AMESTERDAM: Tunisian DJ, producer, musician and composer Ali Aloulou (aka Aeli) moved to Los Angeles from Dubai earlier this year. It was a decision he’d made towards the end of 2018, figuring it was time to give up architecture and commit to music full-time. To do that, he knew relocation was necessary.
“Making this a full-time career is a very difficult mission in Dubai unless you start doing other stuff, like corporate branding work, or super-commercial club DJing,” Aloulou told Arab News. “That’s all fine, but it’s not what I want to do.
“Dubai’s an amazing place to get started, but there’s not really a music industry; you have two or three events a month that are worth going to. In LA, every single day there are at least 20 to 30 high-quality events happening at the same time.” He pauses. “Before COVID, of course.”
Hmm. COVID. The pandemic broke out almost as Aloulou arrived in LA. It has not only made his career transition tougher — as, when we talked in early August, he had still been unable to DJ there since the events industry had shut down — it also further delayed his long-overdue ‘farewell’ project from Dubai: A series of collaborations with his favorite artists from the city’s music scene which are now being released, but were actually recorded in early 2019.
The theme for the project was simple: Goodbye. For Aloulou, that was “goodbye to a career, a city and my (friends),” but for the vocalists it could be “goodbye to anything.” He chose “people that, on a personal level, I like a lot, and artistically I respect them and I like their hustle. It’s as simple as that.”
The main COVID-related delay was to the mastering, which was done in London’s Abbey Road Studios, which shut for around four months when the pandemic started. By that point, Aloulou had already dealt with numerous other issues. The mixing of the tracks was expected to take a maximum of two months. But the engineer he hired became too busy with other clients, and the process ended up taking “ten times longer,” according to Aloulou.
So long, in fact, that by the time he received the mixes, three of the four artists he worked with decided they either didn’t like the end result, or that it no longer suited their artistic identity. Aloulou is sympathetic; but it’s clearly a source of frustration too.
“These are really the strangest collaborations I’ve ever done,” he said. “Time played such a big role.”
The first release, “Cry Me A Valley,” which dropped last month, is a collaboration with rapper Seki Supervillain. It’s a track with an Afrobeat feel, and, Aloulou said, “doesn’t match at all with what he’s doing now, It was so delayed that he just didn’t see it as his track anymore. He didn’t feel it represented him.” As a result, Aloulou is promoting the track heavily, but Seki not so much.
Another collaborator, the rapper Menon, has asked to re-record their yet-to-be-released track, Aloulou said, while the female vocalist with whom he collaborated has asked not to be named on their release (she will be known as Shawri, he explained). “I respect her decision,” he said. “We recorded it so long ago and she’s changed her style completely. This track just didn’t match up with her new identity. But it’s all good.”
“Apostrophes,” his track with JustNishan — who had no complaints — is now out.
Ultimately, Aloulou said, he’s still feeling positive about the project as a whole, not least because he’s learned some valuable lessons. The main one? Release material as soon as possible, especially collaborations.
“As much as you might be convinced about what you’re doing, you can’t predict how they’re going to react, because people change.” he said. “And, second, if you want something done your way, on your terms, then it’s better to do as much as you can yourself. Don’t expect anything from anybody.”
Regardless of how his collaborators feel, for Aloulou the message behind the project still comes through. It was originally inspired by a quote from David Lynch’s show “Twin Peaks”: “To beginnings and endings, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
“When there’s an ending, it doesn’t mean what happened is dead; it’s made something new begin. Without Dubai, I wouldn’t be in LA. And without architecture I wouldn’t have had the resources to come here,” Aloulou said. “So it’s a goodbye with a lot of love.”