MANAMA: In these days of house, trip-hop, trance, and more house, you might not expect two young Gulf-based DJ-producers to be embracing Arabic disco from the 1970s. But the aptly named duo Dar Disku (which translates as ‘home of the disco’) — Bahraini Maz Almaskati and long-time Bahrain expat Vish Mhatre — are doing just that, with great aplomb.
The two men, who are now in their late 20s, were school friends in Bahrain and shared a passion for music of many different genres. Mhatre recalls “raiding my parents’ record collection and CD and tape racks. Sitting on the living room floor with headphones going through the CDs and records one by one and discovering new music, whether it was my dad’s taste — Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull or Zeppelin — or my mom’s more dancefloor-oriented taste such as ABBA, Gwen McCrae, or old-school Bollywood.”
As for Almaskati: “[I was] listening to old Egyptian songs by Abdel Halim and Umm Kulthum on the radio in my dad’s car, but going through both my sisters’ music collections and discovering funk, disco, dub, hip-hop and grunge all at once.”
In 2011, the pair headed to the UK to study law (Mhatre) and medicine (Almaskati), but the pull of the music scene was still strong and, before long, they founded Dar Disku, which is not just their ‘stage’ name but also a platform and record label through which they hope to boost the profile of vintage Arabic music and culture.
Taking inspiration from old vinyl records, film posters, photography, and more — the name Dar Disku actually comes from a long-defunct independent 1970s’ Egyptian pop-culture magazine — the pair are self-confessed ‘cratediggers,’ sifting through old records and all things nostalgic. They occasionally even add an Arabic flavor to Western classics; one of their most popular pieces is a reimagining of the Spanish pop hit “Macarena.”
“There are goldmines of records from the Middle East. Generally speaking, I’ll do a lot of the digging and sifting through old samples whilst Mazen has always been on the producer side due to his talent as a multi-instrumentalist and art director. He can take something I find, and we can discuss an idea and he has the magic touch — the ability to transform it into something so contemporary while keeping the authenticity,” says Mhatre.
“If you love a piece of art, make your contribution a part of its evolution, be responsible for its next iteration and share it with a whole new audience, that’s the beauty of digging, sampling and editing,” says Almaskati, who describes their latest work as “infectious” (quickly adding that that is “a word I’m hesitant to use given the year we’ve had”).
“Hook driven, hyper melodic, thumping feel-good music that gets your toes tapping and head spinning like a twirling dervish,” is his more comprehensive description.
Both agree that “energy” is the crucial factor in their work. “That’s all. Does it make you feel a particular way? Does it make you euphoric? Does it make you want to dance or does it make you sad? As long as a track evokes an emotion, it’s done its job,” Almaskati says.
Plenty of people, from all kinds of backgrounds, seem to be picking up on that energy, too. “We’ve played all around the world and there is no set audience. There are no borders on our dancefloors,” says Mhatre.
“If you’re curious and open to new things and the love-share experience of music and dance, you’ll find yourself at home,” Almaskati adds.