In Tunisia, we consider the beginning of the 2010s as a sort of Year Zero for our contemporary cultural world. After years of silence under the surveillance of Ben Ali's police, the Tunisian cultural scene would finally awaken from its torpor, energised by the breath of the Arab Spring. If one thing is certain, it is that culture abhors a vacuum. That, and the fact that when a dictator and his clique flee, the underground activists return. DJs, producers, promoters, festival organisers and even young leaders with clubbing and nightlife projects… The fall of the regime coincided with a festive cultural revival, mainly musical and above all, electronic.
Festivals in the desert in the heart of abandoned Star Wars sets, international DJ sets in Hammamet, widely talked about programmes on the island of Djerba… From 2011, bookers from all over the world could now count on Tunisia. Centered on the capital, clubs could now open their doors to floods of aspiring youths.
Tunis discovered clubbing and at the heart of the electro movement groups were immediately setting the bar very high. When faced with the ease at which anyone can set up a DJ set, and the wannabeism it can generate, defenders of the live format and those who were already adept at creating electro and experimenting with sound such as World Full Of Bass and Arabstazy, quickly set up very high class rosters for gigs. Artists such as Skander Bedbes and Deena Abdelwahed come from within the ranks of these programmes.
A maverick with his project Bargou 08 – where he recorded the traditional sounds of the Bargou region, followed by Ammar 808 – Sofyann Ben Youssef has since then been living in Brussels and studied Arabic and Oriental music at the Institut Supérieur de Musique in Tunis. The result? He smashes together new rhythms and unchanged traditional sounds with his TR-808. With the aura of a godfather he creates hypnotic Maghreb bass music. His upcoming album is due out soon on the Glitterbeat label.
Another signing within the prestigious German label, the Ifriqiyya Electrique project draws together traditional musical rituals belonging to the Maghreb community – stambali amongst others – with electro sounds and metallic chaos orchestrated by François R. Cambuzat. This is a tribute to the power of trance from the living legend of European post-punk, who’s already crossed paths with Lydia Lunch and the Californian Eugene S. Robinson from the group Oxbow.
The Tunisian scene shines thanks to the creative power of its rappers, its activists such as Shinigami San, Tropikal Camel, and Mettani, and its ultra-festive feel on the dancefloor.
Tunisian rappers are the sounding boards and mouthpieces for a whole post-revolution generation, and they have a lot to say. A.L.A, Samara, Katybon (now known as Ktyb) and especially Weld El 15 – an icon of freedom of expression amongst young Tunisians and nominated in 2014 for the Sakharov prize, but later sentenced by his country to a term in prison for police contempt. 4lfa, originally from Kasserine – the epicentre of protests in the small country – but celebrated all over, has also seen enormous success on YouTube since starting out in 2018. Their work receives production support from that inspired beatmaker, Ratchopper.