Vibrant colors are one of the first things you’ll notice when arriving in Morocco. If it’s foggy when you touch down on the tarmac in Marrakesh, it’ll feel like entering a scene of a movie, where slowly, an endless red patina arises throughout the hazy desert landscape, like one giant painting that would occasionally show chromatic gradations from the Atlas Mountains to eventually the vibrant offerings in the city’s ancient souks and the elegant Moorish architecture that have all come to define “The Red City.”
Situated between North Africa and Andalusia, Morocco has served as a cultural, religious, and financial hub for the western Muslim world for a thousand years. In recent times, the creative communities in many of the nation’s major cities have gained global recognition across the arts as well, such as the subversive photographs of Mous Lamrabat and Hassan Hajjaj, along with the many, many music festivals sprouting almost every weekend, according to Oasis: Into the Wild founder, Marjana Jaidi.
Born in New York to Moroccan and Filipino parents, Jaidi’s first love was hip-hop — unsurprisingly, considering the city of her birth. Eventually, she would venture into the world of electronic music through events, such as Ultra Music Festival and the wider Winter Music Conference that takes place in Miami every March. The progression between these two musical genres “makes sense,” Jaidi tells Hypebeast, when reflecting on the festivals that inspired her to start her own.
For the 2023 edition of Oasis, the festival switched its usual grounds in Marrakesh to the Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzazate — a city you may not have heard of or are unsure how to pronounce (it’s war-zazat), but have surely seen before without knowing it. Also referred to as “Ouallywood”, the ochre-laden town has been used as the backdrop for a number of iconic scenes across the history of film and television, including Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and Game of Thrones.
Hypebeast was invited to attend the latest iteration of Oasis, a three-day event comprised of a number of heavyweight DJs in today’s electronic scene, along with exciting newcomers, all the while celebrating Morocco’s contemporary art scene. Headliners included Chicago house legend Honey Dijon, and German DJ Koze, as well as rising stars in British DJs Ok Williams and Jyoty, along with Indian DJ Jitwam, who provided a funk-induced set at the festival’s Agrabah stage.
Oasis had all the ingredients that constitute a great event, without all the gimmicky extras of the mainstream events. For one, it was intimate, fielding a capacity just under several thousand, allowing comfort for its attendees, while still maintaining the allure of a big gig through tasteful DJ curation, elaborate stages that rely less on trippy LED displays, and more on physical interior set ups, along with celebrating contemporary Moroccan arts and culture through installations such as the Mbari house, which was co-hosted by Hassan Hajjaj and fielded a number of conversation panels and films.
It’s here where we met Jaidi to discuss the story behind her festival and what she seeks to accomplish in the years ahead.
“We don’t just try to throw a party. We want to create meaning with our collaborators.”
Can you describe the electronic scene within Morocco when you first started Oasis until now?
When I first started Oasis, my experience was very international. I was going to a lot of international festivals, so I was approaching it as an international dance music festival that happens to be in Morocco, and not necessarily a Moroccan festival, because I wasn’t really part of the scene.
I discovered and learned so much about the local scene from that, which changed a lot after the festival. The first few years, there were only a couple festivals in Morocco. Then after COVID, I think there was just a hunger to party and an explosion of festivals — literally dozens of electronic music festivals in Morocco right now — which wasn’t always the case.
Morocco has always had a very healthy festival culture. There is the Sacred Music Festival in Fez, the Mawazine festival, which I believe is the second biggest festival in the world, in terms of attendance. So festival culture in Morocco is not non-existent, but it is different.
Do you find Morocco’s traditional religious ties interfere with the electronic music scene at times?
I would say that Morocco understands the role of tourism to its economy and that festivals bring tourists. So no one has ever been like, “You can’t have alcohol here.” In the beginning, there were questions about drugs, but also we also tried to attract an older audience — something that had a luxury feel — because I just thought that older folks would be a little more mature in that regard.
Can you recount the story of how Oasis came to be?
I got the idea back in 2010. I was working in New York nightlife and my company was hired to consult on a club in Morocco. That’s when I realized there should be a festival here. I had only been to a few festivals myself up until that point, so I put the idea in my back pocket.
I was a photographer and was shooting different events. My cousin Yusef came to see me and said “That idea for that festival you had … if you want to be first, you have to do it now.”
What were some of the decisions behind moving it from Marrakesh to here?
At the time, after COVID, where we were planning the 2022 edition, there were no flights coming in-and-out of Morocco at all. Just a full lockdown. I didn’t want to plan a 6,000 person festival and have to cancel it. I want to do something small, that won’t change, and staying in Marrakech wasn’t an option to do that.
Besides the setting itself, how would you differentiate Oasis from other electronic music festivals?
In general, we really do try to be holistic. We have the art installations, that are not just about traditional Moroccan culture but also contemporary Moroccan culture, because a lot of the world’s focus is the ancient side of Morocco. Contemporary culture is so interesting here and really growing.
On a local level, the fact that there are so many international journalists like yourself here is not something you see at 99% of the festivals in Morocco. It’s really more of a party, but I really want to amplify the artists that we have here, the region and the festival. That’s a really important part, that we don’t just try to throw a party. We want to create meaning with our collaborators and more of an impact beyond the three days that we’re spending here.
Head to the Oasis website for more info on the festival and its mission.