When Tunisian Traditions Meets Electronic Dance Music - The Sound of Nuri
Photography: Miriam Abdulla
Words & Interview by: Bethany Burgoyne
Nuri’s music can be best described as a mix of bass, beats and dirty old sounds layered between samples of Afro and Global melodies; a combination which, with an upbeat electronic foundation, results in tracks that implore you to start dancing. Heavily inspired by his Nothern African heritage, Nuri sits down with Reform The Funk to discuss the ways he wishes to preserve traditions through his contemporary production of older sounds.
Growing up in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia and surrounded by traditions from a culturally rich continent, the upbeat tempo of Northern and Central African is something you can hear in Nuri’s music today. From the percussion instruments that he uses such as Krakebs (a steel castanet) and Chaccas (a seed pod shaker) to the vocals that he samples, there is a vibrant poly rhythmic groove which seeps in and out of his music. “All my music is based on poly grooving, different rhythms, rhythm research which can be complicated but in a good way, getting people together and dancing.”
A certain style of singing called Pygmy, referring to the sub-Saharan Africa music traditions of Central African forages, is one of the elements which adds a historical and ritualistic element to Nuri’s sound. “The Pygmy singing I sample is a very spiritual sound for me. I hear my childhood and it evocates a pure feeling inside which makes me happy. Traditionally they are songs used for all kinds of rituals; killing animals, new life, planting trees. The stories behind the music are religious, which I am not, yet there is still this uplifting energy. For me, the sounds create a trance like experience. When I perform, I feel I am not there anymore, I am lifted out of my body and going on a journey. When I play a concert, I see myself conducting people through the one-hour experience. A continual ride, going up and down, through slow and fast rhythms, and travelling through the music together.”
This spiritual experience seems to be heightened by Nuri stage presence. Always to be seen in a long traditional Tunisian robe, donning a beaded mask, a character is created that has friendly connotations of a witch doctor, conducting rituals into a land of deep-rooted heritage. As well as being another reference to his home country, Nuri also explains that this outfit aids his ability to perform
This honesty about Nuri’s vulnerable stage presence is perhaps a reflection in his shifting role on stage, going from a band member to a leading solo act. “I started performing as a drummer 15 years ago, playing with bands and always being behind the musicians. This meant I was constantly learning about what goes on behind the scenes and it taught me a lot about staging shows, musical arrangement and the process of music making. I started to think to myself ‘Why not make my own project’ and the composition process started from there”.
It was by relocating to Denmark that Nuri found the right environment to record and produce his first album ‘DRUP’. “When I moved to Denmark, I found I had more space and time to became inspired in the right way, where I can create music and sit on my computer for hours and hours to find the right conception for my music.” When asked what it is he hopes to evoke from his sound, Nuri explains “First I have to satisfy myself and be sure that I’m doing something I like. Then if other people like it, I know they understand me. This makes me happy.
Through discussing with Nuri the ideas of his work, it is clear that a sharing of the culture and traditions of Tunisia is a reason for Nuri to be making music “It’s very important to cherish the roots of music, I think people should hear where the musical ideas have come from and this is what they can hear through my sounds.” By sampling traditional songs from North and Central Africa, Vietnam, Texas and the US, Nuri acts as a wizard of traditional sound “I transform them with new paces, rhythms, mixing guitar, organ and synth sounds. I rarely manipulate the sampling, perhaps I’ll pitch or stretch or change the melodies to fit together with the groove, but ultimately it’s about trying to find the right concoction of spices.”
Follow Nuri’s music here: