Les oiseaux migrateurs de TootArd ont ouvert le sésame clubbesque du monde arabe des années 70 et 80 ! Passés par les pistes de danse du Caire, de Damas et de Beirut, qui affolaient les 1001 nuits de cet âge d’or musical, ils déploient leurs ailes synthétiques pour nous emporter dans leur voyage loin au dessus des frontières, tant géographiques que musicales et temporelles.
Avec leur troisième album ‘Migrant Birds’ (29 Mai – Glitterbeat records), ils déposent dans les oreilles du monde un disco électrique puissamment envoûtant et apaisant. Le twist émotionnel qu’il génère, à coups de synthés trafiqués au quart de tune, fait partir des mouvements de danse au quart de tour ! Les frères Hasan et Rami Nakhleh et leurs acolytes ont composé 12 tubes bouillonnants d’émotions, qui vont résonner longtemps dans les moonlights des lieux où ils se poseront !
Soufflant un vent de liberté à travers leur musique, ces volatiles épris d’ailleurs ont pour partie quitté leur nid natal du Golan pour s’établir en Europe. Golan auquel ils sont retournés pour enregistrer ‘Migrant Birds’. De leur capacité à survoler les territoires, avec le « laissez passer » de leur talent, et aboutir à une telle cohérence dans la renaissance de sons, autant de sujets dont on a discuté, entre autres, avec Hasan Nakhleh, chanteur et claviériste du groupe.
Hello Hasan, when and how did you started TootArd ?
We started about ten years ago, on the Golan heights, in Majdal Shams, where we grew up with my brother Rami.
Where does the name TootArd comes from ?
Actually, TootArd is an arabic word for « fraises », « strawberries ». Back then, we didn’t knew how to call the band. We just took this word, it was funny. And you know, after ten years, you can’t change your back names, we have to work with this now !
What are the main themes you speak about through your music, especially in ‘Migrant Birds’ ?
There is a lot of talking about freedom of movement. The last album ‘Laissez Passer’ was talking more about us, when we travel and the difficulties we have because we don’t have a passport. Always in a good vibe, always with uplifting music. We also used the birds in the songs, to describe the way of flying about the borders, especially when you grew up in the Middle East.
I think ‘Migrant Birds’ is a little bit the continuity of these themes. I’ve migrated to Europe, so it talks also about this experience. There is a lot of peace themes. Also a lot of social themes. About our heart society, in the arabic world, also. There is a lot of love songs in this album !
Like ‘Babe’, for example ?
Yes ! But ‘Babe’ is also speaking about the unfair and non-equality between the genders in the arab world. About how the woman is not treated like a man, between other things. It’s the point of view of a woman, let’s say « frustrated » by the arab men. A lot of fight has to be done about this, but it’s in progress !
About the sound of ‘Migrant Birds’, now it’s more groovy and with « piouw-piouw » synth sounds, where does it comes from?
Differently from the last album, I didn’t played guitar most, but synthesizers. Which I detuned a quarter tone, so I can get the arabic scale sounds on it. I remembered when we were kids : we are all musicians in the family, and we had a very old version of a Yamaha keyboard synth, which was arabic quarter toned from the 80’s. It’s sounds so old, but in the same time it reminds me of all these nice songs of the arabic 70’s and 80’s.
Remembering it, I tried to play with keyboards in that way, to jam with my brother, and then we started to write songs with this atmosphere. Trying to find what was the real nightlife and music in the clubs back then in Cairo, Beirut or Damascus. We fantasized the magic of these times.
Is it the first album you record on Golan heights ?
No, in the last album we recorded in many places and some stuff we also recorded it in Golan. But ‘Migrant Birds’ is all produced in the village of Majdal Shams, because now we have a friend who built a very nice and highly professional studio there. It was fun to record it there, out of nothing. When you go out, you have very small villages, and when you go inside you see high engineering.
Recently Gilles Peterson played one of the songs that gonna be in the album, « Stone heap of the wild cat », saying that it’s the first time he played a song from Golan heights and around. How do you feel that one of your songs is shared by one of the most influent DJs in the « World Music » stage?
It was fantastic ! I didn’t knew he was playing us ! He also said a thing like « It’s a great record », and for me it was really good to hear !
Could you make us discover a few of these things going on in your region ? Some bands from there ?
Sure ! Now there is lot of production amount happening, and it’s gonna be more and more. Between very exciting people there is Jowan Safadi :
And Almutahiat :
Did you worked with other people on ‘Migrant Birds’ ?
Yes. I recorded the whole album with my brother and another singer, a vocalist woman also from the Golan heights, called Haneen Ayoub. She’s the band leader of Hawa Dafi.
It was the only collaboration for this album. But I’m looking forward to collaborate with other artists ? There is good hip hop going on and very groovy stuff like Bu Kolthoum or DAM!
We love to do beats, so we gonna probably collaborate with singers. There are also a lot of amazing arabic singers I’d like to collaborate with also. I have a few names but I didn’t approached them. It would be a pleasure with Yousif Yaseen:
Are you working online now, with your brother and other parts of the band ?
Yes, we create new stuff and figure out how we gonna do this live. Now we hope to tour again, in October or November, with the release of the album ‘Migrant Birds’. We’re gonna be 4 or 5 musicians on stage. I’m looking forward because as you might heard, the album is produced, but we are much more different when we play in the material live. Everybody in the band they like to jam, so we exteeend the songs, and change it, and put some fire in !
What are the places you will play ?
We were working for a tour in May, June and July, and now we try to keep some places and reschedule it. Of course there was Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, and of course in the Middle East also a little bit. We had one festival I was happy about, called Down the rabbit hole.
What could be your best souvenir of concert ?
It’s tricky ! Last year we played at Glastonbury for the first time. This was mad ! The amount of people, how big it is, you know, it’s too much but fantastic in the same time. We had 2 gigs in the same festival on different stages.
There are also a lot of small and special ones. For example, in Japan it was totally something else. It was really touching. Everything was so…different. Also the people, the nature. This trip influenced me a lot. Even in the festivals we played, the technicians were so efficient and so helpful and kind…
Sometimes in Europe it can be though in the festivals : you’re throwed just somewhere, in a tent, with little artist care. But in Japan they treated us like huge rockstars !
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How do you live this lockdown period ?
For us, music is big part of our lives, so we took it very hard at the beginning, not being able to tour and play live. We didn’t really wanted to use the emerging tools and formats to play online in streaming. It’s very different to see comments instead of crowd when you play. It took me a while to see what we could do and how to survive.
Now we try to produce as much as we can and put it out. We had a lot of ideas and projects to do. And usually when you tour, you don’t have time to do other things. Also these videos and streaming, we didn’t think too much about it before, but I feel now if we want to release now for people, who are on the Internet, with the eyes playing a big role also…
From these frustration times, we work like crazies ! And during the last month we came up with very cool ideas to be made…
Can you tell us a bit more about these new ideas ?
Yes ! In TootArd, our main problem was we had too many influences and styles. For years, we had a ritual for all the guys coming to us (with Rami), plugging the instruments, and playing every day. We were so bored in the village that we played and played, and played… endless jams! Drink, smoke and jams each day ! So after a while we had a lot of different ideas.
Everybody wanted to put us in categories like « World music », « Jazz » or « Rock », but for us we could do different albums with different styles because it’s so much fun ! But in the music business it doesn’t work. So now we take the chance to delete this by just creating different projects.
Rami and I we’re now doing a project which is gonna be electronic. Just to do it, the two of us. With no instruments, just drum machines and sequencers, detuned at quarter tone of course. But it’s something just to go on live and make the people dance. We’re gonna call it a new name. It will also allow us to put something out every month, not only a 10 songs album every 2 or 3 years. All the ideas sounding electronically goes to this box.
We also create another project that has more classical arabic influences, and with this we’re looking to collaborate with female singers. It’s gonna be more like arabic surf rock.
Like this we can produce more frequently, and not confuse all the styles.
And after the lockdown, it will provide you more experiences for playing !
Exactly ! When touring, we play sometimes in different festivals, in different stages, in different times of the day. And we felt that sometimes they put us very early. For example in the afternoon, when people are chilling, and we felt like « wow, if we knew this, we could have written something else! », like long chill out arabic things… But as we don’t know it, we tour with the same set and we play it everywhere.
And sometimes, like in Glastonbury, they put us at 1 in the night, when people where dancing like crazy and totally up. In this case, you have to give everything, from the first second till the end. And we felt we wanted to play our electronic music here ! So, by having different projects, we will be able to send them at the right hour on stage. And basically keep our live performances open for improvisations and experimenting, that would be fun !