Ahmad Jafar’s (aka Empty Kuarter) star is rising: he had a first release last year of a collaborative track with Kuwait musician Alter Sal with French record label Work & Consume and a solo installation at Zahed Sultan’s REUSE event in March. People are beginning to recognize his talent for intelligent dance music production.
He hates having his photo taken (but does not mind candid shots) and is very humble about his music. On his Instagram @emptykuarter he describes himself as an aspiring (d)Jester. “I honestly don’t care what I am called which is why I played around with DJester – I joke a lot about what I do,” he says. “I don’t like labels.” But jokes aside, it is not long into a conversation that you realize Ahmad Jafar is a very articulate, thoughtful musician and very serious about what he does.
Empty Kuarter is the half of collaboration with Empty Alter. How did this collaboration begin?
Empty Alter came about after Zahed Sultan’s Kuwait Rising last year. That is where I met Salem al Salem aka Alter Sal. They put us on this workshop and we started talking about music. We clicked and we decided we should continue working together.
We produced a 4 track EP that went nowhere. Then we produced another single. We got a bit of traction with our second solo single Negiznee – it is a tough techno track . Negiznee is Kuwaiti slang for “make me bounce”. And it is a very bouncy track. It got released by French record label Work & Consume.
How did that happen – getting released by a French record label?
That is the power of social media in the 21st Century. Max Duke is a French producer and I had one of his records. I sent him a message on Facebook to say I really liked his music and I never expected him to respond. He responded, asked me where I was from. That was about three years ago. He said if you have any interesting stuff send it my way I will put you in touch with people to release it. So I have been sending him music for the last three years. He listened to Negiznee in June and he said you’ve got to finish this and I will release it by the end of the year. It was really nice to get that kind of confirmation.
What was your musical journey? You have been producing music for the last five years. But how did it start?
When I was about 12 years old I had a little bit of an existential crisis. I did not really know what an existential crisis was – I hadn’t studied these concepts yet. But as I grew older I realized what happened: The one thing that got me out of that funk was music. I started to make mix tapes for people – like what I think they should be listening to. This is what a DJ does: A DJ essentially tells everyone this is what you should be listening to.
And what did you think people should have been listening to at that time?
RnB and Hip Hop is what I started out with.
So you were not immediately drawn to electronic music?
No. I was into Hip Hop and RnB primarily because I knew a few B-boyers
Did you DJ at parties in school?
When I went to college [in the States] I ended up DJ-ing at parties and started getting a feel for what people liked. It was in college I got into electronic music. and started making my own music. Like very simple loops.
After college I came back to Kuwait and I was like “I am going to be a DJ in Kuwait.yeah!” But Kuwait has no parties, no clubs, no lounges. So I decided I was going to learn to make my own music.
What are the challenges you face as a Kuwaiti electronic musician?
It is the lack of venues more than anything. Electronic music is not socially acceptable yet. It is getting acceptance now. Other than that I think the biggest challenge that I have seen so far in Kuwait is ourselves. We are not promoting each other, we don’t create forums to come together and discuss our issues.
If we had regular shows and regular venues where we were really allowed to express ourselves then you don’t need a forum for people to get together and talk. Because then people will just go out to these things and the KDs will vote. So the venues that end up making money and staying alive will be promoting the cultures that make the most sense. But without that kind of structure then you need everyone to come together and talk and that is not happening.
What are your musical aspirations for the future?
I still want to DJ. I really do enjoy the connection with the crowd, and working off each other’s energy. Because I think that is what we all want to do in the world – work with energy and find people that can match up with our energy levels. There are people in Dubai who are interested in my music and my style and my musical abilities and so my aspiration is to start going there and playing there.
What about further afield – Berlin for example?
That is just like a pipe dream for me.
Why pipe dream?
I have friends in Berlin and France but I really do like home. I like this region. I like the people. I know there are some people who say it is boring, and it can be, but I think it is important to stay close to this region. Not only because it is home but also because it is growing. And it is growing in interesting ways. Whether it is good or bad, I am not sure yet, but at least it is growing and changing and there is flux. As long as there is flux, I am interested.
Any last words?
I would encourage people to be very honest…. I think people no longer listen to themselves first and foremost. So besides being honest with other people, which is important in general from a moral perspective, be more honest with yourself. If you are honest with yourself things make a lot more sense. It is easier to navigate the whole social media and the attention. And if you do get fame more power to you – but just be honest.