Saudi Arabian DJ and producer Omar Basaad talks to Saeed Saeed about his new EP Dichotomy and the Kingdom’s growing music scene
Omar Basaad brings the beat back to the Arab world
For Omar Basaad, there is no such thing as a total holiday.
The Saudi Arabian-Turkish DJ and producer returned last week to his home city of Jeddah from a six-week European tour which was peppered with daytime strolls of party cities such as Istanbul, Barcelona and Prague with slamming sets in nightclubs.
The 28-year-old showcased material from his latest release, the six-song EP Dichotomy. Released a fortnight ago, the new offerings are a summer-ready selection of club bangers that are Basaad’s most accomplished work yet. Dichotomy topped Saudi Arabia’s iTunes chart and received airplay in both Turkey and Russia.
The EP also comes on the back of Basaad’s remix of American-Moroccan rapper French Montana’s latest hit, Unforgettable, which caught the attention of United States magazine Billboard in July as one of the best remixes of the summer.
It all makes for successful career development. Basaad has also launched his own label Coexist Records.
Dichotomy is Basaad’s first EP in five years and he says the songs were never meant to be collected as one body of work. “The original plan was to drop a song each week but I thought that what linked them together was they all had this summer feel,” he tells me. “But at the same time they all had their own different sounds.”
Alluding to its title, the new selection stretches Basaad’s sonic pallet. Can’t Let Go is a straight dance-pop song featuring the sultry refrains of up-and-coming American artist Camryn and a chorus created from chopped-up vocal samples. Another feature is the deft addition of oud riffs. The same regional twist can also be found in the trance track Emblem, which features the ney.
Basaad says the new-found eastern elements to his work stem from the enthusiastic response to those he injected into his remix of Unforgettable. “A lot of people reached out to me wanting to know about the oud part of the song,” he says.
“In a way, it is so basic to do. But at the same time, is all about how - as a producer - you use it. The more subtle the better. You need to find that sweet spot between the song being very oriental or too modern.”
Basaad says electronic artists are increasingly looking towards the east for sonic inspiration. “Artists like Diplo and Skrillex have been playing with these sounds for a while. Before them of course there was [US hip-hop producer] Timbaland who sampled a song by many Arab artists.
“I think these sounds from the Middle East, India and Asia does provide something extra to the track. It allows the song to sound more interesting and perhaps even mysterious. It definitely makes people stand up and take notice.”
Basaad also gets his share of attention for his background. Born in Jeddah to a Saudi father and Turkish mother, his interest in music began in his early teens when he purchased a beat box and keyboards. After learning the fundamentals, he then focused on production techniques and the musical algorithms that form the backbone of electronic dance music today. Performing regularly for nearly 10 years, Basaad says his world tours always finds him confounding stereotypes from the crowd.
“The promoters are normally chilled,” he says. “But I always meet people who would say, “Woah, I never met anyone from Saudi before.” And a lot of that is because they never been to our part of the world. I always tell them come and visit and see for yourself. Go to a place like the UAE with its diverse cultures and people living in harmony.”
While music performances remain virtually outlawed in the kingdom, Basaad says a large crop of Saudi musical talent is slowly coming to the fore. He describes Jeddah as the epicentre of that creative growth.
This was part of Basaad’s reasoning behind the launch of his music label Coexist Records. As well as the chance of being signed and having your career developed by Basaad and his team, new and established artists can use Coexist as an agent to release material through the label’s popular account with music platforms Beatport and Shazam. Basaad hopes the label will create a community of regional music fans in addition to shining a spotlight into the kingdom’s pool of talent.
“There are lot of young artists that sing so well that you really can’t believe it. And they are doing it on their own. Back in the day the idea was to get a record label to do things for them,” he says.
“Now it is like ‘No, I am going to do it alone. I will learn what I need and then drop my own EP. This is really great because they are not only developing themselves as an artist but as a business people themselves.”
Dichotomy by Omar Basaad is out now and can be streamed on Apple Music and Anghami