Meet Dar Disku, the Gulf duo mixing up a storm on the international music scene

Meet Dar Disku, the Gulf duo mixing up a storm on the international music scene
Bahraini Maz Almaskati and Vish Mhatre are Gulf-based DJ-producers. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 January 2021

Meet Dar Disku, the Gulf duo mixing up a storm on the international music scene

Meet Dar Disku, the Gulf duo mixing up a storm on the international music scene

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.”




Umm Kulthum is an Egyptian singer. (Getty)

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.


Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic

Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic
Both Essence and Sun Pharmacy are registered at Maroof, a platform launched by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment for online stores. (Supplied)
Updated 11 April 2021

Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic

Healthy choice: Saudis embrace ‘clean beauty’ after pandemic
  • Homegrown businesses meet growing demand for natural self-care products

JEDDAH: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in health awareness worldwide as consumers question their pre-virus lifestyle, and adopt more hygienic, healthy and environmentally friendly behaviors.

Saudis are no exception. Many are embracing healthier lifestyles and practices, seeking natural products to improve their health and prevent diseases, resulting in a growing demand for local eco-friendly, natural and organic beauty products.
According to a recent Mordor Intelligence forecast on the Saudi beauty market from 2021 to 2026, there is a growing demand for natural, organic, herbal and halal products, along with innovative and eco-friendly packaging and designs.
Homegrown young businesses offering naturally made self-care and cosmetic products are noticing increased interest by consumers in their products.
“There had been a growing demand for our products with the pandemic because people are becoming more aware of their wellbeing and they want a healthier lifestyle,” Amani Daghriri, owner of Sun Pharmacy, told Arab News.
Sun Pharmacy (@sun_pharmacy) is the first of its kind in the Kingdom to specialize in fully organic daily skin and personal care products made in Saudi Arabia.
“Every crisis has its bright side, and the pandemic has definitely helped us grow, especially with the shift toward e-commerce, which allowed more people to learn about our store and to try our products,” she added.
Daghriri said that more people are now prioritizing the safety of ingredients and formulas on their skin, which is a message she is keen to communicate.

HIGHLIGHT

According to a recent Mordor Intelligence forecast on the Saudi beauty market from 2021 to 2026, there is a growing demand for natural, organic, herbal and halal products, along with innovative and eco-friendly packaging and designs.

“The skin is the biggest organ in the body, and the first defender of our immunity. Applying chemicals weakens it, but feeding your skin with natural products that are similar to the structure of our cells and bodies helps preserve its glow and health, and therefore the health of the entire body,” she said.
At Sun Pharmacy, Daghriri targets consumers looking for daily use self-care products such as toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo. However, women between 20 and 60 make up most of her clients.
The fast growth of the natural products market reflects the rise in public awareness, said Daghriri. “This market is growing very quickly. When I started five years ago, there were hardly 10 people working in the field, but now it is very difficult to count.”
Although handmade natural products are seen as cost-effective, easy to make and consumer attractive, Daghriri insists that it is a knowledge-based craft that can be expensive, but is also good value.
She believes that business owners in the natural products industry must obtain the necessary knowledge not only to support their business and expand their products line, but also to better serve consumers, gain their trust and eliminate mistakes.
As the home became the new spa during the pandemic, DIY and natural self-care recipes saw significant growth worldwide. “I see many DIY recipes everywhere,” said Daghriri, “but these recipes are prone to fail, rot quickly or interact in an unpleasant way.”
She said that investment in this field requires knowledge about how to produce products properly to gain confidence in your abilities and earn the consumers’ trust.
Sun Pharmacy is permitted by the Saudi Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) to establish its own lab and manufacture its own products.
“The FDA procedures are much easier today than in the past for those who work in our field,” said Daghriri. “In the past, the permit was conditional to factories, but they later made an exception for those who work from home or their own private places to produce their products until they become a factory.”
She also highlighted that products registration is made accessible online, so any registered business can submit its products for approval and release in the market.
Sun Pharmacy closely follows Daghriri’s own lifestyle, beliefs and principles, a fact that she believes is essential for these types of businesses.
“This is not a profit-driven business; passion and faith are necessary to grow,” she said. “I believe the more effort I give, the better the results.”
Daghriri has confidence in the effectiveness of her products, and hopes to expand in the wider MENA region as a leading Saudi brand in the “clean beauty” industry.
Essence (@essence__sa) is another young Saudi startup that offers natural handmade self-care products to Saudi consumers.
The Instagram-based store is run by a mother, Rhonda Howard, and her daughter Lujain Malibari.
“We have always been passionate about using natural skincare, and we want to share our favorites with our customers and people who have the same passion as we do,” Malibari told Arab News.
Essense offers homemade natural essential oil skincare to women customers, but is planning to expand with a product line for men.
Malibari said: “More people are becoming interested in natural remedies for their skin and want to know what’s in their products. We see this trend in Saudi Arabia as well.”
The pandemic has led to an increase in sales for young brands such as Essence.
However, Malibari said: “Our loyal customers have stayed loyal, but it has made it difficult to attract new customers.”
With the safety of products a major concern for potential users of handmade products, Daghriri advises people to refrain from buying products that fail to list ingredients since not all natural components will suit everyone.
Packaging and the right storage for natural products is also important for safety.
“We take pride in using the best of ingredients and in our hygiene practices in the preparation of the products. We make sure that our products are packaged in safe containers that support essential oils, too,” said Malibari.
Regardless of how big or small the business is, those working in the natural beauty industry bear the responsibility of educating customers about ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle and achieve healthy beauty. Both Sun Pharmacy and Essence make knowledge not only a message but also an essential marketing factor.
“We educate ourselves to provide the best quality for our customers,” said Daghriri.
Both Essence and Sun Pharmacy are proud local Saudi brands based in Jeddah that were launched from home. The two businesses are registered at Maroof, a platform launched by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment for online stores.
“What was really exciting when I first started was the ‘Made in Saudi’ label — it brings me joy and pride every time I stick that label on my boxes,” said Daghriri.


Introducing Renaissance Renaissance, the Lebanese label shortlisted for the LVMH Prize 2021

Cynthia Merhej founded her Lebanese label in 2016 alongside her mother. Supplied
Cynthia Merhej founded her Lebanese label in 2016 alongside her mother. Supplied
Updated 11 April 2021

Introducing Renaissance Renaissance, the Lebanese label shortlisted for the LVMH Prize 2021

Cynthia Merhej founded her Lebanese label in 2016 alongside her mother. Supplied

DUBAI: “I’m doing femininity on my own terms,” says Cynthia Merhej, a LVMH Prize 2021 semi-finalist — the first-ever Arab woman to be selected as a semi-finalist for the prestigious accolade — when asked to describe her womenswear label Renaissance Renaissance.

Merhej, the 31-year-old Lebanese designer, who studied graphic design and illustration at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins art school, was always destined to be involved in the fashion industry. She hails from multiple generations of designers — her great-grandmother and mother both ran their own ateliers in Palestine and Lebanon.

The 31-year-old creative hails from a family of fashion designers. Supplied

Her focus and determination to push the envelope can be traced back to her family history. “She was an anomaly,” said Merhej of her great-grandmother. “To have this really strong woman who decided to start her own fashion business and run it herself was pretty unique at the time.”

Merhej grew up in a tiny suburb in Beirut. Her earliest childhood memories are of her mother’s bustling atelier, watching seamstresses at work and seeing her mother carefully drape clothing on clients all day.

Portrait of Cynthia Merhej. Supplied

“I didn’t have the typical story where I’m looking at fashion as an outsider and thinking ‘wow, it looks so glamorous, beautiful and fantastical.’ Fashion was something very real. I was exposed to the whole other side of it, which you usually don’t hear about or see in magazines or fashion shows and things like that,” she said.

At 17, the third generation tailor left Lebanon to pursue an education in London, before moving back aged 24 and launching her own sustainable label alongside her mother in 2016.

Merhej launched her own sustainable label alongside her mother in 2016. Supplied

But although her mother was already a successful fashion designer with over 30-years of experience back home, Merhej revealed that her own foray into the industry began with self-learning. “My mom was too busy. She wasn’t like ‘oh, I’m going to sit and teach her how to sew and teach her how to do this,’” said Merhej. “And I really appreciate that, because fashion is a really tough business.”

Merhej had to take pattern-making classes for a year and a half before she felt she was on “her mother’s level,” as she put it. The mother and daughter duo went on to develop pieces for the brand of clothing known for its bulbous silhouettes, corset-style detailing and flouncy, feminine ruffles.

Renaissance Renaissance is known for its bulbous silhouettes, corset-style detailing and flouncy, feminine ruffles. Supplied

“The brand aims to challenge perceptions of femininity, but in a beautiful way,” said the designer. “When people look at the clothes, they might think that they’re not very radical due to our perception of what radical is. But when you take my clothes and display them in shops in Beirut, they’re really the opposite of everything that is found there,” she added.

Merhej has a point. When one thinks of classic Lebanese designs, one cannot help but think of the glamorous red carpet gowns and gorgeous couture creations that come out of Beirut season after season.

Cynthia Merhej photographed by Lily Merhebian. Supplied

“It was actually really hard to get recognition in the Middle East,” said Merhej. “I had to really go outside the region to find people that would understand what I’m doing,” she added, noting her relocation to Paris following the tragic Beirut explosion on Aug. 4.

As a result of her hard work, Merhej’s designs are now being recognized. Last week, she made fashion history after being announced as one of 20 semi-finalists for the LVMH Prize 2021, making her the first-ever Arab woman to be shortlisted as a semi-finalist for the award.

Merhej is the first Arab woman to be shortlisted for the prestigious LVMH Prize. Supplied

“It’s already incredible we even got to the semi-finals,” said Merhej. “It will be even more incredible if we get to the finals, but I think even just to get to this point is pretty amazing.”

Her Lebanese label has also elicited a positive response for its strong commitment to sustainability.

Merhej’s most recent fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection, for example, features fewer looks, ethical production and a complete absence of buttons and zippers, which often end up in the trash even after a garment is recycled.

The fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection features fewer looks, ethical production and a complete absence of fastenings. Supplied

“I was raised to approach fashion ethically since before I even knew that sustainability was a term,” said Merhej. Her sustainable approach to fashion was further encouraged by her father, an engineer, whose lessons taught her the importance of producing something to the highest quality so that it lasts over time.

“I think the most sustainable thing you can do is design things with a lot of consideration. You have to make sure that what you’re designing actually has a purpose, that it’s beautiful, and it’s something people want to keep and desire — and that you’re using ethical conditions to produce it,” Merhej said.

“Everything around me is constantly being destroyed in this country,” she added. “I am trying to make something that’s going to be really beautiful and that stands the test of time for the women that inspire me.”


Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city
Updated 10 April 2021

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city
  • Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city”
  • Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks

LUXOR: Archaeologists near Luxor have unearthed just a portion of the “largest” ancient city ever found in Egypt and dating to a golden pharaonic age 3,000 years ago, officials said Saturday.
Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city,” saying the site was uncovered near Luxor, home of the legendary Valley of the Kings.
“We found one portion of the city only. But the city extends to the west and the north,” Hawass told AFP Saturday ahead of a press conference in the archaeologically rich area.
Betsy Bryan, professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, had said the find was the “second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun” nearly a century ago, according to the excavation team’s statement on Thursday.
Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks bearing seals of Amenhotep III.
The team began excavations in September between the temples of Ramses III and Amenhotep III near Luxor, some 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Cairo.
Amenhotep III inherited an empire that stretched from the Euphrates River in modern Iraq and Syria to Sudan and died around 1354 BC, ancient historians say.
He ruled for nearly four decades, a reign known for its opulence and the grandeur of its monuments, including the Colossi of Memnon — two massive stone statues near Luxor that represent him and his wife.
“It’s not only a city — we can see... economic activity, workshops and ovens,” Mostafa Waziri, head of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said Saturday.
Since the announcement, some scholars have disputed that Hawass and his team have succeeded where others had failed by locating the city.
Egyptologist Tarek Farag posted Friday on Facebook that the area was first excavated more than a century ago by a team from New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
But Waziri dismissed these concerns, saying previous digs had taken place further afield to the south the site.


Girl on fire: Alicia Keys surprises school students in Saudi Arabia

US singer Alicia Keys is known for her Grammy-winning hits and on-stage presence. (File/ AFP)
US singer Alicia Keys is known for her Grammy-winning hits and on-stage presence. (File/ AFP)
Updated 59 min 14 sec ago

Girl on fire: Alicia Keys surprises school students in Saudi Arabia

US singer Alicia Keys is known for her Grammy-winning hits and on-stage presence. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: US hitmaker Alicia Keys recently gave an impromptu performance to Saudi students and staff at Madrasat AdDeera in AlUla.

The performance, which was posted onto Instagram by Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah on Friday, saw the award-winning singer perform her hit “Fallin’’ in front of students and staff at a girls’ school.

The Grammy Award winner has visited Saudi Arabia numerous times. 

Keys was one of the headliners of Riyadh Season 2019, alongside Bruno Mars, Pitbull and John Legend who all performed concerts across the capital city.

And according to a recent photo that has been circulating around Twitter, the “Girl on Fire” singer was in the Kingdom even more recently than that.

The photo in question, posted by Twitter user @dcantiheroes, is a screenshot from April 9 taken from Hassan Ghoneim’s Instagram Stories that showed the Saudi media personality standing beside Keys.

If the picture was taken over the weekend, that means that Keys was in town when Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli performed at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, AlUla.


US-Lebanese model Nour Arida launches new children’s line

US-Lebanese model Nour Arida has just made her first foray into fashion design with the launch of her new kidswear line, Generation Peace. (File/ Getty Images)
US-Lebanese model Nour Arida has just made her first foray into fashion design with the launch of her new kidswear line, Generation Peace. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 10 April 2021

US-Lebanese model Nour Arida launches new children’s line

US-Lebanese model Nour Arida has just made her first foray into fashion design with the launch of her new kidswear line, Generation Peace. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: US-Lebanese model Nour Arida has just made her first foray into fashion design with the launch of her new kidswear line, Generation Peace.

The clothing line is made for girls and boys between the ages of six months to 12-years-old.

Arida, who is a mother of a five-year-old girl named Ayla, announced the exciting news this weekend via Instagram.

“I genuinely hope this brand will meet your expectations,” she told her nine  million Instagram followers. “We’ve been working for so long on every detail, every design and every idea for every single aspect to meet international standards,” she added.

For the new children’s brand, Arida tapped her friend and designer Rebecca Zaatar to help her launch the label.

“So many of you have told me that they like my relationship with my daughter Ayla, and my way of dealing with her – this is what inspired me to enter the ‘kids world’ in general,” Arida explained of what prompted her to launch a children’s wear brand.

The debut collection features graphic tops for boys and girls, frilly dresses, onesies for babies and toddlers, cozy sets and swimsuits.

There are also hair accessories for girls, such as printed headbands, silk bandanas and scrunchies made out of left-over fabric from the garments.

Meanwhile, each purchase comes inside a sustainable, eco-friendly package that doubles as a coloring book for little ones. 

Designs range from $7 to $148, and can be purchased online. 

Each piece from the new range boasts a message of equality, tolerance and peace that is addressed to kids and to their parents.  

Though this is Arida’s first official foray into the world of design, the Paris-based model and social media influencer has years of fashion experience under her belt. 

Before becoming a highly-successful fashion blogger, Arida worked as a buyer and brand manager for a number of prestigious fashion labels, including Rag & Bone, Zimmermann, Theory, Vince, J-Brand and Frame Denim, among others.

Additionally, she has lent her face to several campaigns for renowned international brands such as French fine jewelry company Boucheron, for whom she is a brand ambassador and spokesperson.