Young music producer and composer Tarek Kandil represents a new generation of musical talent. Eddie Taylor asks him how he found his distinctly non-Arabic musical roots
The music slipping out of the stereo in the sparsely furnished offices of record label Spotalent in Jebel Weibdeh could hardly be less Jordanian it were performed on a didgeridoo. The fluid blend of laid-back funk and Euro house, overlaid with lounge vocals and jazz flourishes, is pure South Beach, Miami. You like it? asks the music's young originator, Tarek Kandil, before replacing one CD with another. Now listen to this, I've just finished it. I found this Algerian girl who was a backing singer in a band I was playing with and she's amazing. She was here for cabin crew training at Marka or something, but when she sang ... just incredible.
More music spills from the speakers, this time a more obviously ethnic fusion of Caribbean rhythms and a hypnotic North African voice spiralling around them. You're good, you know that? You're good, nods Ramzi Halaby, Spotalent's MD who is currently distributing his music in Jordan. It's an understatement, of course, but in a country that is still striving to make its musical voice heard on a regional scale, such an accomplished slice of Western electronica may not press everyone's buttons. But that's my job, says Tarek, anticipating the question. And that's my meaning of life; to keep working, to keep reaching people, to keep trying to make people believe in it.
Some people talk with their hands, gesticulating boldly to best communicate their thoughts. Tarek Kandil talks with his whole body. Slightly built, unshaven and wearing, a touch incongruously for a warm summer's day in the capital, fingerless gloves, he quivers with nervous energy, rocking in his chair and forever tapping an endless stream of cigarettes into an overworked ashtray. He talks just as relentlessly, his thoughts flipping from music to Ammani society to the difficulties of making your mark as a youngster with unorthodox ideas. And when he doesn't have an opinion, he has a question. He observes and judges in the same instant, but he is instantly likeable, with an energy and passion that perfectionists usually exude.
His debut collection was entitled Blame it on Rio, nine tracks of urban grooves that would find an appreciative audience in Manhattan's coolest clubs. For a record with a very chilled, relaxed ambience, though, its genesis was anything but euphoric. There are only two things that motivate people to create; extreme happiness or extreme anger, Tarek says. For me, anger is the perfect creative climate! If I am upset, I will go into the studio and do a 16-hour session. And much of this album was the result of anger... the Rio in the title is a person! Sadly, he won't divulge any further details. It's a very long story. He has no clue who I am! I'll never divulge who he is, I want it to remain a mystery.
Tarek insists, and the music clearly demonstrates, that any negative energy doesn't materialise in the final tracks. But his influence pool is nevertheless immense, from early 1990s hip-hop to Pink Floyd I've never been into lyrics, so I soon got bored of that! before a visit to Paris introduced him to jazz legend Miles Davis and the spicy scene of the Buddha Bar and Algerian-flavoured dance music. Now, it's the Viennese producers Kruger and Dorfmeister who are his current heroes.
The contrast is hardly surprising; Tarek is something of an odd cultural fusion himself. Of Egyptian parentage, his childhood was split between international schools in Kuwait and then, from the age of 9, Amman. He is understandably a little ambivalent about his adopted home, even about his Arab heritage as a whole. I didn't really grow up listening to a lot of Arabic music, so my ears are kind of detuned to it and to be honest, I really struggle to get into it. I went to an English school in Kuwait, and even though I've never actually been to England, I feel I had an English upbringing. I then came to Amman and went to an American school. You learn in English, read in English, speak in English, then one day your family tells you: ‘You're from here, this is who you are'. I'm like, ‘Well it's a bit late now!' I am still not entirely comfortable expressing myself in Arabic.
For me, it's about shared mentality more than shared nationality. From a marketing perspective, it's probably more beneficial to describe myself as North African. I certainly don't look it, but it opens more doors in the music business internationally. Everywhere you, particularly in France, people are excited by musical collaborations. But it doesn't interest me greatly what I call myself.
Despite Tarek's complex cultural influences and he even added three years at New York's prestigious Parsons college to the mix his approach to music is refreshingly simple. He finds a rhythmn he likes, hears about an accomplished musician who is doing something interesting and invites them into his studio to play over the top. He then cuts up the resulting piece of music into loops and samples. Easy. Just 20 minutes of performance can give me endless material. Usually, the musicians don't actually recognise their own playing. I did the same with that Algerian singer you heard earlier. When she sang for me the first time, it was in a back room in between rehearsals. I wanted to capture the sound she made right there and then, and so I recorded it on a tiny microphone. That's the clip I used.
Tarek has a new collection of tracks awaiting release. Being the egalitarian he is, many of them are available for download at his website. Names like Funky Fragment illustrate that they're still cuts from the same mould. More importantly, they're all signposts on the beginnings of a remarkable career. I spend a lot of time harvesting new sounds and ideas, he says. But most of the time, though, you don't go looking for it, you run into it. That's when it is really beautiful.