Medium, Democratoz — Breaking barriers one gig at a time

Medium, Democratoz — Breaking barriers one gig at a time

Jul 21, 2016

A quick glance at Democratoz, and you might just see the typical jam band or reggae group. And that’s fine with them as they tour the United States for the first time, landing in New York for a show Friday night at The Shrine in Harlem.

It’s as close as they’ll get to being just another band, because in reality, they’re not. What they do is a lot more important than that, as the Oran, Algeria natives don’t sing about partying or last night at the club.

“In Algeria, we are speaking about freedom, about freedom of speech, and we are always talking about hope and transmitting good vibes to people,” said vocalist Sadek Bouzinou.

That’s a key message to send at home, but abroad, even without the benefit of singing in English, their mere presence makes a statement that is even more important.

“They will see that Muslims are people like them,” he said. “We’re happy, we can be artists. If the American people cannot understand the messages in our songs, at least when they see us onstage playing music and being happy and sending positive vibes, they may have a different idea from the idea they already have about Muslims, which is the one circulating on TV lately. They will see Muslim people being happy, smiling on stage and exchanging positive energy. So if they don’t understand the language, at least they’ll understand the message that not all Muslims are bad or the way the media shows them lately. We’re not all the same.”

So far, the response to the band and their message has been positive, with fans enjoying the music of Democratoz, which mixes reggae with Oran’s popular rai. Add in some rock and roll energy, and a night with the band crosses all demographics and breaks down any barriers.

“That’s something we talked about a lot after our first performance,” said guitarist Popay Guetta. “We could see the people dancing to our music. They heard reggae before, but they never heard it reggae mixed with our music, like another type of reggae. We saw them dancing and happy.”

As for their interactions with their new fans, it’s been all positive.

“All the people we’ve met so far here in the States have all been open-minded and have liked to exchange with us,” Bouzinou said. “We didn’t meet anyone who is racist or extremist or violent against Muslims. We don’t look much like Muslims, and every time we’re talking to someone and we say we’re from Algeria, which is a Muslim country, they’re like ‘Oh really? You don’t look like you’re Arab, Muslim, or Algerian.’ If we don’t tell them, they don’t know that we’re Muslim.”

Yet even with the tense climate in the States regarding Muslims, it’s important to point out that in Muslim nations, it is just as tense when it comes to Americans. So for Democratoz, there isn’t just work to be done here, but back home as well.

“In Algeria there are people who see the U.S.A. in a bad image,” Guetta said. “Our media also says that the U.S.A. is creating wars in the Middle East, so some people only get this image, exactly as the Americans only get the image of someone blowing himself up, so everyone is a terrorist. It’s on both sides, and we’re trying to erase this image. It’s a hard thing to do and it takes a lot of time, but we’re trying and hopefully we’ll manage to show a positive image from U.S.A. to Algeria and from Algeria to the U.S.A.”

One way they’re doing that has nothing to do with music either, as they’ve put up a post on their Facebook page promoting an exchange between American and Algerian fans where both can ask questions of each other, cutting out any media middlemen.

“We created a link that is not too formal, asking our friends on our page to write questions they would like to ask directly to U.S. citizens and put their email with the question,” Guetta said. “And once we have talks with people, we would give them the question on a paper with the email address so that person can talk directly to the person that asked the question and on return they can ask questions too. So it’s sort of creating a link between people directly, and not through an image on TV or anything. It’s from one person to another, which would be more direct and honest.”

It’s a lot of responsibility for a group of young people, especially with such serious issues to be discussed, but that doesn’t mean they’re mopey and miserable on their first U.S. tour. As Guetta points out, it’s quite the opposite
“Of course we’re having a lot of fun. We’ve been here just for four days, but the things we’ve seen and done, in our country I think could be done in one month,” he said on Monday. “We’re seeing new places and everything is new for us. The colors, the buildings, the people. So we’re very excited.”

And when the lights go on, everybody gets to share in that excitement.

“Those little things make us very proud of what we do and it’s exactly what makes us push and push more and go through this,” Guetta said. “It’s not easy for us in Algeria to rehearse and with the lack of equipment, but things like this are what keeps us going and gives us energy to do what we do. It’s a huge honor for us to see people reacting positively to our music.”

Democratoz plays The Shrine in NYC on Friday, July 22. For more information, click here