We had the chance to talk with Sofyann Ben Youssef aka AMMAR 808. Mixing Gnawa, Targ and Raï North African music with electronic beats in a perfect balance to take you to a new zone, where you can imagine a different world influenced by a touch of Sci-Fi We could also chat with Sia Rosenberg, the creative person behind the amazing visuals they projected along the concert.
WiM: Hi Sia. I where does your inspiration come from and what do you want to transmit with the visual work?
Sia: I want to transmit something strong, and part of this visuals is a collaboration of us and this tunisian guy called Ahmed Ayed. He is a theater instructor and we builded up the characters inspired by this half animal half human interstellar futuristic beings.
WiM: I got this shamanic feeling in it…
Sia: Yes, it is kind of creepy, very dark but that is the point, it is a good contrast to the music, It is dark but not scary, the characters are doing actions that complement the music: playing flutes or other instruments, dancing, moving along the music… which we think it makes a perfect combination to the music.
WiM: How did you decided to collaborate together?
Sia: It was very spontaneous, from the very beginning the idea was to have a strong visual approach in the project. Now we have a new videoclip, directed by Ahmed Ayed, for the song Ain Essoud, and he integrated this strong visuals because sometimes visuals lift up the music.
WiM: Hi Sofyann! could you tell us where the idea of AMMAR 808 came from?
Sofyann: Hi guys! well, I wanted to do something personal, because I normally work as a producer for other bands, and I wanted to do something mine. there were a lot of wishes working on visuals and translating a certain universe, maybe from a different time, maybe from you know, parallel dimensions, in which I believe always changes can happen from those dimensions and it starts in the imagination and it becomes reality, it contributes.
I am a big fan of Sci-Fi, so I was talking with Sia about it and I said; you know, I have this idea of this project, but it was very hard to articulate it, and she said, well what do you like most? Maybe you should articulate it through what you like most. I said, I like Sci-Fi but I was kind of joking, then I thought about it and I said to myself fuck yeah, I would like to do it that way. As a producer you get all sort of articulations from one project to another, you learn how to omite your ego and put it aside to serve the aesthetical part or idea of another project that is not yours. And this time I had to do the work with myself. So I created this alter ego. Myself but in a different dimension. Called AMMAR 808. This guys is like from the future, where maybe things would have been very drastically different, but in the same time this is the future where we are going, or where I would like to go at least, trying to re-imagine things. I like fantasizing about ideas, like different timelines. Let’s imagine Africa in a different timeline where colonialism did not happen for instance. Then you could imagine that probably we would be leading the industry, maybe we would have created analog drum machines, maybe we would have created in a different way and use them in a different way and make totally different music. So the idea is just imagining different timelines and try to figure out what an album would sound like if this thing didn’t happen, colonisation is one thing, there is a whole list of things that I wish wouldn’t have happened…
WiM: But people like you are creating it now!
Sofyann: I hope, at least that’s what you do, you try to create a certain place, you picture it and then you go there. And I think yesterday it was really great during the concert how people interacted. It gives freshness to the content, every concert, or almost every concert it’s a bit like a first encounter of the seventh kind (laughs).
I have few life experiences where I experienced the power of projecting things around you and changing the world that surrenders you. It is possible, sometimes you are enough strong to do it, sometimes you are not.
But it’s definitely a beginning for a better human race.
WiM: We were reading the messages on the record case and we felt a lot of meaning in the texts…
Sofyann: Usually I like looking at ideas in a sort of 3d way, of maybe 4d, including timeline, where you find yourself in a place where the idea is floating in the air and it has all sort of faces. And for instance if I talk about the choice for the name of the album, Maghreb United, you could see it from so many different ways. I could probably see it from an angle of absorbing differences, meditating on those differences and actually creating unity trough this meditation on differences. Because we are different we should maybe unite. It is simple as that. Because we are neighbours also we have shared history. And some people might say it is political, but everything is being political these days, choosing a lifestyle is political.
Then you have the imaginary Maghreb, it is a different place that creates this kind of shift, when you see something a little bit dark or strange, obscure, alarming, I think that’s where our brain start working, it makes you think. Putting people in a different zone. It is not easy to listening to our music, like being in this happy place and forget about everything.
No no, it is completely the opposite: it is raw, you have to fight and let it go, you gotta dive deep in yourselve and discover this animal.
You saw this animals on the screen, some of them are half human, some of them are all sort of stuff, and that is the thing, it is combining all those intrinsic ancient messages inhabited in us. Ancient roles, ideas that we carry within us but yet to be discovered, and what is better than a rumbling bass to kind of making you shift your center of gravity, bouncing left and right and find a new center of gravity.
I think a new world is here already and I am not talking about a state of consciousness, there are new necessities and trough this necessities we see the world differently, and I see a lot of going back to nature, we went a lot into technologies, and I believe there is a place somewhere in the middle.
WiM: Where your influences come from?
Sofyann: I think when we go deeper to see music, I talk about traditional musics, its hundreds of years old, you can feel the influence of a dry mountain, of a desert… and I think music kind of reveals itself and made me understand more technically and made the research deeper, and you can feel the ocean, the edge of a mountain, etc. And if you understand the feeling then you are closer to a fellow. It feels like a true manifestation of something, it is what I feel in every concert, something that reveals, that appears, and I think is the feeling of brotherhood, the feeling of Maghreb United, and maybe after 20 more shows I feel something different.
For me is a big honor having these guys playing with me. It is true, I created the thing, I do the hard work, the production and such… But on stage I like also to give them space, and it is the whole exercise of this project, coexisting, although we are very different. It feels like a big achievement to have those guys here and enjoy all together and I can tell you back stage is a very fun place. You hear the jokes of 3 different countries haha.
AMMAR 808 & THE MAGHREB UNITED ARE:
- Ammar 808 – Electronics and Synth
- Mehedi Nassouli (Morocco) – Vocals & Gumbri
- Sofiane Saidi (Algeria) – Vocals
- Cheb Hassen Tej (Tunisia) – Vocals
- Lassad Boughalmi – Gasba & Zorka
- Khalid Amrah & Yassine Gonzal (Morocco) – Choir
Listen the full album here