Music

Symbols with Diwon

There’s two ways to look at any situation, the positive way and the negative way.

Story by Citizen Brooklyn - icarus.blake@citizenbrooklyn.com Photos by Icarus Blake Video by Citizen Brooklyn
Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

FREE DIWON DOWNLOAD – “GIRL LIKE THAT” diwonmusic.com

I found out about Diwon through an Israeli friend of mine, who’s actually a part of my “Russian” crew from the Sheepshead Bay/Brighton Beach area. I put Russian in quotes because they’re actually a mixed bag of Eastern European nuts, some of them only by decent, as is the case with mon petite Israeli.

Diwon’s section of Brooklyn, Crown Heights, is a whole different story. Boasting a mostly Afro-Caribbean population, there is also a strong presence of the somewhat autonomous Hasidic community. This semi-mixture unfortunately resulted in the race riots of ’91, but it is also the perfect environment for unusual artistic mixes. Diwon, at least some of the time, is one of many artists who make a kind Judaism-infused Hip-Hop, embodied by the idea of “Semitic Swag”. These days he’s musically exploring outside that niche, as well as expanding on it with his Middle Eastern inspired clothing line.

Diwon: My name is Erez Safar, my producer name is Diwon.
CBK: Where does that name come from?
D: Diwon is the Yemenite book of songs and dances. I was curating sound for a museum and, while going through their archive, I created beats from their sound samples. It leaned towards the Yemenite culture, which is my mom’s culture. So that’s where the name came from but since then I’ve been doing more like hip hop, pop and some rock, whatever… But it’s kind of a name that works in different situations—you know what I mean? It could be like a hip-hop name or be like a Middle Eastern name, whatever, which I think works for me. I’m always working on a different project.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: Do you have a favorite medium or genre to work in?
D: I like collaborating so my album New Game which comes out the 20th of August is pretty much me doing the music and I feature different people. There’s a guitarist from here who used be in Texas, Dugans, who lays down some guitar on the tracks and I feature a lot of vocalists that I’ve worked with in different settings, different rappers and singers and it’s a cool way to bring them into my setting. It’s not the same as us both working on the lyrics and both working on the music, it’s pretty much a finished track from my record and I want to feature you doing the vocals.The record is hip-hop based and touches upon a bunch of different styles, some DJ Shadow type instrumentals and a lot of hip-hop, stuff that’s pretty upbeat.

CBK: Do you ever do straight instrumentals?
D: Yea, the record has a bunch of interludes and a few of them are instrumental and there are two interludes that have vocals as well but it’s just like an interlude, almost like a sixteen bar verse that’s kind of like weird and interesting. In one of them, the rapper, Open Mic Eagle, submitted it as song, but I ended up chopping it up and the outro I did with MC Paul Barman and ended up chopping up one of the verses he did in a song for a really cool sound.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: Who are what are your biggest influences in general for your music?
D: That question is always difficult to answer. My influences in the 90’s were the Beastie Boys because they approach music the same way I do, by creating these sounds out of sounds that are all over, whether it’s sampling or not. In some of their records they are playing instruments, but there also sampling themselves playing it. So it’s kind of bringing together these different live sounds and turning them into samples—chopping them up and looping it, sort of creating it in that hip-hop way, but you have a little more flexibility because you can play all the notes as opposed to only being able to sample one part.
A producer like Diplo is also an influence because he is always working with different people and different types of music—he’s very prolific as a producer and that’s inspiring. Then artists like John Coltrane who found their zen and are masters, so anything they do is at such a high level.

CBK: How does your constant travel affect your work?
D: I like traveling. I’m always traveling, and I travel with some of the artists I produce and we play shows. I’m gonna be back here doing a slew of shows for the release August 20th, so i’ll be playing town-hall and then Drone the next night. On Friday, I was in Crown Heights working with Dugans and a singer named Akie Bermiss, we’re doing an EP that’s like Curtis Mayfield meets the Black Keys. I’m pretty excited about it.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: Do you think you still have some of the fan-base you had when you were doing Jewish themed music?
D: Well, I didn’t start off making Jewish music. I had a residency in the village every week and was exposed to fun dance music, so I would also make music with that sound, as well as hip-hop, then I started getting into Jewish music and working with artists like Matisyahu,Y-Love, etc. It was universal music with a Jewish positive message infused into it that I was passionate about making, but I listened to all kinds of music at the time. Now I make music that I would listen to or bump in my car and because of that my audience is kind of split between people who relate more to the Jewish music I did and people who like the other different genres of music I make.

CBK: While were on this subject, I want to discuss the scarves. I’ve actually experienced some serious hostility from people while wearing them.
D: There’s two ways to look at any situation, the positive way and the negative way. We created our scarves to educate people about the culture, since it is our cultural/regional garb and it was something that everyone began to wear: Jews, Christians, Muslims, whoever… In Brooklyn you see a lot of Payos, which are sidelocks or side curls. In Yemen, they call them simonim, which means symbols and I believe the reason they call them that is because it is way to distinguish between a Jew and a Muslim. This illustrates they they are both basically wearing the same things. I don’t view it as a dividing thing that should be stirring up hatred, it can be a unifying thing. Some people can see it as cultural appropriation, but it’s 2013 and people are influenced by other people and want to incorporate what they see into their own lives, so it can be looked at as a complimentary thing.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

When we launched our line of scarves it hit New York Times and there was a lot of controversy, which also brings a lot of sales. The designer we worked with created designs for different countries this is the American one with a skull and the flag, we did a Brazilian one , a UK one… People love it and we think it’s cool, if people don’t that’s fine, whatever, they don’t have to buy it. I launched a side site semiticswag.com and you can check out all of the scarves on there. Wearebancs.com is our record label website where you can check out all of the new videos and downloads, mix-tapes and releases.

CBK: How have you been received by different audiences when performing live?
D: It’s been a trip. I’ve performed as a DJ in different countries and no one really knew who I was, but assumed I was really famous and I signed a lot of autographs, and performed with a band in college and we had our own posters all over Moscow when we were touring. Recently I went on tour with an artist I produce, Y-Love, who is a black, ex-hasidic gay rapper, and the reception was really good. We toured Berlin, Ukraine, Paris, Israel, a bunch of places. A lot of times we’ll do community work and perform at a lot of clubs on the side with mostly non-Jewish audiences, more mainstream audiences. It’s been cool and touring outside of the country is the most fun because the audiences really wyle-out and a lot of times American audiences are a little more stiff and reserved.

Diwon’s Semitic Swag Podcast for Citizen Brooklyn by Citizenbrooklyn on Mixcloud

One Response to “Symbols with Diwon”

  1. […] this interview with Citizen Brooklyn, Diwon breaks down the story behind the Keffiyeh line (Semitic Swag), the origin of the name Diwon […]