“During the 70s and 80s, there was a huge Middle Eastern music scene that was inspired by music from around the world, particularly western jazz and disco. We always knew that the music was there, but we were 90s kids. We were listening to Daft Punk and Aphex Twin; French electro and East Coast hip hop. It was the music that was getting the biggest reaction at the time that interested us. We wanted to know the words, the labels, the producers and the writers. We did not want to listen to our family record collections… Until now.”
The phone line crackled as Vish Mhatre, one half of the dynamic duo that is Dar Disku, discussed the journey that led to setting up a record label like no other.
Growing up in Bahrain, just a few miles apart, Mazen AlMaskati and Vish, used to meet at school and band practice, often sharing their latest discoveries. They were the music geeks of their town. But what the duo did not realise at the time, was that they were preparing for this moment in time.
“It is more than just the music for us. A lot more. Dar Disku was set up to highlight the forgotten music of the Middle East. But we also want to support the rising music and creative scene that is happening in the region now, and to smash the stereotypes that people may have. That’s what the label has to power to change.”
Directly translated into ‘home of the disco’, Dar Disku was once the name that belonged to a 1970’s Egyptian pop culture magazine. Now it belongs to the record label opening the doors to Arabia, while storming dancefloors in NYC, London, and soon Dublin.
“It’s almost come full circle now. We are going back to Arabian disco or Arabian psychedelia, which we had never really listened to, but should have listened to a long time ago. In the early stages, we took a lot of our inspiration from Def Jam, BBE and Bad Boy Records, because when they set up, they weren’t trying to appeal to the masses. Their goal was to showcase a local scene. That really influenced us to start Dar Disku. All this untouched music that we were finding, needed to find its way to the people.”
But it wasn’t until Mazen and Vish left Bahrain to study at colleges in the UK that they began to truly understand the power of the music that they had left behind. They had become regular DJs on the London club circuit, and whenever they travelled home, they found themselves in their old records stores, lingering over the sections they had once missed, like Dabke, Rai, ArabiDisco, Habibi House, Afrodisco, Sawt and Khaliji.
“We were travelling home to visit family, when we realised that we had to do something. We were playing gigs in London, with more and more of the Arabian tracks that we were discovering, and the crowds were reacting to the Arabic music, more than they were to the Western music that they had heard before. They didn’t understand what was being said, but it didn’t matter. We could tell that they were feeling it.”
Since setting up Dar Disku at the beginning of 2018, Mazen and Vish have shared the stage with artists such as Nabihah Iqbal and Awesome Tapes from Africa. They have played iconic venues and festivals across the world, while also signing their first act, Moving Still, aka Dublin-based DJ and producer Jamal Sul. They are busier than ever, but they are determined.
“This year has been incredible. Dar Disku has grown quicker than we ever could have imagined. We are still discovering new music every day: just like the other day, when I found a Turkish version of the Rod Stewart track ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’. It’s really amazing. We keep thinking that we have heard everything, but then we find something else that blows us out of the water. People are contacting us from all over the world too; because they have been waiting for something like this.”
Driven by not just a passion, but a responsibility to share their culture with the world, Mazen and and Vish took the music their parents had played on dusty turntables, the art and culture that surrounded their entire lives, and built them a platform.
“One of the hardest things when we started this was gaining interest. Now, it has snowballed and the greatest thing about it is the huge and growing support that we are getting from all the world. This is a time when people are searching for their identity, and that’s what Dar Disku is about: taking the old, mashing it with the new and celebrating it. We can’t wait for Dublin to hear what’s coming for them.”
Dar Disku play Woweembeem, The Sugar Club, on November 24. Click here for tickets.