Growing up in the Ivory Coast but moving to France at the age of 14, Donia has established her presence on the French electronic scene as Loan for the best part of the last twenty years. Informed by hip hop, dubstep and bass music, the laptop artist and producer has also been gradually moving into video direction and short film production.

In the last three years, Loan has morphed into Azu Tiwaline, “a new name for a new spirit” following her relocation to Southern Tunisia where her mother’s family is from. Connecting the dots between North African polyrhythms, Berber music, ambient, techno and dub, the Azu Tiwaline project solely strives for percussion-driven trance and hypnosis. Initially released as a diptych on 13th March 2020 and 29th May 2020 respectively, Draw Me A Silence part I & II were then subsequently released as a double LP on the Marseille-based label I.O.T Records.

Azu Tiwaline - Draw Me A Silence (2020)
Azu Tiwaline – Draw Me A Silence (2020)

I have always loved the desert. You sit on sand dunes. You see nothing. You hear nothing. And yet something radiates in silence…

The quote in the liner notes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince frames the entire album, with the “Draw Me A Silence” title echoing the Little Prince’s request to the pilot to “Draw Me A Sheep”. The French writer is of course renowned worldwide for his classic fable published in 1943. But he was also a pioneering commercial pilot for the French airmail service before the war, launching new routes between the south of France and North or West Africa and in South America. The many long-range flights he overtook over the Saharan desert in the sweltering daylight heat and freezing nights – including a near-fatal crash in 1935 – have informed his deep knowledge of the desert and prompted remarkable literary meditations on the human condition such as Southern Mail (1929) or Wind, Sand and Stars (1939).

What “radiates”, “throbs” or “gleams” in the silence probably refers to the mirages Saint-Exupéry and his mechanic saw in the desert following their crash in 1935, or the auditory hallucinations they experienced due to dehydration and lack of food. The anaglyph 3D artwork cover by Azu Tiwaline recreates a stereoscopic illusion akin to mirages – The double LP pressing of the album comes with a pair of 3D anaglyphic glasses.

As Loan, the laptop artist spent years performing and producing a mainly industrial and urban style of music which was however always underpinned by West African percussion music, Afrobeat and Reggae. By relocating to the vast mineral landscapes of Southern Tunisia, the Azu Tiwaline project has brought about a radical re-evaluation of her creative approach to date. The music is now rooted in the semi-desert el Djerid region of South Western Tunisia bordering the Sahara desert. Bathed in the dry heat, deafening silence and infinite expanse of the nearby desert, every track on Draw Me A Silence is built around a traditional beat performed on a vast array of sampled percussion instruments. All tracks evolve in a cyclical manner via minute incremental changes à-la Steve Reich. Based on repetition, the beat never drops, always sustaining the same trance-inducing spell.

One feels a slight shift between Part I and II, a passage from electronic beats to raw snare frame-drums, from an urban feel to a more ambient soundscape as Part II features additional field recordings and perhaps a slowing down of the overall flow.

The harmonic elements are minimal throughout, a touch of flute, reed instrument, synthesiser or guembri here and there. There are also clear shamanistic undercurrents on tracks like “Red Viper” and dub aesthetics on “Organ Dub Warriors” for instance. By the concluding tracks (“Air Element” and “Izen Zaren”), the pulse has dramatically decreased to give way to a more contemplative and expansive soundworld, signalling perhaps that the transition to a barren yet creatively fertile wilderness has now been fulfilled.

Magnetic Service ft. Cinna Peyghamy 

Relocating to North Africa and adopting a new moniker has also opened the door to a new set of partnerships. Azu Tiwaline recently joined forces with Paris-based Iranian electronic musician and percussionist Cinna Peyghamy.

Azu Tiwaline ft. Cinna Peyghamy - Magnetic Service (2020)
Azu Tiwaline ft. Cinna Peyghamy – Magnetic Service (2020)

Superbly continuing on with a similar downtempo, organic and polyrhythmic dub-infused techno minimalism, the four track Magnetic Service was released on the Bristol label Livity Sound on 3 July 2020 last. The EP features Cinna Peyghamy on the tombak goblet drum on two tracks.

The pair also collaborated on Violet Curves, the opening track to Door to the Cosmos, a 24 track compilation / triple LP released on 18 September 2020 last for On The Corner Records. And on 13 November 2020 last, Azu Tiwaline partnered with Simon Popp and Sebastian Wolfgruber aka Fazer Drums for a rework on the B side of the Sound Measures Part VI​-​X EP.