Obay Alsharani has turned out a blissful debut on cassette for Hive Mind Records – it’s called Sandbox. As you will see from the accompanying videos, as well as hear from the deeply soulful soundscapes, this is another immersive project and essential lockdown listening and viewing. It follows the album by University Challenged for the label, which was also an impressive selection of audio-visual artistry that helped weave poignant narratives and suggested stories.
This collection is more DIY, reminiscent visually of cult-documentarian Adam Curtis, while relaying ambiguous field recordings in an ultra-captivating way. Maybe the Adam Curtis reference is a little simplistic – film scholars will no doubt trace the influences of auteurs at work more effectively – there seems to be the Northern Lights and particle experimentation present in two of the videos that really enthrall.
Obay is a Syrian migrant now settled in Sweden, who started producing music back in 2013 in his homeland. His lo-fi productions fused dusty samples of Arabic music with crunchy hip hop beats, gaining a dedicated Soundcloud following, under the name Khan El Rouh.
“It was great for escapism from all the horror that was happening outside,” he says. “When we watched what we started as peaceful protests for social equality and freedom of expression descend into a ravaging civil war between a brutal regime and the Islamists who took over the revolution.”
“As the situation in Damascus worsened, Obay fled Syria eventually being offered a scholarship in Sweden, which led to an extended period in refugee accommodation in the far north of the country while he awaited the result of his residence application,” Label boss, Marc Teare, explains. “Here he resumed his beat-making, and also sought refuge in the world-building game Minecraft, a place where he could momentarily forget the chaos and destruction in his homeland and the upheaval and uncertainty of his situation in Sweden, and concentrate on creation.
“After his residency was granted, Obay found a home and a job but became dissatisfied with his music production. So, inspired by the beauty of the Swedish landscape, the shifting colours of the Northern Lights, and the ambient sounds that had brought him comfort during this turbulent time, particularly C418’s Minecraft soundtrack, the music of Boards of Canada and Colleen, Obay embarked on the production of the deeply personal, calming and sheltering music that became Sandbox.
“At the same time he started to experiment with visual art, and particularly video feedback art, stills from which make up all the artwork for Hive Mind’s delicious limited edition cassette release. We decided to release the album as a cassette in tribute to Obay’s work with magnetic tape, but we’ve made the tape release as special as possible by housing it in a bespoke Maltese Cross package that contains the cassette and a set of ten art cards, each presenting a still image from one of Obay’s video experiments and corresponding to one of the album tracks.
“Over recent months we’ve taken great solace in this beautiful, ethereal music and we hope it’ll provide you with a place of refuge and regeneration in these chaotic times.”