The Hard Groove Of Disco Arabesquo

DJ Moataz Rageb has taken his love of Arab music to the dance floor

The Hard Groove Of Disco Arabesquo
Yaseen Dockrat

The Middle East and North Africa have a long and rich history of music. Here, it’s more than entertainment, it is a deep root cultural phenomenon that bends and shifts from country to country. Musicians from the region have and continue to rise to worldwide prominence through their art. Moataz Rageb, a DJ born in Amsterdam of Egyptian roots, is keeping this music alive.

Rageb, who is best known by his Instagram handle, Disco Arabesquo, is an avid collector of vintage vinyl, cassettes, and CDs of old-school music from the Middle East and North Africa. Rageb was inspired by music on his sixth birthday. “I remember my uncle pressing play on a tape-deck playing Cheb Khaled’s “Didi” on my birthday,” he recalls. The melodies of the catchy and legendary song by one of the best-known artists from the region stuck with him, and he began making up tunes in his head. Later, in high school, Moataz would buy Music Magic Mix, a programme that enables you to remix music, and would begin remixing some of the Arab world’s best-known singles.

The DJ who has a residency at Mezrab, a cultural centre in Amsterdam, has reignited the love for classic Arab music among the locals as well as Middle Eastern ex-pats living in Amsterdam. Rageb uses his knowledge of mixing music, which he learned as a high school kid. “I don’t fully remix music. Sometimes I create mashups. Some of my friends are pros at this, and I include their music in my sets,” he says. “The mash-ups are based on music that I love, and my mind sometimes makes weird connections between the songs in my mental archive, and that leads to me experimenting.” These mashups have a history too. Growing up Rageb used to load tons of music on his mp3 player, and keep it on shuffle, playing a mix of Arab and western music at random. He now uses the shuffling of his mp3 player to create new mash-ups.

Apart from music, Rageb has a great love for collecting posters. Anyone in the region would tell you that if you walked into classic cassette shops in Cairo, Beirut, and even in Saudi, you would find the walls lined with posters of iconic musicians and films past and present. Moataz is one of those who collects these. “On my bedroom wall, it must be Tupac, with the Nefertiti Thug-Life tattoo. Outside of my room, the walls are lined with posters. I collect Arab Movie posters, and my most prized poster is that of El Hareef, starring Adel Emam from 1983, “he says, “it was also designed by one of my favourite affiche artists from the ’80s called Samir Abdelmonem.”

While Moataz Rageb is based in Amsterdam and does appreciate the city’s multi-cultural aspect, he looks forward to hitting the decks in Arab countries. It also gives him a chance to add to his music and poster collections. “I always try and reserve time for cassette hunting when I have gigs in Arab-speaking cities. I try to understand the city because music differs in each city, and I try to use that knowledge in my sets.” It’s the same process when Rageb visits non-Arab places, too, “I try and research the place, and if there is any link to an Arabic sound, I use it in my sets.”

Disco Arabesquo

There’s an ’80s song that goes ‘Shababeek, Shababeek, El Donya kollaha Shababeek…’ (Windows, windows, the world is all windows). When Rageb is not remixing classic Arabic tunes on the decks, he is humming these words to himself. For us, who follow Disco Arabesquo, his platforms serve as a window into the rich history of Arabic music.

Those looking to get their Arab funk on for the day, should hit the video below for Rageb’s fully digitised version of Mohamed Mounir and the Yehya Khalil band’s 1981 classic “Ya Zamany”.