and electronic music - all pushed aside while his career as a field recordist and sound archivist became crucial to his own production. Now, the sounds that inspire Guedra Guedra come straight from his own archived collection.

The producer has noted over the years how African music is commonly overlooked in Western media, calling for change. With tribal consciousness at its core, ‘Vexillology’ is in inspirational work, taking a peek into a world of nomadism, human connection and dub-fuelled rhythms. Guedra Guedra’s music winds up sounding unlike anything else, the body and beat, and the idea of history repeating itself, being integral to his sound. Taking influence from a plethora of rich African history, Guedra Guedra is effectively a product of his past, and carries this through into his present works.

Check out his Impact mix and Q&A below.

When did you start getting into production?

I started producing music in 2004, but I’ve switched between several styles and projects. My first production was a big beat / rock project with a live band, and then I produced my first albums under the name DUBOSMIUM. It was more of a dub and illbient project with two albums and several collaborations, and then I produced a lot of experimental sound and several collaborative projects with musicians from different countries and cultures. I’ve also produced a lot of sound artwork in the form of an art installation or a performance, and produce music for contemporary dance and theatre.

Tell me a bit about your new record 'Vexillology' and its relationship with tribalism, what was the inspiration behind it?

Nomadism led to the intertwining of cultures, origins, forms and colours. Identities are constructed in relation to both place and mobility - nomadic and migratory populations, rebels, smugglers, or even terrorists move over fluid routes and borders. Tribalism continues while the tribe, in its cultural dimension, has disintegrated without anything replacing its structures. ‘Vexillology’ features immersive and chaotic arrangements that reflect the first epithets that are 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 motive of re-appropriation, driven by a percussive response to the ignorance of widely held stereotypes.

Read this next: These artists travel the world to create next-level sounds

Tracks like 'Stampede Step' and 'When I Run' sound far different from the rest - much heavier and more rooted in dubstep, jungle and future bass. How did these form amidst the more buoyant tracks?

I never think of giving a specific style to a specific production, the first important element is to produce some new stuff that exactly matches the true reality of African field recordings and archive without distorting it to keep the true poetic sense. I think it’s this crossing that gives that final touch to this music, there will always be different results from one song to another.

The definition of Vexillology is ‘the study of the history, symbolism and usage of flags’. Assuming this relates to your cultural roots and love for Pan-African tribalism, how has this influenced the album?

A Moroccan proverb that inspires me a lot in this musical project is: 'the newborn has his grandmother, and the antique never loses it'. For me, I find that each new creation must have these etymologies, but memory, knowledge and practice must be preserved and protected. The Guedra Guedra project was first created following a desire to propose another way of imagining and producing music inspired by my culture and my history.

Read this next: A deeper African source: How grime and afrobeat is influencing UK jazz

Is spirituality integral to your music - and if so, how does it inform the themes you explore?

I find music in Africa to be a privileged means of connection between humans and the divine world. In general, I’ve realised that one of the great peculiarities of African music is the mystery that surrounds it - when I work with this rich heritage, there's a very personal way of exploring it. I think everyone will have a completely different way of listening to the record, and I would like to let everyone explore it without taking too much from my personal influences or way of interpreting it.

You travelled around the Sub-Sahara getting field recordings from the Berber community for this album, which are all so well integrated into the tracks. How did you capture the vocals?

The studio diverted the nature of traditional sounds, which is the reason why I’m so interested in field recordings. A lot of the time I use just one microphone, but in general, I record the sounds according to the possibilities and chance that I base myself on the material. I use sounds from friends and sound archives, but above all, I just try to get an idea of the context, technique, and way of recording the material.”

Seeing as the method of recording was quite sporadic, how long did this album take to create overall?

What takes the most time isn’t the production of music, but finding archives and good material. It’s important to start production with good ingredients, and once I find the right material, the rest comes spontaneously.

Read this next: Yosi Horikawa travels the world's most obscure corners to source unique field recordings

I know that you use a variety of old instruments to achieve the sound that you create, tell me more about that…

On ‘Vexillology’, there are some songs and instruments that come from Morocco and Algeria in the Amazigh and Arabic languages, but also from other countries like Rwandan, Burundi, and Cameroon. The notion that the body can be used sonically is exampled in the tracks ‘Purple Ambergris’, ‘Cercococcyx’ and ‘Clapping’. Everything in the rich history of African musical cultures came from the body. As tools gained complexity over centuries, instruments have been transformed into speaking statues through a reverse process, starting from the point of innovation where the body was extended into an instrument for communication. In the act of clapping, we can feel and hear the central role of the body. Hands and feet are the most rudimentary percussion tools. A powerful reminder that human bodies are very potent experimentation labs and that in this example, inspired the creation of musical instruments.

How has the electronic scene evolved over the years in Morocco?

For several years, the Moroccan music scene has produced a range of artists and musical proposals that I find interesting as an approach, but is unfortunately rarely exposed in Western media. This music for more than 30 years has tried to experience successive waves of electronic fusion with traditional inspirations such as the traditional and popular styles raï, gnawa and chaabi, mixed with techno, dub, jungle. We’ve had a plethora of music - Aisha Kandisha’s Jarring Effects with the Barraka El Farnatshi label since 1988, groups like MoMo (Music of Moroccan Origin), U-Cef at the end of the 90s, and the album ‘Sapho’ by Digital Sheikha in 1997.

Today, we have more and more fans of electronic music and even festival proposals such as Atlas, Moga or Oasis in Marrakech. It’s interesting, but very few among them actually try to diversify and democratise tastes and genres of music. Personally, I find that music participates in a socialisation process that engages exchange and reciprocal communication between social groups and people who define themselves according to their interests and their tastes. The digital decade has helped to diversify the practices of listening to music, but festivals today also need to share this process.

Read this next: A new book explores clubbing in Africa and Europe from the 1960s onwards

What inspires you now?

Listening, history, and rhythm.

Could you tell us a little about your Impact mix?

On this one, I tried to make a hybrid, dynamic set with some music that I’m currently liking, all produced between 2000 and 2020. On most of the tracks, I’ve tried to integrate some African field recordings to give a new layer of listening. I hope that listeners like this mix.

'Vexillology' by Guedra Guedra is out now, get it here

Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

Tracklist:
Badawi - Anlan (bootleg Field Recording by Guedra Guedra)
AceMo - 11 Yup (mhm)
Objekt – The Goose that Got Away (bootleg Field Recording by Guedra Guedra)
Scuba - Last Stand (bootleg Field Recording by Guedra Guedra)
DJ Earl - WTF?!? Life Sent It (bootleg Digi g'alessio - Trwick by Guedra Guedra)
Guedra Guedra - Juke Lockstep
Jurango - Theeves (bootleg Field Recording by Guedra Guedra)
Traxman - WTF? (bootleg Field Recording by Guedra Guedra)
Jurango - Retreat Ites
Filastine - Blockchainz (bootleg El Tanbura - Between the Desert and the Sea by Guedra Guedra)
Tsvi - Headshot (bootleg Master Musicians of Jajouka - The 1001 Nights by Guedra Guedra)
Tsvi & Luru - Black Dog (bootleg Field Recording by Guedra Guedra)
Stas & Aluphobia - Nuki Nuki
Dead Stare & Medina - Arranka (bootleg Field Recording by Guedra Guedra)
Bert On Beats - Sifaka Dance (bootleg Field Recording by Guedra Guedra)
Arpebu - Munsta From Kavain Space
Kanyok - Wa Lwend Chombel
Guedra Guedra - Berber is an alien

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