In Session: Azu Tiwaline
The Tunisia-by-France producer talks hypnotic rhythms, collecting field recordings from the desert, and why solitude is sometimes most inspiring
Surprisingly, through a relentless touring schedule, months at a time spent weaving her way around the world, and back-to-back mixes for radio stations all over, Azu Tiwaline’s preferred working condition is in true, complete isolation. So much so that the Tunisia-born, Sahara-based artist reserves all of her production time for the desert, well away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. “Nature, silence, time, and no internet access,” she explains, are the thriving factors.
Azu’s nomadic lifestyle permeates into her entire sonic output. From field recordings in the desert taking in the sounds of the vast, tropical landscape, to her converted bus-slash-studio at the mouth of the Sahara Desert where she produces a large portion of her music, it all paints a picture of the world around her and the absolutist approach that she takes to making music. The resulting sound is often percussive, trance-inducing polyrhythms, entirely rooted in her North African heritage.
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Following nearly two decades of experimentation with sound, Azu has come to work alongside the likes of Al Wootton, Laksa, LCY, Nicola Cruz, and plenty more, and is the brains behind some of Livity Sound’s most experimental and organic records to date. Three years since the release of her diptych debut album, ‘Draw Me A Silence’, Azu now gears up to offer out her second full-length record, ‘The Fifth Dream’ via France’s I.O.T Records later this year.
Between living at her more isolated home in Tunisia to a second home with her family in France, we caught up with Azu Tiwaline to chat about nature, creating textures through sound, and why solitude is sometimes the best way to get those creative juices flowing.
Check out her Q&A below along with an hour-long mix showcasing the eclectic sounds of Azu Tiwaline.
You recently put together a compilation titled ‘Place: Tunisia’ with Shinigami San, can you tell us about that? What was the inspiration for curating this one?
‘Place:’ is Air Texture’s regional nonprofit series focused on local environmental causes. When the label asked me to curate a compilation for Tunisia, I found the idea very exciting and instantly called my friend Zied, aka Shinigami San, a Tunisian producer who’s been involved in the local scene for a long time. I'm not really connected to any scene, especially in Tunisia as I spend all of my time lost in El Djerid, the doors of the Sahara desert, in the South of Tunisia. So thanks to him, this project was possible. We wanted to provide a general view of the electronic arm of this scene by supporting its different directions and creative aspects. The artists who are involved in the release represent different backgrounds and musical perspectives. From score composers to established producers, crossing the path of more experimental ones, the curation offers a large view of the different electronic approaches in Tunisia. Different generations are also meeting through this compilation, grouping almost four decades of producers and sonic creators.
‘Ethereal Tribes’ is a new track you created specifically for this compilation. What was the thought process behind it?
It’s just my usual process, focusing on hypnotic and repetitive rhythm for a trance effect. Creating a mysterious atmosphere and adding a few elements to draw a link between traditional and modern music. I wanted to make a very minimal track for this compilation. Less is always more.
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Are you inspired by your surroundings in the Sahara? How does it inform the music you create and listen to?
Absolutely, this is the place where I’m most inspired. I dedicated a lot of my time to working and focusing on creating a lot of space in my music, and one favourite method is to work on the silence between notes. The desert is where you can definitely experience the silence. Being able to produce in this context is a unique gift.
Do you use a lot of field recordings from the environment around you?
Yes, I'm using a lot of field recordings - starting from around my house to in the palm tree, where I can hear birds, frogs, insects, and all the daily life sounds from my farmer neighbours, their radios, conversations, or sounds coming from the little village 2km away as prayer calls. It really helps the listener to dive into a specific place, atmosphere, or world - the travel can start without moving.
What inspired the change between homes in Tunisia and France? What do you enjoy about living in South France?
I have two homes. One is in Tunisia where I need to spend a long time without moving. This is the place where I can recharge all my batteries, resource myself, focus on my health, enjoy loneliness, and disconnect from the world. I need these long periods to be able to manage the life and rhythm I have when I'm in France.
My second home is in France, where I have my family, my son, my dear friends and work partners. It's also easier for me to tour if I'm based in France. From the desert in Tunisia, it's impossible. In France, I'm based in the South West, close to the ocean, far away from big cities. I really need to feel nature around me. Cities are full of too much energy, people, information, and distraction for me.
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Tell us about the bus that you stay on temporarily when making music in France - how did you come to live there? And how does your setup look in that space?
Well, before the pandemic, my partner and I used to move around with our bus, going from one surf spot to another. Honestly, this is a dream life for us. Then when the first lockdown happened, it obviously became super complicated and we decided to find a place where we could stay in one spot. A few years went by…
Nowadays, we still have the bus but it’s parked close to our new house. My studio is still inside the bus actually. It's a very tiny space but with so many lovely vibes inside. The acoustics are also so great - I love to produce in this studio. I don't need too much space, I only really need my laptop and soundcard and good monitoring speakers. All extra gear is just a bonus.
Are there any big goals or achievements you’re hoping to reach this year?
Not really, I’m lucky to enjoy so many amazing experiences with music and touring. I'm just trying to find a balance between this and my private life with family and friends.
What’s next for you?
I'm super excited to release my second album, ‘The Fifth Dream', via my family label I.O.T Records later this year. I hope that we’re going to have more opportunities to play live with my dear Cinna Peyghamy - I really miss being able to play with him, performing more experimental edits of the tracks we are releasing together. Being able to play with someone else is always more exciting with maybe more accidents, but this is what I'm expecting even when I'm playing live alone: being surprised by accidents which often bring something more real, human, and authentic.
Can you tell us about your In Session mix?
After a deep digging session with no particular style or aesthetic, I had so many tracks but completely different in style and BPM. It was a challenge to try to mix all of them in the same mix but in the end, I was jumping around in my studio! I really enjoyed going through so many different styles. Hope that listeners will enjoy it too!
'Place:' is Air Texture’s regional nonprofit series focused on local environmental causes. The latest compilation spotlights Tunisia, released March 24, curated by Shinigami San and Azu Tiwaline. Check it out here.
Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Assistant Editor, follow her on Twitter
Hannah Schheider 'Whole again' (Air Texture Records)
Azu Tiwaline 'Ethereal Tribes' (Air Texture Records)
Azu Tiwaline 'Golden Dawn' (Forthcoming on I.O.T Records)
Sindh 'Miari' (Lowless Records)
WAX 'WAX70007A' (Nowt Recordings)
Ehua 'Piume' (3024 Records)
Italo Johnson '16B2' (Forthcoming on ITJ16)
Anthony Naples 'Here With You' (Running Back Records)
Chloe Robinson & DJ ADHD 'Nothingness' (HE.SHE.THEY)
Rene Wise 'Don't Care' (Blueprint Records)
Porter Brook 'Lipsius' (Forthcoming on Trule Records)
Addison Groove 'Elevator' (Pretty Weird Records)
Mailer 'Theme' (Sine Language Records)
LWS 'Seriously Soda' (N Face Records)
Peverelist 'Pulse II' (Forthcoming on Livity Sound)
Konduku 'Hayal' (Forthcoming on Bitta Records)
Scotch Rolex & Shackleton 'Shattered' (Silver Triplet Records)