Basil Alhadi, also known as DJ Karrouhat, is a multidisciplinary artist (involved in music, fashion and the film industry) who grew up in a very Arab family, so the culture was always around him, which is why he feels a special connection with Arab music, as it has been engraved in him since he was really young. At an early age, Basil moved to Amman (Jordan) where, while studying at an Engineering College, he started playing the guitar upside down – as he is left-handed and he couldn’t afford a new guitar –. This is one of those cases in which you can truly say that Basil Alhadi is an artist without limits who started from the bottom.
We know your relationship with music has been going on for years, but could you tell us who DJ Karrouhat is and how did you get into the art world?
I am a simple human who actually started from the bottom. I was born and raised in a nice countryside/town called Al Ahmadi (Kuwait) far from the city as a small community. I always had the dream of being something in this world, I was always ambitious and never satisfied with my current situation. My family raised us based on love and education.
In school I started designing and going to tailors just to make clothes for myself to look different, then, at a certain age, I was really interested in music and I wanted to learn to play an instrument. I moved to Amman (Jordan) and lived alone at an early age, it was funny because I couldn’t afford to buy a guitar (as I am left-handed). At that time I had a classic guitar with two strings and so I started learning melodies. When I could afford to get strings (at the same time I was at Engineering College) then I started teaching myself the guitar but upside down by looking at videos and checking how the guitarist held chords and so I flipped them.
What else could you tell us about this time?
So much! I used to listen to so much music like Arabic pop and scoring music, as well as classical music, rock, metal, reggae, indie rock etc., this was a very long time ago. When I look at myself now and my DJ Karrouhat sets, and how I jump between styles and music, I understand where it comes from. I don’t like boxes and frames or when people come and ask me about my DJ style or my favourite music. I don’t like to be categorised or associate with certain scenes because I feel this will limit me and my actions.
DJ Karrouhat is one of my projects, it is an extension of myself to where I connect with people and energies. When I do a live set, it actually takes so much of my energy and on an emotional level sometimes, right after a successful gig, I really need to take a break and disconnect from everyone and everything.
I got into the art world through this namesake because I was involved in the scene since the early 2000s, and when I started the DJ project I did so many performances as an Arabic reggae band. Sometimes I’m tough and take serious decisions with my projects if I don’t feel the purpose of something, even if it's successful and peaking I just stop it. I haven't said this in a long time but as a reminder to myself, the DJ Karrouhat project is all about love and since the start, it has been about having a good connection with my surroundings.
Karrouhat is an extension of me, Basil, my project was officially founded in 2008 when I first performed with a band.
Where does your stage name DJ Karrouhat come from?
It's a funny story, regardless of the meaning of the word. When I was a kid I always used to wear checkered pyjamas and shirts, so my whole family used to call me in Arabic 'Abu karrouhat.' Many years later in 2008, Shady (my brother) and I were branding my project for my first show ever, we just found it funny to use karrouhat, it's very catchy and it doesn’t make sense as a name but still, it makes sense to me.
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You started with the Karrouhat Band mixing Arabic-influenced music and reggae, being pioneers in achieving this unique sound in the Middle East. How did people there receive this fusion of styles at first?
Yes, one of my biggest influences at a certain age was reggae music because of my surroundings, as my uncles and I found a nice connection between Arab and reggae music. I like performing in general and connecting with people. The first performance was in 2008 and in 2016 I decided to take a break from performing with the band for so many reasons.
I found a term to describe myself, I am not a 'release artist,' as I don’t like to release music, I prefer to perform it and/or keep it in my laptop or folders. I think I have a release disorder disease (laughs). Hopefully, 2021 will bring out some releases.
Have you ever felt judged for innovating with your art and being different from other more traditional musicians?
Doesn't everyone feel judged at some point?
2018 was your year: you went from being a regional DJ to playing in gigs in Berlin or Istanbul. How did you manage to spread such a specific sound all over the world?
Arabic music is a part of me, so it only came naturally, I really don’t think or plan it much. I grew up in very a Arab family and I didn’t go to international schools. The music was always around me at home, in the car or bus, at school, weddings, gatherings... I know this music instinctively. At a later age, I also researched it to the level of knowing the connections between artists and styles, as well as each artist's personal life.
You know when you believe in something so much and it's engraved in you? That’s what Arab music is to me, so when I started performing it or DJing it was so easy to deliver this feeling and for the crowd to connect with it, wherever the crowd is, because things like these have no language, it's just connecting in different levels – at least this is what I believe. It's so nice when I do an international gig and play Arab music, I love the first reaction when the crowd starts feeling the vibe, what a feeling! That's when I say to myself: yes I've made it.
On January 22, Swipe Up was released, a song in which you mix the classic hit Fly Me To The Moon with Arabic sounds and a vapourwave aesthetic video. Tell us how you manage to combine different influences and still succeed, you definitely have no limits...
Again, as I mentioned before I don’t like frames and limits when creating because it actually can stop you. I was on a TV show on the biggest network in our region and got asked to send them a simple story of me saying "swipe up," so I was cruising one night and I was thinking of it like, how and what should I do? I heard Fly Me To The Moon on the radio then I was like "yes, swipe up to the moon, make me star of this show!." Then I thought to myself that I couldn't make it the same style, so I made it on an Arab dancing beat.
You have walked the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week and collaborated with brands such as Gucci, Kenzo and Montblanc. What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion is a very important element of my life, as I mentioned earlier. I'm so proud to make it to the most important fashion event, Paris Fashion Week, where I walked twice as Karrouhat, not just as a model, and also I walked the catwalk in Cape town for Montblanc.
We would love to know if you could tell us if you're working on any projects right now?
I am working on two big projects, unfortunately, I can't talk about them. But on a personal level, I wrote a few songs and one of them is dedicated to my beloved brother Shady, for the first time my two brothers and I have worked together.
I was also talking to my girlfriend over Zoom and she told me "Why don't you go back to songwriting and recording?," I wasn't really feeling it but then during the call, a melody popped into my head. I started playing it for her, then she was like "try any lyrics." I wrote a verse and thought that that was it. Then, for some reason, I created a WhatsApp group called Song, so my brother Ahmed wrote the lyrics in two days. The lyrics are based on the first verse I did, Shady visualised it, I composed it and hopefully soon I will record it and release it.
I also did an acting job for a Gucci series called Musalsal Gucci focusing on Arab TV shows in the eighties and nineties, and I composed the music for a Montblanc ad.
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