Dublin-based Jamal Sul, aka Moving Still, really has seen this pandemic from two sides. As a DJ, his night-time pursuits have been wiped out, but his day job as an immunologist has been busier than ever.
“When Covid first hit, it was pretty tough,” says the Saudi Arabian-born Sul, who works with medical facilities to help keep the sector up to speed on the latest developments. “My role covers the service sector in a sense, where I look after customers in terms of installation, training. I was only at my job a couple of months, basically, I hadn't been fully trained yet. It was quite a scary thing to be in.”
Qualified with a PhD, he casts his mind back to a year ago when his expanding list of DJ bookings came to a sudden halt.
“I had a gig ready to go in Tunisia, had a few things ready to go in Berlin, in Paris, and it just all fell through. None of those things ended up happening.”
Sul decided to put his free time to good use to try and create new music.
“I then hit a massive roadblock of writer's block. And I do get to experience that... every six months, I get it and it's a massive hit.
“So, I started to do lots of walks and hikes, and that stimulated the creative juices in a different way. What happens, then, is I’ll get out of that writer's block, and I'd write about 20 songs.” Much of Sul’s work is centered around interpreting Arabic instrumentation and musical convention through the filter of electronica.
“My Mom would have been quite into '90s dance music growing up. And as a kid, I remember in '93, my Mom had Now Dance '93, with Acapella, 2Unlimited, The Prodigy, that was played in the house constantly. And then, until I moved here at 14, I had all this music that's in the background in Saudi Arabia.
“I was delving into my cultural identity a bit, and eventually, just out of interest, I wanted to amalgamate them together. Never thought that they would ever work, and I didn't think that anybody would care about it. Who would want to listen to this type of music? I never thought anybody would have an interest in it, and it's somehow just worked!”
Sul stresses that, just like western music, Arabic sounds have been evolving in recent years, not least as political and cultural conditions change.
“When you look at Arabic music, especially during the ‘80s and ‘90s, people had to be very, very careful on how they portrayed their music. Depending on what country, and how conservatism was very big in those areas at the time, you had to be kind of careful of what your audience was.
“And what you're seeing now, actually, in the modern-day Arabic music is that a lot more electronic people are emerging, and you're getting a lot more collaborations of different types of genres. So rather than being like 'all of our music fits under just Arabic music', it's actually fitting into the same categories that we do, in Ireland or in the UK.”
As an immunologist, Sul is happy that the Covid situation is improving, but like other people in the music industry, the long road back to gigs and club nights can be frustrating.
“The difficulty is, it seems like there is a light at the end of the tunnel that is expanding, but I think for music, it's not really getting there. And it's I suppose it's frustrating, in a sense, because you can see in the UK that people are getting booked.
“In terms of somebody that’s doing reasonably okay in music, it takes multiples of the same effort to get to the same place as somebody that does the same amount of work in the UK. I don't know if that's because of a mix of different things at play here, the lack of music magazines, or do we have enough PR in Ireland that covers that type of sector if you're not mainstream?
“It’s complicated, but my wish for the music industry is to get to recognise all these underground artists, and people that are doing really well.”
- Listen to Moving Still’s new music and radio shows: https://soundcloud.com/movingstill