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Ask Yourself: Why Be?

DJ and Producer Why Be talks about his rejection of labels and not complicating things, ahead of his dynamic D-CAF gig last week, where he transfixed the audience with his unique beats...

Underneath the colourful roof of the historic Sherazade Cabaret we sought answers to the new music world's philosophical questions from Why Be, ahead of the DJ and Producer’s gig as part of Cairo’s yearly D-Caf festival. We live in a day and age where suddenly most feel the need to define themselves with specific labels; dubbing themselves as an introvert, nationalist, foodie, and so on. But why constrict yourself when you can be so much more. "You might as well be everything," Why Be, aka Tobias Lee Christensen, tells us as we sit with him in his backstage room, a space that would have otherwise been taken over by one of the many belly dancers that usually hit the stage of the majestic Sherazade Cabaret. The same concept of not constraining yourself goes for his music; to label it would be constricting it of all it could be.

The South Korea-born artist currently resides with like-minded musicians who push musical boundaries. Between Copenhagen and Berlin he admits he was worried his music would not stand out in the honeypot destinations of electronic/experimental beats. "I thought we'd be fighting over the same chicken," he explains, but he soon learnt that wasn’t the case; “We're affiliated with different labels and they book us for different things.” Though very much in tune with the Danish culture, he states that he will always be seen as "the Korean guy" but he continues with his philosophy of not restricting himself, also trying not to limit himself to one place which helps him cater to a larger audience.

You'd think most artists would want their music to define and represent them but to Why Be that conflicts with his creativity. "I am not trying to be a ‘me’ in my music. I don’t try to be a prophet. I'm just trying to play interesting and cool stuff.” He claims his music doesn’t not carry a message, saying that he instead leaves that to religion and politics. So is his music solely for the sake of entertainment; art for art's sake? The walking paradox that is Why Be wants to say yes but stops short explaining that to some degree it is but there's so much more to it.

Why Be…complicated? You know how some galleries will showcase a portrait of a blue dot on a white background accompanied by a placard explaining the piece using artistic jargon that you have never heard before and then launch into a detailed description of the symbolism and hidden meaning, when at the end of the day it is a blue dot on a white canvas? Why Be is all for calling it as it is, "I'm not trying to be complicated, I can easily name you a few genres but what's the point? You won't know it…but suddenly I'm the cool mother****** ‘cause I do.” He continues that it is so easy to just name drop these exclusive genres that have never been heard before to make the music come off as unique and edgy, but then what's the point? So in essence he will pick-pocket different tunes that appeal to him and produce a collage out of them, making sure to give credit where credit is due.

He coolly lights up a cigarette and pushes his sleek black hair away from his face, starting up a new debate. For a DJ who uses melodies from all over the world he sees a responsibility in the raw material DJs use, explaining that some artists will make big bucks by using tunes originally created in the favelas of poor neighborhoods and presenting them to the west. "It's very western to become exotic - a new form of imperialism. It is important to pay respect to the people you use in your music but at the same time not to make it a cultural discussion on what belongs to who.” For a DJ who had almost advocated that it’s music for music's sake alone, he exposed that the effect of music is limitless.

Welcome to the 21st century music world; your idea of making music is mixing Justin Bieber songs and clapping sea lions but you are very much afraid you will not find a local audience. Experimenting with music can be very tricky. You really are taking a risk but Why Be explains that even he did not have a strong local community fan base but thanks to the internet he was able to put his music out there and fans all around the world appeared. "That’s the strength of the internet – that you can have a very strong following but none of them live in a thousand mile radius of yourself…but you can still make it.”

Confident, cool, calm, and making music not to appease anyone but himself, Why Be left us for sound checks preparing his beats so that he would later wow a curious audience, teasing Cairo nightlife with a new spin on experimental music.

Photography by Jonathan Zikry.