Bawrut decides who he wants to be as a creator, performer, and individual. To say he is a man of multiculturalism would be an understatement. Bawrut draws inspiration from all around the world - from Gorizia, the Italian-Slovenian city where he was born, from Latin music culture, from the Persian language, and from Arabic-speaking musicians. We discover Bawrut’s versatility in his newest EP titled Raqs, out today.
The Mediterranean Sea offers a fine line that connects most of the aspects of his identity. The tracks of Raqs (which literally translates to dance from Arabic) are highly inspired by the Mediterranean Sea and its presence in Bawrut’s life. Through this, he puts a large emphasis on the importance of dance - the liberation it gives the individual and happiness one feels whilst dancing. So get up and dance to Raqs today, streaming now.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about your newest EP Raqs. Let’s begin with the title. You’re from Gorizia, a city split by the Italy-Slovenia border. There, the people speak primarily Italian, Friulian, and Slovenian. Why did you choose to title your record with an Arabic term?
Hi. Yes, I am from Gorizia although I have been madrileño for almost ten years now. The place where I come from has taught me that we are not what we think we are - in my case, Italian. Maybe my passport says that but my name, my face, the food I eat, the language and dialect I speak tell of a well-existing multiculturalism. Maybe in my case, it is clearly visible but looking at other examples as well, there is no such thing as a hatchet-cut identity and nationality. In recent years, I have played in Arabic-speaking countries and collaborated with Lebanese or Moroccan artists, and I have a need to try to find a bridge with the other side of the Mediterranean. Even if the consideration of the geographical area we share is not perceived in the same way, for us quote unquote Europeans it is often more romantic, I think you have to try to find shared points of union. That is why music unites, it is a universal language and in the specifics of this EP if for many the title is just 4 letters with a particular sound for Arabic speakers the message comes through loud and clear.
Your work pulls inspiration from many different cultures - Italian, Slovenian, Arabic, Latin, Persian. What is your approach to incorporating elements from across these vastly different backgrounds? How do you think it empowers your work?
Except for Persian, all the other cultures you mentioned have in common that they share the Mediterranean Sea so yes, there is a red line that unites everything. By the way, I like to include different languages or countries in the discourse even without necessarily finding tight geographical constraints. I like the message of being able to meet in a place but not to put a barrier, a membership card, only to those who live on this sea. That is the spirit that I want to bring forward with this research.
There are cities in the world, I think of Bristol, New York, Salvador de Bahia, Paris, where the various identities of the city come together and often create something new, even musically. I do this by considering a macro area that I am fond of and feel is mine for the simple fact that it already embraces multiple voices. Of course I like to be informed and study new musical forms that I encounter, with my radio show Archipelagos for example I interview Mediterranean artists every month who offer their own visions giving them the opportunity to speak and have their music heard. I find this whole process very stimulating.
Raqs emphasizes the need for dance and the liberation one feels when dancing. At what point in this process did this message become important for you to convey? Did you craft the tracks around this theme? Or discover the theme later on?
During the pandemic there was a removal of dancing, physical contact and body freedom. And it was equally crazy to see how those who were part of this environment, the club culture environment, denied the need for the return to dance. They complained that clubs were closed, that once they were open we needed to value music more (spoiler that didn't happen), that they weren't making money but no one was focusing on what we do: making music and making people dance to music. From there just came out of me first off the bat the EP Divergent Emotions where there is a track, What is Dance, that emphasises with a long speech the primary role of dance and then the album In the Middle where, in the tracks with Liberato or Chico Blanco we talk about that. After a producer album, with features and more listening music, I wanted to come back with a four-track club EP returning to emphasise that theme. In Italy the first law of the new right-wing government was a bill against raves, you have to give a strong message and be able to talk if you can about what it means to dance and not underestimate or consider it a quote unquote teenage distraction. So yes, this has been around in my head for a while and in these 4 tracks [it] has materialised very spontaneously.
You released an album titled In the Middle last year that had a total of 11 tracks. How was creating for the album different from creating for the EP?
Making a quote unquote producer album in my opinion is a completely different thing. Compilations of club music called albums for me are very boring short of being in front of masterpieces, Daft Punk's Homework comes to mind. So I wanted to make a record with different moments, BPM and aspects that could also enhance my qualities as a producer and not only as a beatmaker – I am also capable of writing songs together with other artists. The concept had been going around in my head for a while and I wanted to encapsulate some of my thoughts about meeting cultures, boorish nationalism, dance and migration. Unfortunately, if you don't live in cities like Berlin or London, it's hard to come out as multifaceted electronic music artists and you always have to work three times as hard. That's why I set out since the first EP to make club music because I knew that with surefire tracks on the dance floor I couldn't fail to get noticed and so I did. But doing only that for me is a bit boring and the desire to show another side of my artistic profile was so strong.
Furthermore, how did you go about demonstrating your multicultural identity and passion for dancing liberation with fewer songs?
With interviews like this! (Laughs) Just kidding. Despite the seriousness I give to the topic of dance I think everyone has to interpret things as they come to them. People often go dancing to escape, life doesn't always give us much satisfaction, and spending a few hours disconnected from routines and a system that perhaps too often oppresses and alienates us can help. And not thinking but just dancing helps. So I don't expect you to come to one of my DJ sets to address the problems of society; rather, I want you to come, have a good time and I hope to do my job well. Then if one day you happen upon some of my accounts, write to me privately or stop and talk to me maybe we'll understand why this makes us feel good, because after the pandemic the first time we went back to dance we cried. Dance music since its early days represented so much more than what it appeared to be, I think of the ballrooms where the transgender community hung out or the early disco and house music clubs, true refuges for the LGBTQ+, African American, and Latino communities. The social freedom of places like Amnesia in Ibiza or the British raves during the Thatcher years of repression. I don't want to be a grandfather standing there explaining life to you but for me this is not a mirror where I can admire myself, raise my hands in the DJ booth, and show you how many dates I have a month, how cool I am in summary. It's an attempt to convey a message by following the example of those who have been there before me.
As a DJ and producer, you create dance music, which doesn’t have many lyrics, if any. In Raqs, you experimented with adding and combining words, terms or phrases from different languages in your newest tracks. On the other hand, you used cultural sounds to add to the multiculturalism of your EP. Could you speak more about this and how the process was like for you as a creator?
I grew up buying lots of records and sampling them to have vocals, sounds and songs to use in my tracks. I've always done that and I don't think it's too cheesy to use vocals here and there even in club tracks. To me they are like instruments, if there is also a message better but sometimes they are on par with a synthesizer. Plus many times all the vocal samples I use are a reflection of what is happening to me or happened some time before. The Persian voice is a sample I had used during the writing of some tracks with an Iranian singer with whom I collaborate (Nava) while the flamenco voices, which I used a lot, are a reflection of my arrival in Spain ten years ago and coming across the gypsy culture that before I practically did not know. Having to do the background music for an Andalusian designer's fashion show I started working with these sounds and that sample folder I continue to use to this day. Frequently they are samples that tell something of my own.
The Mediterranean Sea was a big inspiration for your previous album as well as this new EP. What about it initially caught your attention and made you want to make music to pay homage to the location? And how did you reflect the Mediterranean in your music?
The first thing that moved me to think of an album on the Mediterranean was the ports close to migrants carried out by Italian minister Matteo Salvini a couple of years ago. There has been a drama going on for years to which we Europeans will one day have to be accountable. Letting thousands of people die in the middle of the sea is one of the things I am most ashamed of as a European citizen. The feeling of helplessness led me to write a piece and then I started thinking about identities, nations and various nationalisms. And the deeper you go, the more you discover that you are a crossroads of cultures and that the Mediterranean was an example of globalisation before globalisation itself. Three continents, three monotheistic religions, different languages and cultures, colonisers and colonised. So many doubts and frictions concerning contemporary times have already been experienced, so I probably wanted to talk about my fears and hopes by analysing a place and a concept that belongs to me.
How much is this reflected in my music? Quite a bit I would say, just as living in London can lead to mixing breaks with Jamaican vocals so I feel comfortable putting clap and gypsy vocals with a Roland 808 or an Arabic beat with an Italian voice. Instead of doing an edit of an American song I do it for a Lebanese one.
You’re based in Madrid, one of the cities with the best nightlife in the world. Where are some of your favourite venues to perform at?
I've always had a strange relationship with the Madrid clubbing scene. When I first arrived I was such an underdog that I wasn't playing anywhere then. Thanks to the music I was making, I was noticed by Gerardo Niva, promoter of Mondo Disko, and I became a resident at that club. Definitely one of the best in Madrid in terms of space and sound system, with world-class programming twice a week. It was a real training ground, and if today I am the DJ I am, able to open and close a night, comfortable with different genres of music and different BPMs, it's because of all those nights spent there. There are other spaces like Berlin Club, Macera, Sotano or Goya that have good programming and good DJs. At the moment I have left Mondo and I am looking for a place that has a community, or that allows to create one, where it doesn't matter who comes to play and more importantly a dance floor educated about dance music in all its nuances. Unfortunately, so many clubbers perceive music to be on demand when it should be the club that offers good residents, different DJs and styles of music and the audience gets used to good music.
Speaking of performing, do you have a particular memory that has stuck with you throughout the years?
My first time at Sonar was memorable: a set cut in two due to delays and other people's mishaps and an epic finale with a frenzied crowd. I must say that the two gigs I did with Oddz, a Palestinian DJ and cultural agitator, also remained in my heart. One in Amman, Jordan at a small club on a terrace of a building in downtown and the other in Ramallah, Palestine at a festival he organised called Exist. Sadly Odai left us a month ago; he was a unique person in this world.
In general [I prefer] where there is connection with the audience, that’s why I ask if it’s possible to have the DJ booth at the same level of the dance floor. And where I can bring something that is taken for granted by us but obviously not for all countries. What for Madrid is the norm (five or six international DJs in a weekend) for some realities is an exception and there you have to give it your all. Music unites.
Which track of Raqs are you most excited about debuting live?
Que Quiere Usted is kind of the sonic banner of this EP, also Sonidero Usera however tells about my last year of living in my new neighbourhood, Usera. Sonically you can understand a lot.
What’s next for you? Are there projects and or exhibitions that you are currently working on?
I have several ongoing projects: I am working on a producer album for the Italian market with a label called Asian Fake. In Italy there are a lot of good musicians but the more mainstream music is monopolised by mediocre production and stylistic quality and above all it's all a sausage party. Specifically on the producer albums all the various features are by male artists with often poor and chauvinistic lyrics. I'm working on something that is more inclusive in terms of representation and as a sound that takes from different genres of music that are not necessarily the ones that are in high rotation on the radios.
I have a release on Kompakt at the end of the year and I'm working on a new EP with crazy tracks that also work played at different BPMs. It's a transitional period where soon the trend of this hard and fast techno will end and something new will come along, it would be nice though utopian to focus on something that makes people dance regardless of genre and vintage citationism.
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