Wide Angle

Diaspo # 19 : Solen Souleimane Benabadji dreams of «conquering Morocco with music»

A member of the Austrian group Desert May Bloom, French-Moroccan Solen Souleimane Benabadji currently lives in Vienna. Attached to the country which saw him grow, he dreams of performing in Morocco but also of introducing other influences and musical riches, especially Moroccan and Oriental, to the West.

French-Moroccan guitarist Solen Souleimane Benabadji. / DR
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He is a guitarist, a drummer and a big fan of Gnaoua and Tuareg music, Solen Souleimane Benabadji did «something other» than music, for a big chunk of his life, before finally achieving his dream. In 2019, he decided to resign from his position in the family business in Morocco and settle down in Austria, starting a new musical career.

Born in Casablanca in 1993, Solen Benabadji spent a good part of his life traveling. From the United States to France, his family finally settled down in Morocco, when he was 10 years old. The young musician then lived between Mohammedia and Casablanca. At 18, he packed up for Montpellier, to start studies in sales and marketing. Eventually, he would end up dropping out, to discover the world. He then decided to spend a year and a half in Australia then four months in South America.

Back in Morocco again, Solen Benabadji went on a world tour that took him, with his family, to 16 countries in one year, as part of a project. «The objective was to live in a remote village with little infrastructure and connection with the urban world and learn how the local population lives and manages its resources», the French-Moroccan explained, while talking about the Open-Villages project launched by his family.

«During my travels, I have experienced a lot of things and this has allowed me to keep an open mind. It influenced me a lot in my choice to follow atypical choices».

Solen Benabadji

An atypical choice devoted to music

These trips have influenced his life choices indeed and pushed him to launch a parallel project which consisted of recording the tribal music of the villages he visited. «I have never released these recordings which allowed me to learn a lot in terms of sounds and influenced my way of making music», he said.

Back again to Morocco in 2016, Solen Benabadji worked for three years in the family business. The Open-Villages project was then put into practice in Morocco, in the form of a development association for Moroccan villages. «Each time, I did something other than music although I had this desire to devote myself to it for a very long time. Coming back to Morocco this time, I felt like an alien», he explained.

The musician left his job to realize his dream. Aware of the fact that it would be «very complicated» to make a career at home, the French-Moroccan then joined a musician friend he had met in Argentina and settled down in Vienna, Austria. «So we decided to relaunch his group and hired other musicians», he added. After months of work, the group released their first single in January and plan to release one every three months, despite the pandemic.

The band, financially supported by the Austrian state, benefited from this period to refine its strategy. «It is true that Covid-19 also affected us as musicians, because we were not able to play music in concerts, but at the same time, it allowed us to build our project on much more solid foundations», the Desert May Bloom guitarist recalled.

«It was really hard to stay motivated, because as musicians we like to play on stage, to have an audience and to feel emotions. In a year and a half, we only did three concerts, which was very little. But we managed to do it while being more efficient».

Solen Benabadji

An «artistic residency» in Morocco next year

On a personal level, the musician however acknowledges having been affected by the pandemic as it prevented him from returning often to visit his family and friends and to replenish in Morocco. Attached to the Kingdom, he tells us that his dream remains to «be able to play in Morocco on a big stage». «I don't know if I'm more into Mawazine or the Gnawa Festival, but I know that the Atlas Electronic Festival in Marrakech sometimes invites foreign groups», he explained. «Conquering Morocco with music would be a huge dream», he went on.

Solen Benabadji also recalls that the band planned to organize an «artistic residency in Morocco» this summer to «work on an album and songs and perform at the end», but that this project has been postponed for next year. «For the moment, we have a strategy of focusing on Europe instead of going everywhere, but very quickly, Morocco will be our objective», he promises.

«To me, it's very important that Europe know how to appreciate something other than just rock or pop music and is also interested in oriental music. In Morocco, I am a fan of Gnawa and Saharan music and if I want to be a musician, it is by introducing other influences and musical riches to the West».

Solen Benabadji

The French-Moroccan promises to soon release «oriental influences and probably Gnawa in one way or another», in the songs of Desert May Bloom, affirming that this «is something that [is] close to his heart».

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