Local DJ and producer Sara Dziri couldn't find what she was looking for on Beatport, an online music retailer specializing in electronic releases. Even under the electronic-music umbrella, where subgenres like "ghetto-tek" and "psy-trance" proliferate, something was missing.
"There is no such thing yet as Arab house or Arab techno or Arab electronic music when you go to websites like Beatport," says Dziri, a recent Toronto transplant by way of her native Belgium.
Dziri is working to popularize Arab electronic music with Souk Sessions, a bi-monthly party, and its new offshoot label Souk Collective, which she runs with DJ Abu Zeus (Mohamed Aser) and Dubai-based DJ and producer Zone+ (Zeyad Mohsen).
"What we are trying to do with this label is push this genre forward and actually establish it as a genre in the longer run," explains Dziri, who DJs as Sadziky. "It's mainly out of a love for Arabic music and electronic music. We want to marry those two cultures together."
Dziri threw the first Souk Sessions party in April. As another approaches this Saturday, the label has dropped its sophomore release, the three-track Compilation Vol. 2.
Together, the imprint and events push a style of electronic music that veers away from the fist-pumping anthems that pulsate from main stages at festivals like Veld.
"We're not focusing on one specific electronic music genre, but in terms of, let's say, marketing, Arab techno is a very handy term," Dziri explains. "It's actually techno and house music. We also allow some influences of disco and other things."
The drum machines and synths will be familiar to listeners of Detroit techno or Chicago house. But artists also sample old Arabic songs, like those of the late Egyptian singer/songwriter Oum Kalthoum, and traditional Middle Eastern instruments like the oud, an ancestor of the guitar. "We work with musicians that record those sounds," says Dziri. The label's roster includes artists from places as far-flung as Mexico, France and Dubai.
Much like Souk Collective's music, different cultures mix at the parties. "You have the ravers who go to Bambi's or Comfort Zone… and then you have Arabs who go because of the Arabic influence, and those people meet on the dance floor," Dziri says.
Last month Dziri was in Brussels, where she threw the first international Souk Sessions party, something she'd like to do more of in the future.
"People, regardless of their backgrounds, seem to share a common culture [in Toronto], which leads to, for instance, a lot of people from the Arab community going to clubs and stuff like that, something you don't see in Belgium."
Toronto's diversity, it turns out, is partly why she chose to launch the project here. "It's also close to Montreal and New York," she laughs.
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