Whenever or however you encounter Hassan Hajjaj’s work, you can tell it isn’t about how he perceives his community, but rather how he contributes to it. As a zealous champion of Morocco’s creative scene, Hajjaj made sure to bring the vibrant Madina district in Marrakesh to Sole DXB as the festival’s first official host. From the entrance to the basketball court, Hajjaj infused the entire grounds of Sole DXB with his maximalist Moroccan flair. Hajjaj’s own pavilion was built like a Riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an indoor courtyard, usually located within the Medina walls) that served as a gallery, shop, and resting spot. The gallery showcased many of his Andy Wahloo’s (which means ‘I have nothing’ in Darija) branded designs, including leather jackets, socks, fine silver jewellery, sunglasses, and traditional Moroccan wear. This year’s Sole DXB wasn’t Hajjaj’s first collaboration with the festival, as he re-launched his London streetwear brand RAP in 2016, which he considered a “nice moment to share something from where I’m coming from with this region.”
A community space like Sole DXB is crucial for artists like Hajjaj, evidently, Jajjah Tea Salon – an immersive kaleidoscope that functions as a tea room, boutique store, and collaborative space located in the industrial and artistic quarter of Sidi Ghanem.
Earlier this year, Hajjaj collaborated with Marjana Jaidi’s Mbari House (a joint movement shedding light on Moroccan creatives from various disciplines) for a one-day event at Jajjah. It all started when he met his current business partner Amine El Baroudi, an art collector and tea manufacturer in Morocco, and everything began to take shape. Following a few factory visits and the manufacture of empty tea cans for Hajjaj’s shoots, El Baroudi and Hajjaj were able to bring Jajjah to the Moroccan community and have the community give back within the premise.
Whether it be Sole DXB, Jajjah Tea Salon, or his Larache Shop in Shoreditch London, Hajjaj has never failed to create a space where the new generations can speak and be heard. And you can bet that he will always be among the people rather than on a stage.
You’ve worked with Sole DXB many times over years, but I’d love to know how to it feels to host the festival this year. How was that experience?
They’re more of my friends first, given the years we’ve been working, and it was a great moment to share, celebrating their tenth anniversary. So it’s like family, and it felt good. Also, because I come from the art and gallery world, I felt like this is my calling back to home because I grew up with music and festivals. I also shot some stuff for the magazine and 27 or 28 gallery pages of pictures, mainly from the region. I chose around 27 cities from our region to celebrate this as well. I’ve got a friend of mine named Ismail Zaidy, a young photographer who shot a few covers and some stuff within the magazine as well. I also got to bring a few people from Morocco to perform music, like Khadija el Warzazia, a women’s band. It’s not the type of music you’d hear at a sneaker festival, but I thought it was brilliant to give something different to the audience.
How do you feel that regional festivals and events encourage and drive the conversation about Middle Eastern Art, embracing our culture and lifting one another within the creative scene?
It’s important to have more of such events because of this new generation in the last 15 years. We should be celebrating ourselves and the outside with us without keeping ourselves in our own bubble. We need to celebrate us and share it with other people on the same level. So it doesn’t look like it’s the Arab world and its Arab art, but rather good art from the Arab region. And there’s enough talent out there in literature, music, art, and fashion. Luckily, many of this young generation are using social media to promote their business and show their talents, so there’s already a chain happening. For example, if someone from the region is promoting gigs, they can get someone who can sound and another to do set design, and then it becomes a chain of hopefully linking people. So Sole is a little taste of that, and I wish for it to happen more often.
I read that you said from moving from Morocco to London, you realized that home is a state of mind, and it’s the stories and the people we surround ourselves with. I think this is a massive struggle for Third Culture kids anywhere in the world, and I’d love to hear more about your journey to reaching that conclusion.
When you’ve been moved around, and you try to fit into things, it’s always difficult. So the first step is making the new places your home and having the roots from where you left. This can mess up somebody’s mind along their journey because you’re missing out on both spaces. You’re not very local, and you’re not yet from that new place, and you are reminded that you’re a foreigner. Even when you start to feel at home, something can happen that’ll remind you that you’re not from here. But if you can use it as a force in whatever you do in your life, then you can benefit from that because it’s good energy. At the end of the day, you’re a person of the earth. I also have realized that wherever you are at that point in time, you’re going to make that place your home. If you’re in a hotel for one day, that hotel room is your home. It’s really how you can see it. But it can definitely be hard for a lot of people.
Any advice for those struggling with this feeling?
It’s within yourself. I had to teach myself that when I’m in Morocco, I’m not a local Moroccan, but I try to understand the local way of thinking while also trying to understand that I am the person that lives outside, so they’re going to see me that way as well. While I’m in London, I’m not English, but I’m a Londoner because that’s where I can function, and that’s what I know. You must work out how to feel comfortable with yourself as a human being from this world rather than a specific location.
Favourite cafe/spot to drink tea?
I would say my spot, Jajjah Tea Salon. And while I mainly drink coffee, any sha’abi (local) spots that don’t usually have a known name served by sha’abi people are the ones with the best tea.
Current three favorite musicians?
DRAGANOV, Sault, and Abduh.
Favorite vinyl record?
Chalice in the Palace by U-Roy.
Items that speak to your personal style?
I don’t really have a set style, so probably just a t-shirt or a sweatshirt, and a pair of sneakers.
Favourite pair of sneakers?
At the moment I’m wearing the Adidas Shell Tops, the classic ones. So I’ll put those in.
Last thing you bought that you love?
Incense from Oman.
Best souvenir you ever got?
I was knighted by the king of Morocco [with Al Wissam of Al Moukafaa Al Wataniya]. I was in the middle of a shoot and got a phone call from somebody saying you have to be in Tangiers on Saturday night. And I said, I’m really sorry, I’m traveling back to London on Sunday, and they said, no, you have to be there. Then he sort of almost knew that I speak Arabic, so he goes Sunday, you need to be there in a suit. But I didn’t think it was for the Royal Ouissams. Then I realised it was the king’s birthday, so I thought you know he’s inviting artists to the celebrations. So I arrived Saturday night, and about 40 of us dressed up, and then the two coaches came to take us to the palace. We could see into the garden and see thousands of people. We were the last ones to go in and were chaperoned to move towards the front. I saw the singer behind me was getting nervous, and I asked why are you so nervous? He goes we’re getting our Ouissams. And that’s when it hit me, and I started getting nervous. So anyway, you sit down, get your name called, go up and say a few words, and get your Ouissam.