Unsettled like a desert / Buy me a bird / Buy, buy, buy me the lightest bird / Freedom is what I deserve // Moroccan singer Mehdi Bahmad’s lyrics from his new EP are sung in an eclectic tone with warm synthetic textures. He cites Lana Del Rey, Mashrou’Leila, Nancy Ajram, Shakira, and Rosalía as influences, along with Arab and Amazigh culture, religion, and politics and Baladi dance. “Musically, it translates in the instrumentation I intuitively choose to integrate (oud, ney, darbouka, etc.),” he adds. “The strong cultural symbols I like to play with are mainly gender-associated. I have always been fascinated by those excessively beautiful and refined traditions, features, or garments. I’ve always perceived them as universal, unisex, and as appealing on a man or a woman: beauty is gender-free. That’s the perception I wish to share with my debut project ‘’Khôl.”
Bahmad believes that all those who identify with culture should access it, freely, without labels. “I want people to understand that those symbols are concepts we invented and that they are also ours to transform. I integrate them into an idyllic and delicate aesthetic full of warmth. I don’t like to purposelessly provoke or offend. Fighting fire with fire is ineffective, we should all know that by now. I want to soften and qualify through my art the scope of everything that circulates.”
What are the strong symbols you consider to be re-appropriating from you Moroccan and Amazigh culture?
My work is strongly influenced by my Arab and Amazigh roots. In general, I simply reclaim my culture, besides religion and politics. Those symbols translate for example in my dance style (influenced by Baladi), the way I dress, the makeup I put on, the henna I dye my hands with, the jewelry I wear, etc.
Music wise, it translates in the instrumentation I intuitively choose to integrate (oud, ney, darbouka). Additionally, it will emanate from the harmonies, the range, the melodies, and my voice patterns. Besides, the strong cultural symbols I like to play with are mainly gender-associated. I have always been fascinated by those excessively beautiful and refined traditions, features, or garments. I’ve always perceived them as universal, unisex, and as appealing on a man or a woman – or everyone in between: beauty is gender-free. That’s the perception I wish to share with my debut project ‘’Khôl’’. ‘’Line your eyes, the sun will burn them. Flames won’t divide women from men’’
How is he translating these into his own aesthetic?
By dissociating those symbols from their initial genres and propelling them into spheres that go far beyond their original framework. I participate in my own way in the expression of a new fluid, open and free Arab and Amazigh contemporary culture. For me, it’s very important to respect traditions, but also to be able to evolve with our own time and address real contemporary challenges.
How did you first come to make music?
I always had an instinctive and strong interest in the arts in general. Like most of my Arab peers, by doing good in school, I was expected to pursue a brilliant career in a ‘’noble’’ field such as health. My parents reminded me very clearly that if we left everything behind to move to Canada, it was for my sister and I to have notable jobs. They wanted me to be a doctor, I wanted to create, so I decided I’d be a plastic surgeon. But as always, I still managed to get where I truly wanted and had to be.
At a young age, I was already writing songs. At that time, I didn’t have the right level of confidence to put my own voice on my lyrics. I used to hire singers to sing my songs, only so I could listen to my own music. Until the day I wrote ‘’Lay.” That particular song was born in the Amazigh village South of Morocco where my father grew-up, Ait Zeggane. At that very moment, I knew I had to perform my own songs. They were too intimate and carried so much emotional weight. I recorded the very first version of it, in a home-studio. The doors of my universe slowly opened and I caught a glimpse of my artistic persona. Since then, the doors have never closed and never will they.