The early 2000s was an era most of us would prefer to forget. In particular, the sartorial decisions we all made—from the low-rise jeans, capris, and juicy couture tracksuits, to the thin scarf we wrapped around our necks for no particular reason. Even if the runways are awash with micro sunglasses and Noughties-inspired cuts – some things are best left in the past.
But the new millennia did mark the birth of the Arab popstar, and over the years we witnessed the rise of Nancy Ajram, Haifa Wehbi, Ruby, and Wael Kfouri—the popstars that pretty much defined our teenage years.
Over the years, the Arab music industry has taken a huge shift in direction. Leaving the early 2000s to mark a special musical era that evokes a certain kind of nostalgia, with most of us longing for the simpler times when the highlight of the day was tuning into Melody Hits on TV.
But even though those days have long been and gone, the music that came with it continues to live on. Friends, and huge fans of the genre, Haythem Fantar and Chérifa Jaibi decided to take the party from outside their living rooms and founded Al Kitsch Al Arabi Al Asil—Tunis’s newest, and coolest party.
The DJ duo held their first edition last January and have since become a national phenomenon—with a constantly growing fan-base following their carefully curated playlists. As regulars in the Tunisian nightlife scene, their initial goal was to have fun, but what ended up evolving was a cultural movement of sorts—a reclamation of Arab identity and a redefinition of the conventionally cool.
MILLE caught up with the duo to chat about how they got their start, the nostalgia that comes with the music, and the icon that is Fifi Abdou.
How did you guys get started?
Haythem: It all started in Beirut at a festival. We’ve always had plans, like, we wanted to throw parties at home with friends and play this kind of music just because we enjoyed it. But in Beirut, we had the idea to make it an actual party. We work with a nightclub in Tunis, so we thought, why not do it there. We decided to do it on a weekday when its typically empty, so if people didn’t enjoy it, it’s fine.
What do you guys enjoy most about your parties?
Haythem: Definitely people’s reactions. We initially thought people were going to just sort of stand around, listening. But then, you look at people, and they’re so excited, and they know all the lyrics. The ambiance is crazy. We get requests for specific songs all the time. And now, it’s just been growing. We’ve had huge crowds for our last few editions.
Why do think people love it?
Haythem: I think people have always loved this genre, but most are sort of embarrassed. We sort of provided them a medium to enjoy it through, and not be embarrassed by it.
Cherifa: It’s almost like people felt prohibited from it for a long time. And now they have an environment, a safe space, where they can dance and sing along to it freely.
Haythem: There’s also the nostalgia that comes with it. It takes us back to a time we all enjoyed. And it’s universal. We’ve thrown the party at different kinds of clubs, with completely different clienteles, people of different social classes, and they all have the same reactions.
There’s a huge element of irony to the night. Do you think it would have the same level of success in Egypt for example?
Haythem: We had a reaction from Egyptians that kind of made me smile actually. We brought Meryam Salah to Yuka, the club we’ve been working at. And so many Egyptians were messaging us, asking us to bring her to Egypt and throw the same party.
The thing is, Egyptians or Lebanese people listen to this kind of music all the time. There’s no difference between them going to our party than someone who enjoys hip-hop or rap going to a hip-hop or rap party.
Cherifa: It’s not even just about the music. t’s also about the manner in which we present it as well. The energy. I think everyone can tell that we genuinely enjoy what we’re doing, and that transmits to people.
What’s next for you guys?
Haythem: We’re just going to continue doing what we’re doing. I think we’ve opened the door for a lot of other things too. It’s not just about Al Kitsch Al Arabi Al Asil, or the success of the parties. It’s also about the fact that people are really taking ownership of the things they enjoy—and not being embarrassed by it because it’s not cool.
Cherifa: Fifi Abdou. I want to bring Fifi Abdou here. She’s given us a couple shout-outs on Instagram, and that was very exciting for us. She’s an icon.