Artist of the Month: Bedouin
Artist of the Month: BedouinMay 9, 2023
Tamer Malki and Rami Abousabe met 12 years ago through mutual friends and founded the now-ubiquitous organic house duo Bedouin the following year, having serendipitously spent what turned into weeks on end of working on music in Abousabe’s New York apartment. They’ve since become a top-billed underground act synonymous with the quintessential Burning Man sound, duly landed a residency at Pacha in Ibiza as well as bookings at major clubs across the globe, including pretty much everyone on the fabled White Isle.
Yet it wasn’t until 2020, when their busy global tour schedule came to a halt, that they finally had time to craft a full-length album. Now, their debut full-length, Temple of Dreams, drops on their Human By Default Imprint this May, introducing the world to “a new era of Bedouin,” as Abousabe adroitly puts it.
But it was by no means a pure pandemic album. The fifth track, “Wash Away,” dates back to eight or nine years ago, back to when they first started releasing music as Bedouin. Following the trend of their early musical incubator days, they are constantly working on music. They’ve always wanted to make an album, and would set aside songs they thought would work on one. It was just the pandemic that gave them the time to sit down with their growing collection of possible album tracks and craft new ones with new collaborators. Even for the tunes they selected that had been sitting around on their hard drives for years, they didn’t change them too much, so in a way, it provides a journey of the duo over the years, yet in a way that feels very cohesive and of the present moment.
“It’s kind of like the past, present and future of the Bedouin sound,” Malki says.
It’s filled with an eclectic band of collaborators, including Chico Castillo of Gipsy Kings infamy, opera singer Delaram Kamareh, the Armenian pop vocalist Iveta Mukuchyan and Nathan Daisy (aka JAW) from dOP. The project is also rich with instrumentation, including a Moog, Roland, various synths and percussive and string instruments, entailing a liar harp, Moroccan guitar and other intriguing music-makers they’ve collected in their travels.
And for the tracks that don’t have a guest vocalist, that’s Malki and Abousabe singing on them! While they’ve been playing instruments since they were kids, receiving classical training at a young age, then playing in rock bands before they found their way to DJing and electronic production, they never really saw themselves as singers. Yet they’ve been singing on their records since the beginning of the project, so doing it on the album felt “pretty natural,” Abousabe asserts, as natural as their inclination to collaborate.
“We’ve always collaborated with other musicians… We’re looking for special sounds, not just any voice. I think the people that we chose have not only really unique voices, but styles of writing, artists that we really admire in many ways. They’re diamonds in the rough, people that weren’t easy to find,” he adds.
“Hokema” features the ethereal, dreamy voice of Los Angeles-based Iranian American opera singer Delaram Kamareh, who sings cathartic lyrics in Farsi about dancing around a fire. “She can wake up and do five octaves,” Tamer says with total admiration. They ended up making a few tracks together while working with her. They met Iveta Mukuchyan at a festival, and she sent them a demo after, which they only found a year-and-a-half later. After sending the track and its parts back-and-forth, it became the powerful “Crazy,” and a genuine friendship was established. “You need something to excite you when you work in the studio all the time,” Abousabe said, nodding to the gear surrounding him in his Miami home studio. “Working on an album excited me.”
“We wanted to put out an album that was a listening experience versus club tracks, but still captures [the essence of] Bedouin,” Malki explains. They reveal that there will also be a Temple of Dreams remix package coming later this year, with edits from some of their favourite artists. Some of these will be perfect for the dance floor.
This month will also see the return of their Saga Ibiza residency, for the second year at Pacha and their fifth year on the White Isle. They’ll be joined by Denmark’s WhoMadeWho, AMÉMÉ, Mano Le Tough, Monolink, Jan Blomqvist and many others behind the storied Pacha decks. While providing stellar music and fellow DJ/producers they’re excited about is the top priority for Saga, they also put a lot of care into its production, with a trippy rave meets Cirque du Soleil music vibe. “We’re trying to keep things surrealistic and non-gimmicky,” Malki said. They’ve been working with the same cast of performers who call the island home since they started Saga, the circus arm of their ever-growing global electronic family.
When asked about their wildest memories from their residency last summer, they refrained from providing any particularly juicy tidbits. “It’s a pretty wild life in general. Ibiza’s wild and tame at the same time, depending on your perspective or your experience: it can be a sanctuary or a roller coaster. I think our wildest experiences were earlier in our careers; last year was executed a little bit smoother than most. I think we’re probably both too embarrassed to share most of the wilder stories,” Abousabe offers with a smile and a laugh.
As for channelling the supposed magic the island possesses, Bedouin certainly feel an energy there, from the natural beauty and the people that flock to it. “[There’s an] overwhelming calmness that you feel when you’re on the island. But the energy moves in waves, so it can feel very intense and aggressive at moments or it can feel very uplifting. People say it’s from the magnetic rock of Es Vedrà, others say it’s the general consciousness of the people that are all here for one purpose. I definitely feel strong energy, in many directions,” Abousabe says. “This is a destination where we meet people from literally all over the world, who come here, like Rami said, either to go wild or to have the opposite [experience],” Malki adds.
Another iconic, stunning locale they’ve played at was at Jordan’s Petra for Cercle. It’s a UNESCO Heritage Site, one of the seven wonders of the world, an ancient city carved into the pink mountains. It took Cercle five years to secure the location, which the UN allowed, rather miraculously, to be shut down for several hours at the break of dawn for Bedouin’s hybrid live set. “There were no other humans around us. And then the sun rising and us being in front of this huge monument engraved in the rock was definitely surreal. And it was freezing too.”
As is not uncommon for DJs, they had to catch a flight right after playing shows in London and Paris and arrived in the middle of the desert when it was still dark out. They were tired and cold, and had no live audience to provide them with energy or warmth. While it was perhaps not the most glamorous moment, they’re both grateful for the experience and super happy with how it turned out and to be able to share the beauty of Jordan, Malki’s home country, with the dance music community. “We’re both from the Middle East and there’s a few sites in the Middle East that are very iconic, like the Pyramids or Petra or the holy sites of Palestine. To be able to perform in one that’s linked to us is definitely a great honour,” reflects Malki.
Their artist name comes from the Bedouin, the nomadic people that live between Jordan and Egypt, where they’re from (quick bit of bio detail: Malki was born in Jordan and Abousabe in New Jersey to Egyptian parents). Not only do they feel connected with nomadic culture as DJs that “have a global home,” they are also deeply inspired by the music of the Bedouin people, which is filled with poetry and hand claps and traditional wood and string instruments, and they heard growing up.
The track that they released on Cercle Records for the occasion and debuted during the set, “Petra,” remains their top-selling track on Beatport over a year later. They explain that the lyrics are very Biblical, albeit “in an ambiguous, creative way,” and it sounded like someone running through the desert to them. Despite it being the near-perfect tune to name “Petra,” they had previously written it, without the assignment in mind. “It’s difficult to contrive music. It’s more of an expression at the moment that you put in your bank and at some point in time, it really makes sense for it to see the light of day,” Abousabe muses. “Art is a [form of] communication so we’re using all of these mediums, whether it’s paints or sound or literature, to portray a message… How the story of the song makes sense to the world is always a constant thought of ours.”
As for their Human By Default imprint, which they launched in 2020, the most important element is that every artist they sign to it has something to say musically. The duo also needs to like them as a human, want to play their music in their sets, and feel a connection over what music means to them. Just like with the artists they choose to collab with, it’s important to them to champion newer acts and hidden gems. Recent releases have come from Santiago Garcia, Ian Ludvig, Filippos and Hoomance.
“Every single artist that we sign on the label are not one-offs; they all have something to say and something to present, and not just on that release. We look at the big picture and they all have a lot going on in the big picture,” Malki explains.
Bedouin take their Human By Default family seriously, and are keen to support and continue to work with every artist they sign. “You’ve probably heard it from a lot of labels, but we don’t sign the track, we sign the artist. But I think that’s essentially what Tamer’s saying; we’re building a family of people who we really believe in the trajectory of their art. And over the years it has proven to be true and we’re very proud of all of them, making hit after hit,” Abousabe says.
“The most important thing is that they actually have something to say themselves, and they’re not regurgitating what they’ve heard already. That’s really special,” Abousabe continues. “There’s not very many people that actually can think differently or have the courage to be vulnerable enough to put something out there that they believe in, that maybe no one’s ever seen or heard before.”
Bedouin got their start in New York’s rich electronic scene, but in 2021 they relocated to Miami, where they feel a new sense of freedom, given the good weather and creative and party-ready citizenry. It was here that they met Chico Castillo at a hotel, which resulted in him coming over to jam with them almost every night. Abousabe asserts that even as New York changes, there’s nowhere like it. He feels Miami is having a “resurrection,” in part due to the many New Yorkers that have relocated there, and in fact feels “more counterculture” currently than Manhattan or Brooklyn. Malki notes they only play about four shows a year in the Magic City, so they chose it more as a home base than specifically for its nightlife scene.
Bedouin have also called Burning Man home for a decade, although they haven’t returned there since 2019. “It’s been an amazing transformative, evolving journey for us going there, from the first time to last time. We don’t know when we’re gonna go back or if it’s going to happen, but it’s something that is very, very dear and special for us and for our story and journey so far, 100 percent. I couldn’t imagine Bedouin without Burning Man,” Malki reflects.
When asked how they’ve witnessed the sound and vibe of the Playa has shifted, they underscore that you can find everything, all kinds of music, at the event, which isn’t a music festival in the traditional sense. “I think some musical styles became very connected with the vibe of Burning Man, like, for example, our sound, but it just happened organically,” Malki notes.
Speaking of that sound, it’s had its own genre home on Beatport, organic house / downtempo since 2020. “When we started putting out music [in 2014], there was truly nothing like it,” Malki reflects. “I’ll never forget—I’m not gonna mention names—but for “Flight of Birds,” our first demo, we gave it to a good friend of ours, a label owner, and he literally told us, ‘With all kindness, this is outside of my comfort zone.’ And then we gave it to Lee [Burridge] and he put it out and that was one of our first records out there. It was electronic music, but it wasn’t familiar given what was out. Three years into that, we noticed all these young producers starting to do [something] similar, incorporating the whole quarter note [versus the typical 4/4], the whole Middle Eastern vibe, into their music.”
And really, that is their biggest hope as artists, for others to connect to their music and be excited about. “When people started reacting to our music very positively is when we felt we were doing something cool. You know, when we’re playing one of our tracks and people know it immediately or react to it or come ask us for our tracks when we’re playing, when that started happening, that was one of the first moments so we started feeling that we’re connecting with people.”
One such connection led to a literal birth. “We got a message from somebody after our Whispering Words of Wisdom EP. The first message was, ‘I make love to my girlfriend listening to this,’ and then two months later he was like, ‘My girlfriend is pregnant.’ I thought that was brilliant. I’ll never forget it,” says Malki with a chuckle.
Reflecting on the beginnings of Bedouin, when they were first vibing off each other as they spent countless hours working on music together in Abousabe’s New York apartment, they’re still humbled by how far the journey taken them. “At no moment at that time could we have expected this would happen,” Abousabe reflects. “It’s hard to plan something like that. You just go for it and you believe in it. That’s the most important thing, that you believe in it,” Malki adds. And they aren’t the only ones who believe in their music—or the style of music they’re making—anymore.
Bedouin’s new album Temple of Dreams is out on May 19th via Human By Default. Buy it on Beatport.
Ana Monroy Yglesias is a freelance writer and editor living in New York City. Find her on Twitter.