Q&A with Moroccan-Canadian multi-talented musician Othman Wahabi, has carved out his own niche in blues

"Music has no border and I hope that people will tend to search more the history behind the music they listen too many of them will discover that their music was born or come from a culture that they despise or hate out of Ignorance of course exactly like the blues lot of people are not aware of the Impact of Islam on the American blues and Afro-American music as a whole."

Othman Wahabi: Casablanca Blues

Truly unique artist Othman Wahabi is a Moroccan-Canadian singer-songwriter, guitarist, multi instrumentalist and music producer who has carved out his own niche in blues. Best known for his slide guitar work, versatile vocals and eclectic records that are diversity of moods and styles. Othman's sound is a mix made of blues, rock, roots, soul, jazz, reggae as well as other formats of musical expression. Some of his imaginative compositions are marked by a deliberate eclecticism while other songs stay true to the traditional blues formula of compelling vocals and down-home guitar. Creating a perfect balance between tradition and contemporary experimentation, Othman is a truly unique artist in today's music.                               (Othman Wahabi / Photo by Hamza Kenny Lahmadi)

He is also the founding member of the spiritual Muslim jazz Mu'min Flow and the Co-founder of the punk reggae rap collective Raging Indigenous under the nickname of Oth L'indigene. Born September 26, 1983 in Casablanca Morocco and based in Montreal, QC Canada since 2005. He grew up hearing and listening to the blues, Jazz, reggae and rock & roll records that his father, a big-time music lover played in the house. Othman picked up the guitar around the age of 12 and played his first show at the age of 15 with his co-founded band Keops he also fronted a short-lived blues rock band called Voodoo. Othman's new release titled "The Blues Whisperer" (2021), slide guitar, deep soulful vocals, spiritually conscious lyrics and eclectic records mixing roots and trance blues music with north & west African melodies and a variety of other musical influences.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Well I grew up listening to a lot of African American music and the blues was Its backbone my dad who was a big time music lover made sure since I was born to have me listen to all the good music he was also a huge Hendrix fan and because of that he introduced me to classic rock bands like Cream, Dire Straits and Pink Floyd. with that said growing up in a household filled with cool and yet conscious music I was influenced by artists such as Roger Waters and at a young age I was curious to learn about the world and the injustices that rock bands were talking about and that pushed me as I was becoming a teenager to punk rock and bay area thrash metal music I loved the fact that the bands were rebellious and scary at the same time. I had no idea that all that music I was listening to and playing when I formed one of the 1st metal bands in Morocco as I was only 13 years old will bring me back to the blues later in life.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

I describe my music as being very soulful and I really dig the bottleneck sound on the strings I blame Ry Cooder and John Hammond for that. I remember I discovered Ry Cooder's music when I was a kid my dad gave me the pass to watch Johnny Handsome with Mickey Rourke and the soundtrack was made by Ry Cooder there was a scene that really marked me when Mickey Rourke is sentenced to jail and you can hear the raw sound of Ry Cooder's slide guitar I said to myself I wish I can play like this one day. Today my creative drive comes to me from the environment I'm in and also me being very spiritual nowadays I listen to a lot of Gospel Soul music and African American Muslim Jazz.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I would say that I think I finally found my sound, I really manage to make my music diverse and rich It is also important for me to show the tight bonds between north west African music and black American music. What remained the same about my music? I must say that I try to keep the writing process as simple as possible as long as it is soulful. If I get goosebumps while singing a song, I know it's the right one.

"To be quiet honest I think every era has its music even if I tend to listen to a lot of STAX records or Alan Lomax delta blues I also love all kinds of music as long as the music is true and soulful if you are honest about your music it will stand the test of time no matter the style you play." (Moroccan-Canadian singer-songwriter, multi instrumentalist Othman Wahabi / Photo by Hamza Kenny Lahmadi)

How do you describe "The Blues Whisperer" sound and songbook? How do you want it to affect people? Do you have any more interesting stories about the making of the new album?

With "The Blues Whisperer" I wanted to make a powerful roots record, so I used pretty much an acoustic guitar on all the songs and mixed it with electronic sounds and ambiences and the result was phenomenal. The album got some pretty solid reviews and international radio airplays. Lyrically I stayed true to myself I wrote songs about my love for Blues music and how as an African the Blues is part of my DNA and other songs are pretty much standard negro spirituals that I made mine by putting some changes lyrically and musically. Stories... Hahaha, yes most of the songs were recorded in my kitchen and mixed between changing diapers.

What is the hardest part to be a blues musician today? What do you learn about yourself from the blues?

Being relevant and making people understand the Blues because the Blues is not singing about whiskey, women or the devil. The Blues is black history, the Blues comes from the pain and suffering that black people in America have endured and are still going through, the Blues is an everyday celebration of African culture. I want Blues fans to understand that and I also, want to see more black artists represented in Blues festivals locally and internationally. I really would like to finish this one with a quote from the great late Jazz musician Yusef Lateef who said: "Too much blood, sweat and tears have been spilled creating this music to play it where people are smoking, drinking and talking.”

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Yes, my 1st time as a blues artist in the studio I had a bunch of songs I wanted to record, and I got in touch through a common friend with Mario Lannaci who owns the Vortex Studio in Montreal. I remember I started playing and I wanted to speed it up as I was worried about the time and the cost. Mario just looked at me and said you are a great artist it’s an honor to work with you and to this day I will never forget that he recorded all my songs for free and he dedicated a lot of his precious time to my music.

"To always trust myself and to not rely on others to write the script of my life. Also, to be careful as I met a lot of liars and thieves in the music business but with age you become wiser so today, I know how to balance the music life and family and how to avoid situations that can bring me bad things."

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

To be quiet honest I think every era has its music even if I tend to listen to a lot of STAX records or Alan Lomax delta blues I also love all kinds of music as long as the music is true and soulful if you are honest about your music it will stand the test of time no matter the style you play.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

To be able to live correctly and to be able to pay your bills playing the music you love.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Morocco. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

I think today lot of Moroccan kids are getting to the Blues thanks to internet but I must say that we had and still have some great artists in Morocco people who are my father's age and who lived the hippie revolution as you must know Morocco was a hub for Hippies in the 70's and they brought with them good music and of course they also took some good music from the Moroccan folklore like the Gnawa music loved by Hendrix, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and many more there is also (Masters Musicians of) Jajouka form the north of Morocco who were discovered by Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of Moroccan folk music and traditional forms?

Yes of course, Gnawa that is a mix of spiritual Muslim Soufi music and pre-Islamic African traditions. The art of Gnawa was created by the descendant of slaves from West Africa mostly Mali we share a lot with Malian music it is also those same sounds that gave birth to the Blues because 40% of the slaves that were brought to the new world were Muslims from West Africa. Today I realize why I love the blues and roots music being myself a descendant of slaves the more I play the blues the more I connect with the music of my ancestors and the more I drift towards Islamic mysticism that drove the soulful sounds that characterize African American music today.

"Being relevant and making people understand the Blues because the Blues is not singing about whiskey, women or the devil. The Blues is black history, the Blues comes from the pain and suffering that black people in America have endured and are still going through, the Blues is an everyday celebration of African culture. I want Blues fans to understand that and I also, want to see more black artists represented in Blues festivals locally and internationally." (Othman Wahabi / Photo by Adil Wahabi)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

To always trust myself and to not rely on others to write the script of my life. Also, to be careful as I met a lot of liars and thieves in the music business but with age you become wiser so today, I know how to balance the music life and family and how to avoid situations that can bring me bad things.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Music has no border and I hope that people will tend to search more the history behind the music they listen too many of them will discover that their music was born or come from a culture that they despise or hate out of Ignorance of course exactly like the blues lot of people are not aware of the Impact of Islam on the American blues and Afro-American music as a whole.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I think I will just close the door of the Time machine and throw away the key I don’t think we should live with regrets and I don’t think we should worry too much about the future its best to live in the present moment and make the best of it.

Othman Wahabi - Home

(Photo: Othman Wahabi) 

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