"Marrakech has its aesthetics, and its touch. There is so much raw talent here, from the artisans, tailors, craftsmen, to the old school artists..."
The streets of Morocco’s capital, Marrakech, are electrified with constant energy and noise. So it only makes sense that its creative scene mirrors this. A new wave of talents have taken the country up the ranks as a cultural destination. To learn more about the creative atmosphere in Marrakech, we speak to someone at the epicentre of the city's buzzing environment. Yazid is a young creative and one half of the Moroccan music label, SOMNII. Read on to know more about his creative journey and the state of Marrakech’s scene.
I see myself as an artist, giving value and novelty to where I am from and where I am.
What do you hope for yourself and the label you’ve built with your brother?
We hope to see SOMNII as one of the top labels in Morocco and in control of the best music content, as well as being a brand and a platform for talented producers and artists. Our music is influenced by RAI melodies, by Andalucian melodies, as well as having my older brother bring his own influential musical production style with his background in dubstep and grime, giving us a unique touch.
Continuing collaborations with artists, stylists and maintaining a strong sense of equality and rooted respect is also important to us, so as to be able to stand strong on an international scale. We want to stay on the road to expansion and to always keep growing, as we are all learning.
Another project of ours called 'Janvier', is our recent concept store that we were on the way to opening, but which has come to a halt due to the worldwide lockdown. We also hope to establish this in the future, as fashion is and always has been a very important element to our label.
How do you help your artists think outside the box?
We help by trying to communicate to them the importance of creating a sustainable and long term career. That it is a process which requires time and patience. We also help developing the artists individually through their image, sound and voice.
We try to include elements in our music production and videos that shy away from cliched expectations. We do this by enforcing value to where we are from rather than looking to Europe or the US for inspiration, hence, helping to instil a sense of pride by finding our sound and digging deep into our culture.
What is the biggest project you worked on and how has it impacted where you are today?
At a young age, I was given the opportunity to work as an intern and then later as a crew member for Corner Films - headed by powerhouse duo, Said and Mamoun Naciri. The time here gave me the experience and understanding of how commercial production works, how it's broken down into different elements and parts. It gave my confidence and motivated me to be self-starting.
I've also had the chance to work with Redone and French Montana and have been tutored by Kamaal Williams. All these opportunities taught me a lot about production and networking. I realised that the highest value is doing something for yourself and working for yourself and no one else. It teaches you to not stop yourself short.
How has Morocco and its culture affected your work?
I am a part of this culture, so it's a very difficult question to answer. I've been coming here and exposed to North Africa since I was seven months old. I also spent time in Algeria as a small child as I'm half Algerian.
Our passion for sport started here, particularly football and later, boxing. The discipline you learn from this gave me the fiery kick that has continued with me in my current work. I also have fond memories of listening to RAI in the car with my dad. As a child and a part of the Algerian culture in London, I felt this pride and saw it in other Algerian expats when we heard RAI being played globally.
Also growing up as a child, I listened to ‘Jijilala’ and 'Nas al Ghiwane' with my mum on our excursions around Morocco. These music groups from back in the 70s were transgressional - they were pushing the limits and waking people up a bit, which had a far reaching effect on their generation.
This inspired us to want to challenge the status quo, to take what is obviously not being seen and valued in our culture and push things and change ways of seeing things. Arabic is not a limiting language, so the possibility of creative expression is endless and we always try to draw inspiration from our rich heritage.
How would you define the creative scene in Marrakech?
To have one of the most successful contemporary artists in the world, Hassan Hajjaj, around us and accessible for us to communicate with, has been a big help. Marrakech has strength in its quality rather than quantities and with Hassan being here, it definitely gives us a stamp and a platform in moving forward.
Marrakech is an overload of sensations. There is so much raw talent here: the artisans, tailors, craftsmen, the old school artists like the Gnawa people, the Dakka Marrakchia (ritual folkloric music) and the overall rich musical culture. I try to reflect on this deep music heritage we have and learn and expand on it by taking the sounds and modernising it to fit our generation. Everyone has a different Marrakech, and for us, our Marrakech is endlessly deep and slightly sinister.
Where would you like to see the scene here go?
There are many labels, artists and executive producers who are coming to sign or work with artists here in Morocco, so much of the time these artists are being stereotyped strictly to a North African community. They tend to treat us as separate people rather than daring to blend us with western communities like France, England, Holland, Spain, Italy. With our work, we try to stay away from stereotypical images of the medina and bazaars and show the realistic sides of the cities. So, I would like to see the scene here find its unique identity and its sound, because, as of right now, I don't really believe you can pinpoint it to one identity.
Are there are roadblocks for creatives in the Marrakech scene?
Marrakech is not as influenced by the West as the rest of Morocco, even though we have the highest number of European/American expats. In Marrakech, a lot of people are original to where they are from.
The only roadblock would be the hesitance the community have here; having been used to a sense of quality and a sense of sound, us coming in with a different outlook and direction has meant it has taken time for people to accept and understand it. The audience we reach is smaller, but more powerful.
What have been your favourite/most memorable travel memories?
Traveling and visiting the small beach towns of the North as a child with our mother, and traveling all over Morocco, using local transport and local accommodation as opposed to hotels etc, really helped to instill a sense of the culture, as we were integrated and a part of it rather than spectators on a tour bus. Our travels with our mother in general, whether it was here, Algeria, or LA.
My favourite travel memory was visiting Rmilat in Asilah, which is such a beautiful beach. Also, going to Akshour near Chefchaouen and doing an 8-hour hike to the waterfalls.
Photography by: Vicky Grout