Releases / Albums

Deena Abdelwahed
Khonnar

16 November 2018 / Infiné Music

  1. 01. Saratan
  2. 02. Ababab
  3. 03. Tawa
  4. 04. Fdhiha
  5. 05. Ken Skett
  6. 06. Al Hobb Al Mouharreb
  7. 07. 5 5
  8. 08. A Scream In The Consciousness
  9. 09. Rabbouni
Artists: Deena Abdelwahed

If you don't yet know Deena Abdelwahed, might we recommend that you start getting familiar with her work as a DJ? After starting out in Tunis as part of the World Full of Bass collective, Deena went on to Toulouse to play with the Arabstazy collective. She met the InFiné team in 2016, quickly securing a range of tour dates from Concrete to Boiler Room, Villette Sonique, Wet for Me, CTM ("Hail Mother Internet"), Room for Resistance, Säule (Berghain) and Rewire Festival. Deena undoubtedly put Tunisia on the electronic music map. But it would be off-topic to categorize her on the basis of her origins alone: Deena is the archetype of a globalized generation of internet natives for whom borders are an outdated concept. This self-taught musician also didn't wait to have her knowledge delivered to her on a silver platter.

What Deena wants is to discover the sound of the future, regardless of geographic origins, and format – from vinyl to MP3, all are welcome to the mixing board. Her DJ sets throw open the doors of her research laboratory, on the razor's edge of club music and avant-garde, where only as-yet-unheard rhythms on the outer reaches of sub-cultures are allowed to come and play. The foundation for this future that she is building is a wake-up call, an alarm call even, tuned to break the pathological indifference ravaging our jaded times: novelty and audacity are required to get even a shot at a place in Deena's transgender, hybrid playlists. A human and artistic sincerity that is without fail feeds her work as a composer, which should be distinguished from her DJing endeavours. Because while the DJ draws from all that the world has to offer, it is the inner landscapes that her composer alter-ego explores. Traces of the history through which Deena built herself as an artist and a person are thus uncovered: a self-construction made of frustrations and constraints, borne of retrograde mindsets which are not the prerogative of either the East or the West, she tirelessly strives to expose and break down.

After a highly club oriented first EP, "Klabb", which erected its basslines into a metronome a hedonistic, pan-gender techno mutant insurrection, the composer shifted toward a far more introspective atmosphere, far from the festive ambiance of her debut. That ambience sets in from the first seconds of debut full-length "Khonnar". "Khonnar", an untranslatable Tunisian word that evokes the dark, shameful and disturbing side of things, is a kick in the anthill of the morbid consensus, a tidal wave through the murky waters of obscurantism, which highlights what we usually seek, on the contrary, to hide. With application and determination, Deena sticks our noses in what we naively believed was under rug swept: that is the "Khonnar".

Album opener "Saratan" lays down the basis of what is to come, a journey through the limbo of a generation that has been abused, but not yet disabused of its ideals. It sends us on a trip between sacred sounds and ceremonial mumblings, the plaintive wails of threatening underworld creatures, opening the way to shamanic doom-techno that is at once rough and crystalline. "Saratan" is, above all, a feminist anthem where "howa" ("him") chanted to the attention of a Saint, is replaced by "hiya" ("it"). We continue down a similar path with "Ababab", an obstinate mantra set to synthetic background melodies calibrated via a cold and relentless beat. It is difficult not to address the thinly veiled irony in the use of this onomatopoeic Tunisian expression, intended to emphasize wonder and admiration. This visit through the catacombs of sarcasm gives way to "Tawa" ("now"), where drum machines steamroll Arabian melodies through a digital prism, an acidic response to the current "Eastern Electronic" trend that gives us the opportunity to hear an almost colonialist caricature of the electronic North-African and Middle-Eastern scenes. Then comes "Fdhiha" ("scandal"), in which Deena develops a complex work of melodies and effects, giving birth to the bastard son of Björk and Aphex Twin, playing the Bendir (a Tunisian percussive instrument) using an 808 and an ice pick. This song denounces the indignities forced by the police on festive youth, and suggests that the forces of law and order are themselves victims of the frustrations they might free themselves of by embracing the same "scandalous" festivity.

It is at this time that "Ken Skett" ("if you'd kept quiet") invades us, like a tachycardia-triggering toxin, to make us shake our torsos, our guts tormented by a melody half-way between a saturated guitar and the hum of a swarm of insects. But the poison can also be a remedy, and the beat places accents where we never expect them, as if to deny us all relief, in threading their way through the kicks, urging us to stay in motion and to never listen to those that compels us to silence. It is a totalitarian queer military parade instilling a kind of holistic love, the kind that uproots us and makes us abandon our identity. This is the theme of "Al Hobb Al Mouharreb" ("the love that prompts exile"), based on a poem by Abdullah Miniawy, with whom Deena worked on two tracks.

We then leave this fragile area of discomfort with the IDM-saturated "5/5". Is this a nod to the Tunisian term that is supposed to bestow good fortune, "Khamsa w Khmis"? This track leaves no doubt on the political undertone of the album, which is, on the whole, an injunction to action, with no mercy for any form of passive complicity. This most radical experimental streak continues with the "A Scream in The Consciousness", an unequivocal tribute to Sheffield, the scene that Autechre permanently placed in the electronic avant-garde's family portrait in the early 90s. But careful, this is a mutated Autechre, put through the filter of Web 3.0, and cross-bred with New York improv noise pioneers Borbetomagus’s guttural saxophones. The message delivered by this piece is that we are our worst enemies, and that we primarily impose our limits on ourselves. Deena makes no concessions, and provides herein the soundtrack for this inner conflict. The album closes with "Rabboni", again in collaboration with poet Abdullah Miniawy, who, this time, also supplies his person and voice.

This album synthesizes a new tipping point between North and South, a post-revolution response from a connected generation that is in the process of emancipation; the decline in influence of the West, but also of the patriarchy, a new decolonization... Deena is the figurehead of a new world order of musical creation. "Khonnar" is the manifesto of a generation that does not seek to please or to conform, which pushes our backs to the wall, and is abruptly taking back control of its identity, with all the inherent losses and chaos.

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