Interview: Hadi Zeidan
The OzAsia festival occupies an important space within contemporary Australian art and culture. Held annually in Adelaide, there is a duplicitous synchronicity that both showcases and celebrates the best modern art from Asia whilst also illuminating a cross-section of our own national identity. OzAsia director Joseph Mitchell has this year developed a program which explores the theme of generational exchange and the ways in which these expressions across all art forms manifest in society. This examination of intercultural meanings and contexts is not an easy concept to grasp but is by no means lost on Hadi Zeidan. The synergy connecting the OzAsia program and the Beirut-born producer’s meticulous creative mission to celebrate, share and unite is immediately evident in the clarity and passion with which he describes his work.
Shik Shak Shok is a unique concept that draws upon your own personal and cultural curiosities in regards to the heritage of Lebanese music. Firstly, can you talk us through why you started this project and what it is?
Shik Shak Shok is the title of a classic bellydance track by Egyptian composer Hassan Abou el Seoud, released in 1974 (then reissued in 2000s). Not only is it played in all Arab weddings today, but it is considered to be the emblem of the 'golden age' of Arabic music. A period when men and women dressed up and spent their evenings in cabarets/bars in Beirut or Cairo, watching bellydancers and listening to small orchestras play hypnotizing melodies under kitsch colorful lights.
The aesthetic of this era and its forgotten grandeur have pushed me to revisit our repertoire as pan-Arab people (meaning across the Arab world), in order to revive and foster what was once known as the 'golden age' of Arabic music, by creating a web-radio that broadcasts highly informed selections.
We digitize straight from the crates. After months of research and extensive travelling across the Arab world, I have managed to collect a number of records that allow us to draw the outline of our Arabic music heritage, seldom recalled by younger generations. The project is accompanied by occasional space takeovers in which we transform spaces into 1970s-inspired cabarets – as we will attempt to do at Nexus Arts in Adelaide this November.
Electronic and house music in particular possess a deep respect for the musical and social roots that laid the foundations of the scene; no matter which country you’re from. Throughout the Middle East and most definitely in your own production/selections there seems to be a conscious determination to create an authentic sound that really captures the essence of these rich cultures. How do you see this kind of musical unity manifesting on a global scale?
In today's mostly digital world, one would probably feel more connected to an artform that draws inspiration from an organic matter, or what you refer to as 'authentic sound'. That is why we have been noticing a wave of acclamation for electronic music artists who are managing to maintain a 'human' touch in their work... i.e. Nicolas Cruz, Nicolas Jaar, Acid Arab, Inigo Vontier, Simple Symmetry, Red Axes and more.
This may be the reason behind the lovely support I have been getting worldwide, as I'm always trying to create an equilibrium between genres, the technologies I use and cultural backgrounds. In any case, be it a 'conscious determination' or not, I always strive to be loyal to what shaped my perspectives of sound. Geographies and heritage are a big part of what shapes one's perception of music.
Your work not only crosses generations but also cultures since you moved to Paris for university some years ago now. What are you studying? What has the move to Paris done for your lifestyle and creative ‘juices’? Are there many challenges in living so far away from such a great source of inspiration back home?
I have done my master’s degree in foreign languages and intercultural exchanges – a field that I constantly wish to interweave with my musical career. Needless to say, that the first part of your question makes me happy as it proves that my ambitions may be met!
In my opinion, one's career in art must be the result of all the steps that lead the way towards their ultimate expression.
In my case, moving to France, studying international relations and working as a journalist before dedicating my career to music has given me both discipline and nostalgia for my hometown Beirut, which I hope is transparent in my work.
What is “success” for Hadi Zeidan?
Success in the dictionary is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose”. My definition of the term is the same – as long as the said aim or purpose is an intimate one that draws from one's heart.
You have certainly brought your own flavour and purpose to the Parisian nightlife by running your yearly event Beirut Electro Parade alongside good friend Jad Taleb. Can you tell us a bit about how you met Jad and the event itself?
Jad is a good friend whose work is an essential element of Beirut's alternative music scene. He was my first guest in Paris when I decided to launch Beirut Electro Parade, an international rendezvous and a space for Beirut-inspired or Beirut-based artists to express themselves.
The first edition was a mere draft, and Jad contributed to the brainstorming behind BEP's mission. Luckily, the unique aesthetic of BEP has indeed pleased a number of Parisians, who have a friendly history with the city of Beirut, once known as the 'The Paris of the Middle East'! Today, we run twice-a-year events with more than 15 artists hosted since 2017.
You have quite an extensive little community involved in the project as well, some of whom are joining you at Nexus Arts in Adelaide for the OzAsia Festival edition of BEP. Can you tell us a little bit about these guys and girls?
Selected artists have been chosen because of their activity within their communities in Lebanon, let alone the high work ethics they have proven to have. Renata & June As, for example, have been fostering the underground techno scene for the past two years through Frequent Defect, connecting people who share socio-political ideas and a need to express themselves in the outskirts of Beirut on a simple but effective dancefloor. They run weekly events and host an accessible platform to anyone while maintaining a high-standard curatorial initiative.
Jad Atoui on the other hand has been involved in multiple international projects, working with some of the biggest names in experimental music such as John Zorn and Laurie Anderson. He is also the resident DJ at the Ballroom Blitz, a new venue in Beirut that opened recently that has been acclaimed internationally for its unique design, line-ups and inclusive policies.
From all reports the venue La Bellevilloise is meant to be spectacular. What has it been like to have this space at your disposal?
I am very grateful to have this true cultural pillar at my disposal twice a year. Not only does the venue meet high standards in technical details, but the whole team, its location and the energy inside is truly magical.
How do you think BEP has been received in Paris?
The numbers speak for themselves! We have sold out five shows so far in Paris with more than 5000 people from different backgrounds. I am very grateful we are managing to tell our Beirut-inspired story to a crowd that big in the French capital.
Do you have any hopes or expectations for both Shik Shak Shok and Beirut Electro Parade in Australia?
I do not have any agenda regarding our work's influence on people. We will present our work intimately and hopefully people will connect. We are already very happy to be able to cross planet Earth and showcase our intimate work to a new crowd in the land down under. The OzAsia Festival team has been really helpful and gentle to us so I am certain that we will be received in the best conditions possible.