H3ritage Studios: An Interview with Five Selected Artists

Text by Vera Santana
Creative direction by Floor Verhulst & Isabeau Vienerius
Photography by Floor Verhulst

H3ritage Studios, set up by (A)WAKE, is an artist residency where you can find comfort in the unknown, and where your in-betweenness in identity and musical skills, within the digital world, will be treated with care and encouragement. During 7 weeks, five artists spent introspective time in the studio, learning, developing, and curating their visual art and electronic sounds. Each with their own artistic practices, they delved into workshops with Cheb Runner, Salim Bayri, and Mika Oki. Grounded in their identity as artists from the WANA (West Asian, North African) region, they explored the omnipresence of their origins in their music. Questions arose like, what can I do to develop my music production skills? Or, how can I borrow from my heritage without tokenizing myself?

Whether you sample music from a cassette collection you brought with you from Turkey, or rap to leave people with embers of your Palestinian heritage, H3ritage Studios welcomes you with open arms. Read below to get to know the experiences of this year’s five selected participants: Q.A.Q, DJ Shahmaran, Celine Bereyakan, Başak Kırıcı, and Esmail Bnaoe. We talked about confidence in representation, producing music intuitively, and creating with people who inspire with compassion. Join them on November 25 at MONO Rotterdam as they proudly showcase what they’ve been working on during their residency.   

What brought you to H3ritage Studios? 

Arjîn (DJ Shahmaran): I’ve been deejaying for a while, but only got into production recently. Truly one of the main reasons I applied is because I’m really inspired by artists like Reda (Cheb Runner) and Salim, who run workshops at H3ritage Studios. I’m very fascinated by electronic music that combines Middle Eastern percussive elements with different hybrid genres that have been coming up in later years. So, I thought it would be a really good opportunity to learn from people whose music I appreciate. I also think that with all of the shit going on, making music has been the only thing keeping me somewhat sane.

Dicle (Celine Bereyakan): I’m pretty new to this practice so I wanted to give it a chance. I got really excited because when I make music, I use a lot of what I brought with me in my suitcase when I moved here from Turkey. I brought a literal cassette collection. That is the music that I keep listening to, and when I make beats, I use them for samples. So I thought, if there’s someone who is true to their heritage in their music, it’s me. 

Başak Kırıcı: Collaboration. My practice is mostly visual. I don’t do anything music-related, but I do work with a lot of musicians and I wanted to learn their inner workings more, like how they plan sets. I also wanted to meet new musicians to collaborate with, and I have already gotten to meet such incredibly nice people.

Esmail Bnaoe: I am very interested in anything that has to do with electronic music, especially by people from the Middle East. Considering that my focus is on a mix of heritage, music, and the Middle East, H3ritage Studios was the perfect place to find. I’m always stuck in the conservatory world which feels like I am in a box. Joining this program has been nice because it has allowed me to leave one bubble and enter a different one. It’s also really inspiring to see how other people create and perceive music.

Celine Bereyakan © Floor Verhulst 

There is a lot of in-betweenness in heritage, in being multicultural, and in electronic music. How has it been to fuze your different worlds and diasporas while staying grounded in the present?

Adam: I definitely identify as somebody who navigates a lot of in-between spaces. On the one hand, it’s very comforting to come to terms with that. You are just this in-between; you’re neither here nor there. I think it goes hand-in-hand with H3ritage Studios’ focus on decolonial practices. That in itself necessitates the idea of moving away from a binary way of engaging with things and also challenging the way that certain platforms and media infrastructures have been. I try to represent that in my art. First and foremost for myself. I don’t think good art should necessarily be driven by what you want other people to think. But at the same time, being Palestinian, as a form of decolonial practice, I definitely want to communicate Palestine to other people without tokenizing or victimizing myself.

Arjîn: I’m Dutch Kurdish, one parent from each. But because of that, I sometimes feel like I don’t know enough to stand by my heritage confidently. When I first started deejaying with my artist name DJ Shahmaran, people started pigeonholing and putting pressure on me to provide a certain expertise in music. I make music that I like, it’s connected to my Kurdish heritage but it also is not deep knowledge, you know? It’s been nice to be in a space where I can have a clean slate and just go from there. I don’t like the pressure to represent something or someone, because I don’t feel I can do that properly. I can only represent myself. And to be honest, if I’m representing anything, it’s queer people of color.

Dicle: I only recently realized that my entire identity and culture is actually based on this in-betweenness. For instance, before moving abroad, I didn’t have to remind myself about my heritage. I was surrounded by people who lived in more or less similar contexts so I didn’t have to acknowledge my roots, my background, or my passport. However, after moving to Rotterdam, I realized that I was embracing my culture a lot more. It feels very therapeutic to sample music from my origins.

Başak: I don’t know how I fuze my heritage with my work. I guess it slips here and there out of necessity, but I don’t do it on purpose. I believe that where you are born or which circumstances you grew up with is very random. That’s one thing that you cannot change. So you grow to cherish your culture and everything that surrounds you. When I work with other people, especially on projects like at H3ritage Studios, it feels like home. I moved here from Turkey almost six years ago, and I still feel homesick sometimes. But when I work with people who share my in-betweenness, even if from different countries, I recognize that we are still from the same diaspora. So it feels like they’re bringing home to me.

Esmail: It’s really inspiring to be around other people who don’t have a lot of theoretical knowledge about what they do. They are still more productive than many people who do know. It inspires me by reminding me of why I started to play music in the first place. This can be forgotten along the way. If you go to an environment like that of a conservatorium, you become a perfectionist, and like so many things that can be good, it can also become an obstacle or creative blockage. What inspires me is people who follow their intuition, their ear, their heart, and their feelings.

DJ Shahmaran © Floor Verhulst 

Can you tell me a bit about what you’ll be showcasing on the 25th of November?

Dicle: Last week I had my coaching session with Reda and at first I was so nervous because my DJ skills are not insane, but I really trust my curation of songs. When it comes to skills, I like to make a composition at home and remove any live elements. But last week’s coaching session gave me clarity. I felt supported because he looked at my practice from my point of view, which I really appreciate. Instead of imposing his techniques, he looked at my skill level. He looked at what I actually care about in this whole practice. And with that, he suggested I perform live with samples for the first time, which is a great idea and something I’ve never done before.

Başak: Initially, I wanted to set up a program or device that would export sound from visuals. But I find it more enjoyable and fulfilling to collaborate. So, I listened to Esmail’s music, had a few meetings with him, hung out, and decided that I wanted to convey his stories through visuals for his set. I created visuals to go with it that reflect the ideas and feelings we both feel about what is going on with Palestinians and Syrians. A lot of my visual work portrays stories through the eyes of a child because they tend to be more keen on changes and growing up they always gave me hope.

Some say: today’s art, tomorrow’s heritage. What do you hope the work you’ve produced during your residency will bring to those listening? Or to the future of your heritage? 

Adam: I think my art really needs to sit with people. It might not be something that you hear at first and think: wow, this is amazing. The things I say when I rap might be things that only make sense to people years later. That’s how I like to write my stuff. And in that case, I would hope that my music is a place where people come back to later and learn new things about Palestinian identity, and about myself. I also just want people to enjoy it. I want my Palestinian identity to be showcased in a proud way, but I also don’t want to exacerbate it.

Arjîn: What do I want to leave behind? I don’t want to think about that too much. Maybe I’m being too philosophical about it but I think that if I do, it will take me away from why I got into music in the first place. My music is deeply personal, and although I share it with other people, I don’t have an externalized intention that I want to bring out. This is a bit cheesy, but I just hope that by staying true to myself, I can also leave something behind for people to connect to their disconnectedness.

Başak: I mean, any work we do, whether we intend for it or not, is a reflection of our times and of our zeitgeist. Intentionally or not, it can bring meaning to a community or people. Our work has the potential to show us what we’ve been through as humans. That is why I’m fond of mediums like cinema and why I watch films from different eras. What will we bring to the future? I guess it will just bring the ideas and thoughts of one single individual who lived here and came from Turkey.

Q.A.Q © Floor Verhulst 

As you already know, music is an intangible aspect of heritage, you can’t hold it in your hands but you can hold it in your collective experience. How does your heritage, or remaining connected to your heritage, impact your life? 

Adam: I’m half Palestinian and half Dutch, but I had never lived in the Netherlands until I moved to Rotterdam six years ago. I didn’t know anything about Dutch culture. There’s this massive and striking duality between how 90% of my family lives in Jerusalem versus the rest that lives here in the Netherlands. Over here, I live well. But when I go back, I live under occupation. I don’t think a lot of people have that experience, and I always feel judgment from both sides. Whether people realize it or not, they are always passing assumptions and judgments about who they think I should be. I’ve found great peace in knowing that I am equally Palestinian as I am Dutch and that I can identify with whichever one I want, whenever I want, whenever I feel like it. There’s a lot of strength and resilience in the way that my heritage has affected me. 

Arjîn: Oof! There’s a lot I could say about this. Growing up with a white dad and a Kurdish mom meant that I experienced a lot of confusion. I noticed these really stark cultural differences the more I spoke with other Kurdish people, and the more I spoke to other bicultural people. Growing up meant understanding the culture shock my mom experienced when coming to the Netherlands and having two kids who relate differently to this identity that she wished we were closer to. I remember there was a certain age when I stopped speaking Turkish because I got bullied for it at Dutch school. I remember fighting with my mom about it. While I think this rejection is a universal thing that comes with puberty, I think that wanting to distance yourself from something that’s been pushed on you but then relating back to it in your own way later on in life, is part of a lot of our shared experiences. 

What do you feel that you are walking away with from this residency?

Adam: Definitely exposure to new skills, practices, and new ways of looking at how I can enhance my performances. I’ve been able to take something that I’ve already been doing and refine it. It’s a continuous challenge to keep being critical as artists in this field. There is still more that we can do, the sky’s the limit type of thing. Without this residency, I don’t think I would have downloaded all of this new software or thought that I was capable of working with them. It’s also nice to know that Shirin, Hilda, Salim, and Reda will always be within reach if I have any questions. So on top of that, I’ve gained a sense of community and family. We are surrounded by very talented people who are just willing to help each other keep growing.

Arjîn: More confidence. That’s definitely something I needed. I’ve gained practical skills but also just a sense of freedom in what I can do. That’s something that I really needed to hear from people who have more experience than I do. It helps me think: yeah I got this. To be able to also have a mentor, someone who is really adamant about exploring what you want to do without a preset way of doing things, is quite rare. I kept telling myself all the reasons why I could not move forward, but the workshops reminded me that there are so many different ways to create really sick things. There’s something self-deprecating in trying to stop yourself from starting something because you feel like you don’t have all that’s necessary.

Dicle: First of all, I’ve met very impressive fellows. For instance, Adam’s passion for his hip-hop career amazes me. He is so passionate and he is so good at it. He puts so much effort and it inspires me in moments when I come home from work very tired, wanting to be a couch potato and not lift one finger. Arjîn is so good at deconstructing music and they have such a kind soul. I am also leaving with knowledge from Reda and Salim, but also a lot of music jargon that used to intimidate me. I learned that there are way more possibilities with what you can do with music. I used to be freaked out by these technicalities. 

Başak: More knowledge about music for sure, and being able to meet extremely nice people. I want to continue my relationships with the people I have met here. I also want to introduce them to people from my world who are also very interested in music. H3ritage Studios not only managed to initiate this collective and create an open space for people to learn, but they also did it with sincerity and concern for heart-related stuff. I feel like the people here understand suffering and pain in ways that most others cannot. I like working with them and I hope to collaborate more in the future. 

Join them on November 25 as they showcase their talent during this year’s H3ritage Studios Rotterdam from 22:00 – 03:00 at MONO. Tickets can be found here. H3ritage Studios is initiated by (A)WAKE and supported by the Municipality of Rotterdam. Read more on H3ritage Studios here and follow them here.