Bidoun Mix 5: Meriem Bennani

Meriem Bennani and Esraa Warda performing at MoMA PS1, June 30, 2018

This past June, the artist Meriem Bennani made her museum DJing debut with a matinee performance at one of MoMA PS1’s esteemed Warm Up parties. The set featured songs ripped off of YouTube and pre-mixed with sound effects using Adobe Premiere. (She’s more comfortable with film editing software.) If you know her work, you may recognize some of those sound effects from such videos as Fly, Siham and Hafida, and Ghariba (which Bidoun published earlier this year). Meriem is my friend, and I was excited to see her perform. And yet on the day of the big event, for some inexplicable reason, I decided to take the East River Ferry. Sadly, I arrived just as her set had ended. We’re publishing Meriem’s effervescent mix here so that you and I and all the other people around the world who didn’t make it to PS1 that day can hear it as well.

Tiffany Malakooti: So, I understand that you pre-recorded this mix, and then pretended to be DJing live?

Meriem Bennani: Yeah. [Laughs] I had a screenshot of DJ software up on my screen for when people passed behind me, but then I realized no one cares, so I just had iTunes open. I didn’t know what to do with my body so I just waved at everyone I knew. It’s easier in the dark, at parties, but this was on a stage in the middle of the day. But then Esraa came on to dance and that was cool because it directed all the attention to her.

TM: Who is Esraa?

MB: Esraa Warda, she’s a dancer. She’s Algerian, but she loves Moroccan dancing music. She teaches chaabi dance classes in New York. I made her a Kaada — my mom calls it Bastilya — you cut a metal drum in half and then you dance on it. We put a microphone under it so you could hear her dancing to the beat.

TM: You made it yourself?

MB: Yeah, we found a container drum behind Signal Gallery and we cut it. She was so excited because it’s a tool she’s always wanted, she’d been watching all these videos with them. She practiced for a week and she was amazing. She kept the drum — I really hope she’s using it in her shows.

Esraa Warda performing at MoMA PS1, June 30, 2018

TM: You seem to do so much by yourself… you make your own drums, do your own projection mapping, editing, 3D animation. And now your own sound effects, as well?

MB: I think it comes from being really impatient. I want to see all of the atmosphere that I’m trying to create immediately. But I’ve had people help me before with things I can’t do myself. Honestly, I think it’s because I come from drawing, where you do everything on your own—I see every step as part of my medium. Every step involves decision-making, it’s not just technical. But I have to get better at letting go and learning to communicate what I want, because sometimes I end up just wasting a lot of time. My sister used to say about my drawings, “You never know how to stop. It was good and then you kept going!” [Laughs] I don’t have that talent of… minimalism.

TM: You love working.

MB: I love working! [Laughs] But for example, right now, I’m at the stage in a project that is usually my favorite: I have a full hardrive of footage to make a film from. But this time I’m exhausted before I even start, which I’ve never felt before. It’s the most footage I’ve ever had, and I’m realizing how much work it is. I don’t like to think about it this way. But I have so much ahead of me!

TM: Tell me about this new film?

MB: It’s a sci-fi video for the Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement called Party on the CAPS. It looks a lot like our current reality, but then there are all these details that give you hints that it’s not. The narrator is an animated crocodile. I was thinking about a constant state of in-betweenness, which manifests in different ways — like the idea of diaspora, or always being between cultures, or like being between ages or genders, a type of suspension. So I imagined that in the future airplanes would be replaced by teleportation, and then my first thought was how the USA would try and police teleportation. I was imagining they would have troopers in the Atlantic Ocean intercepting travel. In this scenario they intercept teleportations, which is already pretty violent on your body because you’re being molecularly deconstructed and reconstructed, such that you might end up looking or being different. Some subtleties, like maybe you’re a different age. I imagined there would be this island in the middle of the Atlantic that would function as a base for these troopers. And when they would intercept people they hold them there in limbo. And eventually what is essentially a camp grows into a metropolis…

TM: Are people coming from a specific place?

MB: Different places in Africa. I always get lumped into this category of “the Middle East,” but I really wanted to engage more with Africa on this project. You know, this year Morocco rejoined the African Union. The crocodile narrator is voiced by a rapper from Equatorial Guinea. I modeled the crocodile on her, so it’s sort of a butch crocodile named Fiona, which is her name.

TM: An island in the middle of the Atlantic is pretty literally in between.

MB: Yes. The film is like a documentary about life on this island. It also imagines a future in which biotechnologies are a normal part of everyone’s lives. What I filmed in Morocco was a party scene which would be in the Moroccan neighborhood of the island. The island is a bit like a subconscious; things are similar to what we know but just a little bit different.

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TM: And the island is policed? It’s basically a prison?

MB: Yeah. I didn’t want to focus on that dynamic — most of the island looks like regular life — but there are military quarters where they have their own stuff like American pharmacies or whatever.

TM: You have six hours of footage of just the party scene?

MB: I filmed it like a documentary. I actually threw the party, and then filmed inside of it. It’s six hours-long because it was a long party. [Laughs]

TM: Was that fun?

MB: It was a nightmare. It was horrible for me because I was working, and it was family, and there were two other people on cameras… it was just a lot. But I think other people had fun. I was shooting portraits of two characters. The actors were playing themselves, but like future version of themselves. They talk about Morocco like it’s something their parents told them about.

TM: Because they were born on the island…

MB: Yeah. They’re the new generation. There’s a theme in Rai music, or any North African music with roots in the diaspora that moved to France, called L’Ghorba, which evokes that sense of missing your homeland. Maybe you’ve heard of it? [Laughs]

TM: Never!

MB: I think it has to do with people living in a state of nostalgia. Romanticizing a faraway place.

TM: Do you feel like you’re transitioning into that diaspora position? Like you’ve been outside of Morocco long enough now that that’s how you’re relating to it?

MB: No, honestly it’s really not about me. I spend so much time in Morocco that I still get mad at it. [Laughs] I’m not far away enough yet. But I thought it would be interesting to ask people who live in Morocco to imagine having a fantasy relationship to it. I like giving someone one rule — like, everything they perform can be from their actual life except this one thing. Like, this guy is describing his dad’s job, it’s almost a real interview but slightly more playful, with one level of performance. And the playfulness aligns with this bigger narrative. But it’s sort of a game, or an exercise. And also like a party. And then there’s my mother and my aunt, who are always in my films.

TM: I thought your mom retired from your films.

MB: No, she didn’t retire. She’s very much in this one.

TM: Didn’t she retire from Fardaous Funjab?

MB: No, I retired from Fardaous! I retired Fardaous, I don’t want to make any more of them. This thing kept happening where Fardaous is systematically the project media platforms chose to highlight when they write about my work. Every time I send a magazine the folder with images to pick from, I do this test thing where I expect them to choose Fardaous — it never fails. They always pick it, and it started not feeling right. I feel like most of those platforms don’t have the right to talk publicly about the hijab and even less so with humor so I kind of do the job for them and fill this space that is dying to be filled. They kind of hit the jackpot with me — it’s risk-free, since I’m a Muslim woman. They even photos from the Fardaous project for articles about what I’m doing now, and that project is from almost four years ago. I mean, they’re very pop and straightforward and so clearly about sensitive topics like the hijab and womanhood in Islam. But those are all subjects that I have tried to approach with more sincerity in the past couple years, through other kinds of narratives, but somehow they always pick those same images.

TM: I once heard someone say that white privilege is not having a porn category. “Hijabi girls” is a very popular porn category, so you’re a bit out of luck with something like Fardaous.

MB: That’s a very good quote. “Hijabi girls” are definitely clickbait on art platforms.

TM: So wait, how did your mom feel about playing Fardaous?

MB: Actually [laughs] she is Fardous. Honestly, she was barely acting. I don’t know what it is… I did buy her improv classes last year — she got really into it. She has a talent. She’s so good! I give her a character and she just runs with it. She could go on forever.

TM: I can’t get over how perfect it is that your mom is such a great actor?

MB: My mom and my aunt, they’re usually acting as themselves, as sisters. In the new film, my mom and my aunt are mostly playing themselves. I told them: You guys are sisters and you’re attending your mother’s eightieth birthday party, but she’s just gone through a biotech rejuvenation process so she’s back in the body she had when she was twenty. Their mom is played by my cousin, who is my age. [Laughs] I said, That’s your mother, she can’t move too much because she just had the treatment, all these people have come for the birthday but they’re also very gossipy, you’re hosting the party — go!

TM: Do they love doing it?

MB: They love it. My aunt is amazing, I could show up in the middle of the night and she would give her everything. They did their own costumes! My mom was like, “So what am I gonna wear?” and I think she was so scared I was going to give her something embarrassing that she made herself a dress. It’s actually amazing. It’s like a theatrical version of a caftan. She gets my humor, she gets my ideas.

Aunt Bouchra in her costume for Party in the CAPS

TM: Those shoes! Holy shit. She looks fab.

MB: I didn’t even ask them to do anything. They both matched their hair and wore green. The party has a green theme because of Fiona the crocodile. hey thought about what would look sci-fi and futuristic and then ran with it. And she put too much makeup on, because she knew I would like it. [Laughs]

TM: Now that I think about it more, is it that you’re lucky to have them… or would you just never even have made this type of work to begin with if you didn’t?

MB: Oh my god, that’s a really good question. I never thought about that.

TM: It seems like an extension of how you like to do things yourself — you can just use your mother and aunt instead of having to bring outside people in.

MB: Wow, you’re right — it’s so simple, but I never thought about it. I think I film them because they are the way they are. Like my aunt’s characters are very close to how she really is. She wears those crazy shoes in real life. My mom is less over the top, but she can go there like this [snaps fingers], I just need to ask. I think at this point it’s definitely a collaboration.

TM: That’s so cute. So then, what about the crocodile? I feel like there’s always an animal in your work?

MB: There’s always a narrator. “Always…” [Laughs] I’ve only done like three things. I think the narrator just stands in for me. It’s my way of being in the video.

TM: That makes sense. It does feel like you’re a fly when you’re in Morocco? Like, you go there all the time but you’re only there for this short period. You’re kind of just observing, moving in and out of spaces, and then you leave…

MB: Oh my god, this is the second very obvious thing you’ve told me today that I’ve never thought about. [Laughs] You’re right: I’m the fly. I mean that’s wasn’t my intention exactly but it’s true… Like I said before, I come from drawing so I’ve always been more interested in a practice where you create your own world with its own rules. Anyway, the animal narrator is… it’s not a trick — I don’t like the idea of being a tricky person or using tricks or gimmicks, but I like to develop tools. The narrator serves the same purpose as having a voiceover; it’s a tool that allows you to script things however you want, even though the footage was shot without a script.

Still from Fly, 2016

TM: I feel like people tend to focus on what might seem like tricks — the sound effects, the animations, the characters, all the digital mediations in your work — but what really stands out to me are the parts that come out of these very social, very IRL relationships. I think you’re really good at setting up these types of spaces and scenarios for people to play in, in both your work and in your life. You riff off of the reality television format in Fardous and also in Siham and Hafida, but I think in all seriousness you would probably be very good at a real reality TV job if you were just a little bit more evil! But maybe that’s why you push the digital mediations so much? To pervert the work a bit in your own way, as a low-key evil substitute? [Laughs]

MB: Thank you! The digital mediations only exist to control the drama frequency shot-by-shot, and to reorganize or amplify social interactions. But you’re right, a lot of people think of them as statements of their own rather than just devices, because people are so quickly seduced by technical stuff.

TM: Right.

MB: But you know, I always get questions about the ethics of my interventions in these videos. Like, “Did this person know you were going to land a butterfly on their nose while they’re talking about something they really care about?” What people are really saying is “Are you totally evil and can you confess now?” And every time I say that my humor comes from a place of tenderness and that the people in my videos have seen the effects or they are family members who know my humor — but, since this is not every other interview, I can admit that it is evil.

TM: Busted!

MB: Or at least I first go through being the devil and then I ask myself, Why did I have this impulse to do this or that, and it usually reveals a reaction I had to a subtlety. And then I can filter through those impulses and keep the ones that seem valid or productive within the logic of the film and its narrative.

TM: What other things do people always ask you about? Morocco and women?

MB: Exactly, so let’s not talk about that.

TM: I don’t want to talk about it, I want to talk about talking about it.

MB: Okay, we can talk about talking about it, but then it starts taking up just as much space. But yeah, they ask about… identity [in deep voice].

TM: Okay fine, then can you tell me a bit about what’s on the mix?

MB: Yes. There’s a lot of North African stuff — Moroccan, Algerian. A lot of Hausa music from Northern Nigeria, some Hausa rap, some Egyptian stuff.

There are two songs in the mix, back to back, by my crush of the past six months, Cheikha Nedjma. She’s older, from another generation. She has the most powerful voice, it’s crazy.

TM: Do you consider yourself a hyper person? The mix is pretty hyper.

MB: My biggest fear is that people are bored. Which is actually a bad thing about my work. I think some things need time to linger. I’m learning to be better at that. I’m a perfect example of someone who is internet-paced and can’t read a book. It’s my biggest flaw that I’m really trying to work on. I don’t love that about myself. But it’s not all bad. The frequency is also a choice, synthesizing this experience of being on youtube and constantly working with different references. That’s what I love about a mix, that I can combine a bubble sound effect with a song from the Souss in Morocco, functioning on multiple levels at the same time. I think I’m hyper. Was that a rhetorical question?


Bubbling Water – Bubbles SOUND EFFECT-2.mp3
Aziza Brahim – DIOS MIO
cheb nasro ndirek amour instrumental
chaabi karim nor remix – deejay lextazy
ABOsahar DJ…ALL made in China
Suspense Sounds.mp3
Suction Sound Effect.mp3
Punch Sound Effect.mp3
Hanaa Ouassim – TheShower ( Maud Geffray )
Najwa Karam – Ana ma fiye
El Sawareekh – Laa
Jabo – pastilla
maghreb mix party sexy back blend
Suspense Sounds.mp3
Naima Bent Oudaden – Tagantan
cheba noria alaabou ya louled
Reggada Mix Ambiance – الرڭادة الرڭادة
LclSh Paltalk Ilyes Fr Rap live By Room Oujda
MHD – Bodyguard
Dag Al Mani – دق الماني.mp3
Tribal Mix 2018 Lo Mas Nuevo
erick rincon ft3ball aforo
Dog Bark Sound Effects.mp3
hausa hip hop mix soundcloud not youtube
__ ______ ______ ___ ____.mp3
Alicia Keys – Fallin’ (Acapella)
Deena Abdelwahed – Walk on Nothing to See Here
chikha nedjma l9VaTyO53i8
cheikha nedjma koulech fih zine wa3ar
Gan Gah – hanini_allaoui traditionnel (Gan Gah edit)
5 kappi rai 1.mp4
Frankie Knuckles - Rain Falls Davids 12 Soakin Wet Mix 1991
1 arabic dabke mix
Issam – caviar