Azu Tiwaline and DJ Plead on exploring heritage through music
Both DJ Plead and Azu Tiwaline’s music is driven by a distinctive, percussive kineticism.
Their respective work also draws parallels in the way each of them uses music as a vessel to explore and connect to their heritage. For DJ Plead – aka Jarred Beeler – this sees him craft heady, polyrhythmic club tracks that are inspired by traditional Lebanese wedding music and Middle Eastern-influenced rhythms. This is evidenced on the Australian DJ and producer releases for labels such as Nervous Horizon, AD 93 and Livity Sound, with his recent Quick E.P. marking his latest outing on the Bristol imprint.
For Azu Tiwaline who also has a slew of releases on Livity Sound, her work is driven by an exploration of her origins, rooted in the Sahara where she also lives. Within her music, this manifests in an intersection of techno productions and bass music with trance-like traditional North African rhythms – an evocative soundworld she has continued to build since the release of her debut Draw Me a Silence in 2020.
This past year has seen the two of them share a handful of line-ups – with a run of shows in the US and Canada including MUTEK Montreal. We caught up with them to talk finding balance between touring and making music, exploring their heritage through their work and what factors are important for their creative process.
How do you use music as a way to explore your heritage?
DJ Plead: For me, I think Donia we’ve talked about this as well, I don’t speak Arabic and I have a Lebanese mother and I’m from a Lebanese family. So there’s a gap in how I can interact with my heritage in that sense. There’s a distance there that is troubling for me, it’s hard to close that and I don’t know how to, because I’m half Lebanese there’s also that element of it too. I’m not fully connected to my heritage in the way that I envision being connected to it. So it’s maybe more of a perception. But nonetheless, music was a way to speak Arabic in a very abstract and filtered way. It’s my way of somehow trying to communicate to myself and to be confident in myself that I am, in fact, Lebanese. I’m trying to prove that to myself, not to anyone else.
Azu Tiwaline: For me, my mum lived in Tunisia for 25 years and so the place where I live now is the place where we used to go when I was a young woman. And I started to learn Arabic at school. I’m not completely connected to all my Tunisian family, it was just during the holidays and so on. I grew up on the Ivory Coast so I was always connected to African traditional music. In fact, I’m more connected to West African traditional music than Berber. My mother passed away five years ago and so for me it’s a way to reconnect with my roots. I’m living in the desert in Tunisia, in the Sahara. For me to be able to dive into the music is the only way to connect myself to my roots. It’s easier because I’m fully in the environment of this music. I just have to go outside to listen to popular music or to go to traditional parties.
It’s really easy to be influenced by this environment. But I’m not sure that someone from Tunisia will be able to identify my music as Berber music because it’s mostly influenced by electronic music. I’m not making traditional Berber music, I’m an electronic music producer. It’s just that I use this influence in my music to be able to reconnect with my roots and to be proud of my family heritage. It’s quite similar to Jared in fact. When I was young I was not interested in this. But the older I get the more I feel this strong need to reconnect with my roots and to know where I’m coming from. And especially because we have ancestors for more than 400 years in this place where I’m living. For me making this music is just a way to express my identity, one of my identities.
What is your approach to producing and using rhythm in your music?
AT: I love to play drums for fun. And when I listen to an interesting rhythm, I try to analyse it and reproduce it. There are so many different rhythms in traditional popular Tunisian music, for example, and I’m not going to study all the different rhythms it’s just that I listen to them, I take some of them which are interesting and I try to reproduce it with my computer. Sometimes I’m lucky to work with real drummers, so I record them. Sometimes I record some one-shot drums and after I arrange them on my computer but it’s not me who is playing drums for real on my tracks.
DP: My approach to rhythm…I’m a bit confused by myself. I don’t really know what it is; it’s also drum programming in the computer but historically I was hand drumming as a kid. We also had a darbuka at home but I didn’t really use that too much. It was mostly drumming on tables and stuff like that. I’d constantly be making little rhythms or copying little Lebanese rhythms that you hear at weddings and also other little Lebanese kids would do it. It’s just a thing that you do, drumming on the table. I think I kind of adapted that into electronic music. Those rhythms that I’m using are quite old, for me.
I distinctly remember maybe 10 years ago or something trying to reproduce them in MIDI, basically digitally on the computer. I remember the process of trying to get those rhythms right, programming them, and it was quite difficult but very rewarding once I did get there. That taught me a lot about producing music. Taking something that’s quite simple and making it electronic but keeping the same groove and feel is quite hard actually.
"I'm not making traditional Berber music, I'm an electronic music producer. It's just that I use this influence in my music to be able to reconnect with my roots and to be proud of my family heritage."
What factors are important for your creative process?
DP: Whenever I’m making music nowadays, it has to really excite me straightaway. My creative process the last few years has been quite diminished because of COVID and now because of touring. I haven’t had a lot of time since 2020. During the pandemic I was working full time, so I didn’t have too much time for music anymore. So when I did get to do it, it had to really engage me straight away. And that would be quite frustrating because sometimes it didn’t. I would have large gaps in between making music and then I felt nervous about coming back and making music again and then when I finally did, if it didn’t feel exciting or new or unique, it would be quite demoralising. I think maybe I should change that and just get back into making music with less pressure.
Currently if I’m making music, it has to be electronic music that’s to be released. There’s a lot of pressure on that. But then again, there’s another process of making music where I’m on a train, for example. I’ll just have a loop going and I won’t record it. I will just play melodies for hours on the computer keyboard, while I’m on a train, and I think maybe that’s the most pure form of creativity that I’ve got going at the moment. It’s not tied to any sort of goal or release idea or social media rollout, it’s just hammering on the keyboard. So maybe my only creative process at this point is just non recorded music, just mashing around.
AT: For me, it’s quite different because I’m living between Tunisia and France. The past two years I’ve been lucky to travel a lot for gigs. So for me it’s very simple. When I’m in France, it’s to be able to travel more easily for gigs. And so I have a rhythm completely focused on gigs, and so on. So I don’t have any time and any willing to produce music. I know that when I go back home to Tunisia, my little paradise is just for being able to be alone to recharge myself. It’s really important to be in a really isolated place. I don’t like to live in cities, because I’m too distracted. There’s too much information for me and different energies to deal with. I’m quite sensitive, like a sponge, and it’s really important for me to be in a place where I can be alone and not distracted by anything. So the desert by definition is the best place for producing. The creative process is quite different, before starting to produce in my studio, in fact, I write a lot. I write all the words, all the images I have, and I also read a lot. Then after I’ve done these sort of meditations I can really focus being able to get more inspired and more creative. When I’ve done all of that, it’s really easy and fast for me to produce. So I have many things to do before I start producing in my studio.
I’m lucky to have this place in Tunisia, because sometimes it’s a struggle with yourself to know when and where you’ll have some free time to produce. I know some friends who are searching for a place where they can have a music residency where they are disconnected from their routine. I feel very lucky to have this place in Tunisia because I know that at least I will come back home and this is the place I’m fully inspired.
Do you have particular environments in mind you want to evoke for listeners when making music?
AT: For me, it’s really simple, because I’m producing my music in the desert. So around my house, there is a little palm tree. I was making some recordings with my Zoom recorder and in every track on my forthcoming album it started in my garden or between the palm trees, for me it’s important to have a reference. When I finished my album, a friend of mine from Tunisia came to my home and he listened to the album. He knows the place where I live, with the palm tree and so on, and after listening he said “it’s really incredible, I have the sensation that I was in your home, by your palm tree”.
Almost all my tracks start with that atmosphere and going outside recording some stuff; just the atmosphere or prayer calls or insects or every sound that is interesting to me. And after that I build everything around this. There isn’t too much melody in my music, it focuses on rhythm and atmosphere. And the atmosphere is because of the environment I’m in while I’m producing. It’s a main part of the process for me in music.
DP: I wish I had a nice answer about this. I don’t think I have an atmosphere or a landscape in mind when I’m making music. Maybe more on this tape that I released through Boomkat two years ago, maybe there was a more emotional landscape. That was not intentional, only in retrospect I’ve realised that I was quite sad or there was quite a lot of emotion coming out.
But generally, I don’t try to put anybody in any environment so to speak. I just try to make it a good time. A lot of my music is just drums, dance music for the club. So there’s not too much thought behind them really. I think that some of my music is just like that. There’s the tape that there’s some sort of landscaping there but it definitely wasn’t intentional in that way. I mean, I definitely have an idea of what the sonic landscape might look like.
What’s next for you both?
AT: I have a forthcoming album, which I hope will be released next winter. And I’m touring until December after which I’m going back home to take a long break. And yeah.
DP: For me, wrapping up this tour, which is going to be very satisfying. And going back to my desert, which is Australia. And my sister is having a baby. So that’s the main thing. I also kind of have a desire to make music again. Get in the studio, maybe make a longer release like an album.