By Phil E. Bloomfield September 08, 2020
Stand in a desert, and you won’t hear a thing. No bird song. No trickle of water. No noise of life. The scarcity of the landscape is echoed only in the deafening noise of the void. This silence is at the heart of the music of Azu Tiwaline, which translates from Berber by “eyes of the wind”. “The fact that I now live in the desert, in a place where there is space and silence at all times, it shows in my music,” says Donia, as she prefers to be called.
Donia started making music almost 25 years ago, under the name To lend. Her first productions date back to the hard techno of her youth in France at the end of the 90s, where she was surrounded by the embers of the free party and the rave scene, where the vestiges of Spiral Tribe and other British soundsystems are found. gathered in exile. Since then, she’s made her own way through two-step, dubstep, hip-hop and grime, rarely stopping to catch her breath. “But I have always played more slowly than everyone else!” she laughs. “Percussion and repetition have always been present in my music. “
As Azu Tiwaline, she brings these elements to the fore, drawing inspiration from the emptiness of her desert home and the ritual trance music of stambali, a Tunisian collective healing rite incorporating music, song and dance, similar to the Moroccan tradition of gnawa. No more hyperactive compositions of bass music, patterns loaded with decomposition and reassembly. Only the half-step wobbles, but even that sounds softer, nestled in pieces that stretch languidly, letting in light and air. Devoid of the hustle and bustle of city life, the music is soft, composed and regulated.
Installation isn’t something Donia has done a lot in her life. Born to a Tunisian Berber mother and a Cambodian father, she grew up in Ivory Coast before settling in France at the age of 14. When she left, she “had the impression that I had been torn from my country when I was happy there. . “Since then, she has not stopped traveling, as comfortable on the roads of Europe as spending months in the Indian Ocean, Mongolia or Senegal. Without straying too far from the equator, she look for “places in the world where I felt the same energy, the same sweetness as in Ivory Coast”.
The Berbers are often portrayed as a nomadic people. Yet, in truth, most Berbers – with a few exceptions, such as the Tuaregs of the Sahara – were traditionally farmers. And three years ago, the nomadic producer found herself the owner of a small estate in the region of el-Djerid in southern Tunisia. Her mother had returned to her native country 20 years ago to build, little by little, a house surrounded by palm trees on a “small patch of sand”. When she died in 2017, Donia made the decision to settle there, to take care of this “little piece of paradise that she left me”.
El-Djerid is one of the last bastions of Berber and Amazigh culture in Tunisia. Unlike neighboring Morocco or Algeria, where the Berbers constitute a large part of the population, in Tunisia they are a small minority and their culture is repressed by the nation’s Arab governments. “Even today, someone who wants to give their child a Berber name in Tunisia is harassed for it. Doubly for his mother, who emigrated to France at the age of 15 and spent many years denying her heritage, like so many North Africans who wanted to integrate into French society. “I know she suffered from it and didn’t realize it until much later …” she explains, “and so I always made sure not to ignore it. , not to put it aside. “
On his first LP as Azu Tiwaline, Draw me a silence Part 1 & Part 2, the producer manifests her ancestry through the sounds of stambali: a disembodied song, the twang of the three strings guembri lute, or the metallic mixture of chakachek hand percussion. Beyond that, Donia devoted herself to learning how to do long, repetitive songs (“without boring me personally!”) She also demolished her production setup, every instrument, tool and VST. “I was really trying to find a more natural sound,” she said, “and that meant I had to give up everything I was doing before.”
Part of it also meant realizing the lifelong ambition of collaborating with a percussionist. On the Magnetic service EP, released in May on a UK techno and dubstep label Sound of life, she is joined on two tracks by Cinna Peyghamy, Iranian electronic musician based in Paris, who feeds her tombak hand drum thanks to a modular synthesizer. “I wanted to find someone who had a particular sound,” she says, and Peyghamy, who also does experimental breakcore under the name Cikkun, turned out to be the perfect fit, as she sought to eliminate clutter from her music. “Working with him forces me to take a step back, to leave more space to explore.”
Exploration in the sonic and ancestral sense, but also in the personal sense. Listening to Donia speak, it is clear that Azu Tiwaline is the last stop on a personal journey. Beyond the change of name, which “marked a total transformation”, it is the sound of a musician passing from agitation to nervousness. Or something close: she always spends the summer living on a bus, traveling Europe and touring festivals.
But where before traveling the world, she now makes music with the intention of helping her listeners to “travel within themselves”. As we speak, she remembers the spiritual guidance her mother gave her, her father’s Buddhist philosophy of life, and meditation from an early age. In the desert, she says, she found the perfect place to “practice the education my parents wanted to give me.”