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The House That Habibi Built

Abu Ashley makes house music with a distinctively Middle Eastern tinge. Just don’t call it “world music,” ok?

VICE Thump

The first time I saw Abu Ashley at work was in a foggy confines of Bossa Nova Civic Club in Brooklyn. His tracksuit gleamed pearly white under the strobe lights, and his tightly coiled Afro-ponytail bristled wildly as he dropped track after track of Arabic R&B mixed with ballads sung by wistful Egyptian divas. I was convinced he was Ali G's distant cousin, who'd stumbled into the club from the dusty streets of Cairo to confuse the hell out of Bushwick's club rats. Turns out the whole thing was a charade; later, Ashley told me he picked out his wardrobe that night with the explicit purpose of channeling "90s Egyptian trance god vibes."  

Abu Ashley is, in fact, a Port Said-born, US-raised DJ and producer named Khaled Elsayed, who is now based in Berlin and has a stint on Rinsed RM and opening slots for Midland, Galcher, Matthew Dear, and Dusky under his belt. Elsayed adopted his DJ name after Gone With The Wind's most ambiguous character, Ashley Wilkes. "I promised myself that I would name my first-born son Ashley. So one day, I'll really be Abu"—meaning "father of" in Arabic—"Ashley," he explains. 

This nonchalant mix of East and West, of familiar and strange, of universal and local is at the heart of Abu Ashley's latest EP, Asmaa, out now on the spanking new record label Parka Records. "I have a deep passion for Middle Eastern culture and have a huge Arabic record collection," Elsayed says. "Some people try to incorporate world music with contemporary house and it can sound really cheesy and packaged. I hope I do it in a way that feels natural to me." 

Using vintage analog gear like the Roland Juno-106 and an x0xb0x, plus a reel-to-reel tape machine for any desired warm and fuzzy effects, Elsayed crafts his version of "habibi house"—warmly emotive four-to-the-floor that lovingly strokes your vertebra with each listen. 

About his music video for "Hussein Online" which he's sharing exclusively with THUMP, Elsayed explains that it's all about the romantic plight of the average Arab male—a Middle Eastern version of Gone With The Wind, perhaps. "Meeting women in the Arab world is extremely difficult. You can't go up to a girl in a bar and offer to buy her a cocktail… because there are no bars or alcohol, really," he relates. 

"So basically, you've got to search in chat rooms or [on social media]. When my American friends tell me about how some random dude from the other side of the world tried to add them on Facebook, I get why." 

"Hussein Online" follows the journey of a young man in Cairo discovering the city's underground rave scenes, with shots of rural Egypt for context. As the song progresses, the ancient ruins and flashing lasers blend together—a fusion of the two worlds that Elsayed loves most. 

Get your vinyl copy of Abu Ashley's Asmaa EP here 

Michelle Lhooq invites you to send her love letters on Twitter - @MichelleLhooq