Minneapolis-based, Syrian-born producer Hello Psychaleppo integrates traditional Arabic music and contemporary electronic dance music to create an intricate house and dub sound. Emerging from a rapidly growing Middle East music scene, the young artist and refugee Samer El-Dahr moved to Minnesota in 2015. Now an established member of Minneapolis’ electronic music scene, El-Dahr recently released Toyour, his third full-length album. The record draws deeply from the book Muntiq al-Tayr, or “The Conference of the Birds,” written by 12th century Sufi poet, Attar of Nishapur. El-Dahr points out that the message of the book and Toyour is universal. It symbolizes freedom of expression, making it a perfect foundation for the expressive and uplifting beats on his newest release.
We spoke with Hello Psychaleppo ahead of his Saturday, November 11 show with Lebanese electro-pop group Mashrou’ Leila at The Cedar about the influence of traditional Arabic music, life as a refugee in Minneapolis, and making Toyour. Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.
A lot of your music recontextualizes old Arabic pop music into a contemporary dance style. What do you admire about these older Arabic songs and how do they influence you?
Aleppo was really known for old classical Arabic music and they had subgenres in my city. They were really into music. Arabic music has definitely been an influence since I was a child. My musical memory can relate to that era because you would listen out on the street and at family gatherings they would sing those songs. That was a very strong influence.
Hello Psychaleppo ‘Toyour’
Toyour has a lot of feather and bird imagery, referring to a book called Muntiq al-Tayr, written by a 12th century Sufi poet. Can you describe the connection between this poetry and these images to your album?
It’s talking about the journey of 30 birds to God– the God of Birds. It’s like a phoenix, but in persian, it’s Simorgh. The story is of 30 birds crossing seven valleys and all of the challenges they face to get to the big birds. They realize that they are the Simorghs. Reading from that story, I really relate to what’s happening in the Middle East in general, where people have to go through the seven valleys or wherever they are in the modern world. That inspires me as well. To look more to old Arabic music and find samples that are bird-related. For me it’s a thematic album that talks sometimes about birds going home or about birds sending messages back to their people. I feel like it’s just a very thematic, sentimental album. It’s all just kind of linked from the book to the album. And eventually, the visual art, the album cover: all of the people looking up, seeing just the feather of the Simorgh was something that was so beautiful and hopeful. Makes you feel better about the future for sure.
How would you describe the tone of the album as a whole when addressing the issues in Syria?
It’s definitely on the positive side. I produced most of this album here in Minnesota so it kind of had a longing. I was thinking back home to my family and my country and all of that. I believe that not just Syrians relate to the subject or relate to the symbol of the birds. It’s a symbol that really symbolizes freedom of expression, freedom of movement. And sometimes what we lack that we look forward to. So it’s definitely something hopeful.
You moved from Lebanon to Minneapolis in 2015 and this new record addresses your life as a refugee. In what ways are you or your music affected by the Minneapolis community?
Coming here as an immigrant you really need somewhere to start, especially in the music business. You’re really starting from zero, especially in Minnesota. But, to be honest, the whole community has been so welcoming. Now I’m a part of the community. That makes me so happy. It makes me feel at home again somehow.
Your music is sometimes based on improvisation. Did improvisation affect the sound of Toyour?
In Arabic music there is a certain melody phrasing that’s kind of a pitch bent movement. How you write the melody has a certain appeal and that’s what I translate to electronic music. So I kind of take the same aesthetic, but I put it into a modern sound, also keeping the EDM part present to a certain level. I try to find the balance between all of these things altogether. It’s kind of just keeping the phrasing of the rhythms of Arabic music as well as the use of modern electronic tools to translate those ideas and my musical and cultural background.
What’s inspiring you lately?
Locally in the Minnesota and Wisconsin area there’s a guy named Sloslylove. I’ve been listening to this guy like crazy. From back home there’s a guy, he’s a rapper actually. I’m into the rap scene as well. His name is Bu Kolthoum. He’s really been pushing the limit to make a really popular record back home. Vinnie Paz is a great rapper from New York that collaborated with him. I just feel proud that there’s such energy happening.
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