Fresh on the Scene

Gan Gah

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Some have already obtained small successes, spending years in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to shine and others have barely left their bedroom studios. Some aim for headlining festival stages, others aim for nothing in particular – but all of them have developed a sound with the potential to turn heads. With this feature we shine a light on some of the most interesting new musical talents our tiny country has to offer.

While Belgium is familiar with Maghreban culture in many ways, music is usually not one of them. Most Moroccan songs easily get labelled as ‘Arabic’ – or even worse, ‘world music’. For the most part, influence from this part of the world has remained fairly absent from the Western clubbing circuit. But if there’s one artist on a mission to change that, it’s the Gan Gah. While the Brussels-based Lowup-affiliated artist and DJ is not a complete stranger for attentive ravers in his city, his output is gradually getting more recognition across Belgium and beyond. When Reda came to Belgium 8 years ago, little did he know his music would become the nation’s best example of cross-pollination between traditional Moroccan and contemporary European club cultures. Surely this guy has a good story to tell. Time to discover how it goes…

How did music enter your life?

I’ve been making music since I was a little kid in Agadir, where I grew up with gnawa music all around me (indigenous folk music from North Africa, ed.). We would participate in carnivals with our homemade instruments made from scrap, which is how I first discovered ‘the rhythm’. At the same time, I started listening to a lot of music on cassettes. My mom used to have them on when she was working at home, so I’ve been growing up with music from the very beginning.

And how did eventually that lead to making electronic music?

There was a moment when I had quit my job and lots of free time suddenly became available for me. So I put all my attention in making music. Any type music that is, I didn’t have a particular genre or style in mind. I was looking to make something that reflects my personality and my experience as a Moroccan immigrant being influenced by Belgian clubbing. I tried to balance my influences and translate this into new music, which I think I’ve succeeded in after a long phase of trial and error.

I was looking to make something that reflects my personality and my experience as a Moroccan immigrant being influenced by Belgian clubbing

In which ways do you like to combine different music genres into your productions?

In essence, what I do isn’t that extraordinary. I just put the spotlights on a particular rhythm, I don’t chance too much and I don’t try to invent something new. If you overthink some things you end up making experimental music, which is fine, but to me, club music should be something that’s easy and dance to listen to. So yes, I let myself be influenced by the rhythms from places like Morocco, North Africa and the Middle East; but for the bass and all the rest my favourite genres I’m influenced by would be UK Funky, trap or even classical music. In the end I never mess with the rhythms too much. It’s a fine balance I’m constantly aware of.

You’re an enthusiastic vinyl collector. Do you use a lot of samples when you make music?

I enjoy collecting old vinyl to listen to, but I never use samples. I’m not mad at people who do, but when I have a rhythm in my head and I know how to make it myself, I’m just going to play it myself. So everything you hear on my tracks is self-made, even though it does sometimes sound like it’s sampled, which is exactly what I’m going for. What you are hearing are the results of many studio sessions, either from me or from friends in Morocco and Algeria. To me, digging for old records is about educating yourself about the culture that sprouted music I enjoy listening to. How did they compose and arrange music back then? How did they translate the groove? That’s really important for me.

I never use samples. When I have a rhythm in my head and I know how to make it myself, I’m just going to play it myself

In which ways does your current hometown, Brussels, play a role in your development as an artist?

Brussels is a city I truly adore, especially everything under the 1000 postal code. It’s my favourite place because there’s a certain ‘human warmth’, you know? People greet each other on the streets and stuff like that. It reminds me of the neighbourhood in Morocco I used to live in. I feel great here. It might well be the best place to live (laughs).

Lots has been said in recent years about the label ‘world music’. Critics say it’s an outdated way of putting anything that’s not Western music into one category. How do you feel about this debate as an artist who gets his inspiration from so many different cultures?

If we’re honest, ‘world music’ is literally all the music. Techno is world music too. It wasn’t invented on Mars; you know? People need to change to way they are putting music into categories. As long as the music makes you dance, smile or sweat on the dancefloor, it doesn’t need categorization. As far as I’m concerned, we need to stop putting any music that comes from Africa, the Middle East, Latin America or Asia under that hideous ‘world music’ banner. How are you going to call Moroccan music just as ‘African music’? Africa is a continent, with many different regions, each with dozens of different countries – just like Europe. We’re not putting all this music from Europe together as ‘European music’ now are we? People don’t always have bad intentions, but because we’re not always able to know exactly where something came from, the easy solution is to just call it ‘world music’. It shows we still have a lot to learn.

If we’re honest, ‘world music’ is literally all the music. Techno is world music too. It wasn’t invented on Mars, you know?

That brings us to another related issue: cultural appropriation, the exploitative co-option of elements of one culture by people from a different one. Now that many DJ’s and artists are looking further and digging deeper for inspiration, the risk that some identifying cultural tropes are being taken out of context (and used as if they were the artist’s own ideas) is higher than ever. What’s your advice for anyone who’s interested in working with external influences the right way?

There are a couple ways of approaching this cultural appropriation debate. There are people I admire because they do their research, connect with other people and try to find a mix of external an internal influence that results in a beautiful product. It’s a cultural exchange between both parties. So if you are interested in making a particular style of music, try to understand the culture where this music originates from. It’s really not cool when artists copy or sample something and then say “ok, my work is done here”. If you are really interested in this music, you should also understand why you do it. Do you use it because it’s hype and you can make some money of it? Or do you use it because you really love it? It’s like coming out of high school and having to decide what job you want to do; you need to pause for a moment and think ‘why’?

Whenever a particular music style gets a lot of attention, every producer just copies the other and it all ends up sounding the same

Whenever a particular music style gets a lot of attention, like Afrobeat and Afrohouse for example, every producer just copies the other and it all ends up sounding the same. I love how it leads to some deserved attention, but we must remain attentive to respect the elements that make a genre so special. Otherwise, we risk losing it to a mainstream sound that’s blind for the original message of this music. I say that because once it’s gone that way, we all end up forgetting it down the line.

You’ve been traveling to a couple of interesting places around the world for your music recently. Which are the memories you won’t forget anytime soon?

Last year I played music at the Nyege Nyege Festival in Uganda. The journey from A to Z was a long and arduous one. Just getting to the site from the airport took more time than the actual flight! The festival was such an inspiring mix of nationalities from all over Africa and the rest of the world. Turns out Ugandan music is so incredibly diverse! Given the less-than-ideal circumstances of organizing an electronic music event in this part of the world, they have done a great job at attracting (sometimes surprisingly big) artists from around the world. I even played on the biggest marimba (a sort of xylophone, ed.) in the world over there. Over 20 people play the same instrument at the same time; someone is on bass, the other is on the high notes, etc... It was absolutely genius. People were getting down on my DJ-set without prejudice. I also recorded a couple of new tracks with Congolese rappers over there (which have yet to come out). In short, it was amazing to be a part of it.

Which other music is yet to come out?

I have recorded something with my mate Ozferti, which will be a sonic journey from Iraq to Brazil. That should still come out this summer!