By Najoua Bijjir
By Najoua Bijjir
Amsterdam – “There were times I couldn’t find a job and when I lived through hardship.”
Launching mega-hit after mega-hit. Collaborating with superstars like Pitbull, and signing on with none other than music producer RedOne. Ahmed Chawki, the guy who has been successful in merging Moroccan-Arab-music with western pop. He’s brought worlds that are normally separated, together. Still, the question remains: who is Ahmed Chawki?
MWN: We all know you for your invigorating songs, glasses, a beard and a big smile… How would you describe yourself?
Ahmed Chawki: Most people know me indeed for my smile, and for being that typical Chaâbi-boy. That’s not surprising, because I grew up in a neighbourhood called ‘Djbel derssa,’ in the city of Tetouan. It’s a typical Chaâbi area, a neighbourhood where you’d never expect to become a professional music artist.
MWN: When you grow up in a neighbourhood like that, you’re more likely to be convinced of what’s not possible.
Ahmed Chawki: I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to achieve my dreams ‘the hard way.’ I am a person that can appreciate life with all its successes and its failures. Because of this, I learned to appreciate the smaller things in life that are, in fact, more important to us. Such as the ability ‘to be,’ to experience the beauty that surrounds us, to be healthy, to smile… We do not need any great professional successes to appreciate life in its pure form.
“A song is like boarding a plane that allows you to travel back in time.”
MWN: What kind of music did influence you?
Ahmed Chawki: Music has always been my passion. At the age of three I was already listening to traditional music, such as Chekara’s Andalucian music, El Ellah’ and El Amdah. These are all classics, based on poetic lyrics with very long verses.
Later I enjoyed listening to artists like Abdelwahab Doukali and Oum Kalthoum. When you’re working with music, it is very important to broaden your horizon. Without the past, you can’t understand the future.
I had to figure out what I wanted. Nowadays my music is more popular, considering the fact that I liked listening to more traditional poetic music when I was younger.
“I had to work hard and I had to become my own bridge.”
MWN: You started writing and singing poems. What is your favourite poem?
Ahmed Chawki: It’s definitely El Malhoun, classical music where they often sing poetry about religion and passion. I love to hear the choir-orchestra, with so many people performing superbly together, interpreting the poetry of music for the audience. The more people, the more impressive it can get.
I have written a lot of poems myself as well, but they were not about love. They were often about ‘the hardship’ of life. I wrote poetry about what it is to be naïve, about despair and about life that’s never logical.
When I was young, there was no bridge between my dreams and me. I had to work hard and I had to become my own bridge.
When I started to become more successful, it didn’t happen overnight; as I grew I had to work even harder to gain access to new opportunities.
The beauty of everything is that I started to understand through hardship who I was, who my family is and where I came from. All of these feelings did manifest themselves in my poetry and in my early lyrics.
“I later moved to Spain, hoping for better career opportunities.”
MWN: What did you have to do to realize your dreams?
Ahmed Chawki: As long as I can remember I wanted to become a professional singer. To do so, I had to climb a very high mountain, step by step, until I arrived.
When your chances are already low in succeeding in a specific field, your success depends on how you plan things. There’s a lot of competition in the music industry, so you have to be strategic as well.
In Tetouan, I studied at the School of Theatre and Music. I later moved to Spain, hoping for better career opportunities. In Spain I worked construction, as a waiter, and even as an errand boy. There were times I couldn’t find a job and I lived through some hardships.
Meanwhile, I founded my own music group La Paloma, and I saved much of what I earned to be able to record as an artist. Both my wife and my mother supported me in my music career. I remember my wife selling her jewellery, to make it possible for me to record. While some recordings were successful, others did not succeed.
Sometimes its just waiting for the right moment, and fighting for the things you want to reach in life. You have to be smart and always think in positive scenarios.
“RedOne opened up great opportunities”
MWN: How did signing with RedOne change your career?
Ahmed Chawki: RedOne and I knew each other from a long time ago. We met in the same period I founded the band La Paloma. During a festival in Tetouan, sponsored by the Mayor of Tetouan, I was given the opportunity to collaborate with Quincy Jones. I also met with music producer RedOne. He told me that he liked my work.
Time went by, and we met again. He then offered to collaborate with me and to sign with his label!
After two years the track, “Habibi I Love You”, featuring singer and rapper Pitbull, was released. All of a sudden, I was famous. Track after track was released from there – from “Magic in the Air,” to “Time of Our Lives,” to “Tsunami.”
Becoming famous doesn’t mean you’re there. You’re always working hard and searching for the perfect idea for a new song. When you reach a certain level, it’s also a matter of staying on that level.
Today’s market is much bigger, due to globalisation. Creating music these days requires a more international approach, and it’s great to be able to reach as many people as you can on a global scale. What is more beautiful than uniting people with your music?
However, it’s also really difficult, you have to produce in a way to be able to reach that global audience. This means you have to think about what kind of music you want to produce. For example, merging Moroccan music with English. Before RedOne it was very difficult to reach audiences outside of the Arab world. RedOne opened up great opportunities for talents that didn’t have any chance to do so.
“When I was young, these singers were my idols. I remember them during my concerts.”
MWN: During your own concerts, besides your own popular songs, you sing classical Moroccan covers as well. What do these songs represent to you?
Ahmed Chawki: During my concerts, I often cover old songs, to remember traditional songs. The audience love them!
It’s the music that touches me. Let’s not forget that these old songs represent my youth, for example, “Ya Zina Diri Latay”. When I was young, these singers were my idols. I remember them during my concerts.
These songs draw me back to the past and make me feel how I used to feel.
A song is like boarding a plane that allows you to travel back in time.
MWN: Which artist did you enjoy working with the most?
Ahmed Chawki: Oh, it’s definitely Enrique Iglesias, but I also really enjoyed working with Pitbull and Dr. Alban. The reason is that they’re all great people who are very accessible and willing to share their own experiences. That’s exactly what I love to do as well- help others. I am most happy when I help someone and when I’m able to give something to others.
At the end of the day the good you have done towards others is one of the real accomplishment in life.
MWN: Which artist would you like to collaborate with?
Ahmed Chawki: One artist would be Ilias, a Dutch-Moroccan singer with an intriguing voice. At the age of 18 he founded Dystinct. Ilias is a talented artist. I enjoy collaborating with people that bring new ideas to music.
We just finished recording a song together last week. The song has both Dutch and Spanish lyrics. My fans might be surprised that I chose Spanish, but I’m very close to that language since I’ve lived Spain for so long.
“You don’t need to be a photo shopped version of yourself.”
MWN: Do you have a special Ramadan message for our readers?
Ahmed Chawki: Ramadan Mubarak to all the readers and to all Muslims around the world. May Allah ease your fasting and your lives.
My message to all of you is to appreciate what you have instead on focussing on what you don’t have. Life is already a blessing.
You’ll never find happiness comparing yourself with others. Everyone is talented. Focusing on your special, unique talents, is all it takes. Figure out a plan, a strategy for how you can improve yourself and go for it!
You don’t need to be a photo shopped version of yourself, just the real deal that is you.
Ahmed Chawki latest track ft. Distinct