Photo courtesy of Natacha Elmir
We’re not mincing our words when we say Beirut-based, Aleppo native Samer Saem ElDahr AKA Hello Psychaleppo is one of the most exciting and original electronic artists to look out for in the Middle East right now. The technically gifted 26 year-old producer has carved out his own infectious niche of Electro-Tarab and Trip Hop. With his much acclaimed debut album Gool L’ah he has ingeniously found a symbiosis between Arab heritage vocals from yesteryear brought into the future with glitch-y drum and bass beats. The tracks work just as well as club bangers as they would in your headphones on a long bus ride with the regions sepia-toned streets passing by.
Earlier this year Cairo was anticipating a taste of ElDahr’s live performance at D-CAF, but he was unable to travel due to stipulations on Syrian citizens at the time. Following the release of the excellent first single Badawiya Lovin’ off his upcoming sophomore album Ha!, we speak to Psychaleppo about his musical beginnings, his meticulous production process and artistic collaborations…
What were your earliest memories of enjoying music and what kind of music were you listening to throughout your teens?
I was about four years old when I remember my older brother listening to AC/DC and Iron Maiden. Shortly after I was introduced to Michael Jackson then to Bone Thugs n Harmony, Outkast, Linkin Park and many other great musicians. I’ve grown up listening to anything and everything, and I continue to do so.
What do you think was the defining influence on your electronic style?
I really can't say exactly, because I love so many different kinds of music. But the feel of the music itself is what I care about most.
Did you always know you would pursue music as a career?
Actually, pursuing music was my dream since I was a little kid. My parents supported me, but they've always told me that I couldn’t make a living off of a music career. For the first time I'm really happy that they are wrong.
What was it like growing up and making music in Syria?
Since I was involved in music from such a young age, I realize that I was unintentionally preparing myself to find my own sound. I had a lot of time, through my experiences in Syria, to explore and research. I played with a lot of different bands and played shows until I left Syria. We have tons of great musicians over there with whom I was able to play and collaborate with.
When was the moment you knew you had to leave and how did living in Beirut evolve your art?
I didn’t know I was going to be leaving Syria more permanently until after I left. The plan was to come to Beirut for a short visit, not to move here. Beirut has made me stronger. It was a turning point for me: either I'm going to make it here or not. I look back at when I first arrived and realize what a big challenge Beirut confronted me with.
What's your production and live set up?
Now, I have three machines (Novation family), a midi keyboard, and I use two softwares at the same time when I perform. For the upcoming album, I'm adding visual software so I can play my animated characters and visuals that will be synced with the music on the same midi controller.
When sampling Arabic music, is there a specific artist or clip you have in mind or is it a case of trial and error?
Trial and error never work in my world. I research extensively until I find the track that I want. I want to give the sample its value and the music should extend that value. It's a very detailed process. Everything should be exactly in the right place, or it will sound cheesy. In my world, cheesy is when you let the trial and error lead.
What layer do you usually put down first?
Each time it takes a different path. Sometimes I start with the sample and sometimes I don't use any samples, I just make music, so it depends.
What's the most satisfying and most frustrating part about creating for you?
It always has been satisfying. I've never been frustrated because when I make music. I make it to enjoy it. There is no room for frustration.
Which artists are you into these days?
Abdou El-Omari. He's a Moroccan musician from the '70s. He makes this psychedelic oriental fusion. It's crazy, you should check it out.
With Gool L'ah you worked with a variety of different Arab artists for the album artwork. What made you decide to do this and how important is it to you to collaborate with artists of other mediums with your work?
It's so important to share your work with other artists in the same creative field. "Musical Artworks Project" is a powerful project curated by a very close friend of mine, Sedki al-Imam, who is a graphic designer. Sedki is also one of the artists in the project. Not only do I make music, but I am a visual artist as well. So the visual part of the project is as important as the sound for me. It was such a pleasure having great artists collaborate in that project. I'd love to name each one of them here; Sedki al-Imam, Mohammad Mousa, Kareem Goouda, Ali Almasri, Warsheh ????, Lutfi Zayed, Omar Shammah, Daniel Moreno Cordero, Nihad Alabsi, JF Andeel, Ahmad Mosaad and Faried Omarah.
So can you explain what happened with D-CAF and how you were prevented from coming?
I was prevented from coming due to the difficult situation that is being imposed on Syrians. I know that the festival did it's utter best to ensure that we received visas. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case. We thank the festival for all the effort and I hope I will be able to visit soon and participate in the future.
What's your big dream? Where do you want to take your music?
Wherever it can get to - that's my dream.
Are there any projects or performances we should look out for in the coming future?
My new album, Ha!, is coming out the end of this month. The album release concert is going to happen here in Beirut.