The Afif Brothers Quartet

As the Dubai foursome return to Blue Bar for a weekly dose of jazz, we meet founder and drummer Rony Afif

Interview, Music feature

So, Rony. You and your brother Elie are pretty experienced musicians, but when did you realise you could make a living in the industry?
We took the decision around 2004, which is when we shifted to be full-time musicians. The main motive was passion. Beside being skilled in business, I think an honest and sincere dedication to music will always pay off.

We hear you have a BA in musicology. Would you recommend the next generation of musicians studied, or started playing clubs as early as possible?
In my opinion, music is a craft that needs to be mastered on the bandstand, so from a performance aspect it’s beneficial to have musicians perform as long as they have a acceptable musical level. On the other hand, the theoretical knowledge you acquire from school always adds up, and it’s a must if it is available.

You’re originally from Beirut, which is known to be quite a party place. How was it for you moving to a slightly more conservative Dubai?
I don’t see Dubai as a conservative place in the full meaning of the word. It is definitely a growing scene. Beirut has lots of culture and openness, but it was not a big deal for us to adjust to the Dubai scene. It’s not about the place – if you have the love of music in you, you can make it happen anywhere and any situation. Besides, our move to Dubai was not planned – we came here fleeing the war in 2006.

What are the main difficulties faced by musicians hoping to make it here?
We don’t have a big musicians’ community. Everyone tends to think that they are the best and therefore they fall into stardom and forget about their instruments, which does not help the musical level and definitely doesn’t push the culture. This is what is destructive about Dubai, but if you keep you eyes, ears and heart open you will not fall into this trap. I quote jazz musician John Mclaughlin: ‘I will always be the eternal learner.’

Do you have any sibling rivalry in the band? Is it like Oasis’s Gallagher brothers, who always seem to fight?
We have our different personalities, but musically we’re pretty close. I don’t remember a major argument involving music – I think we argue more about food and sports!

You’ve both worked with many local and international jazz musicians. Who has inspired you the most?
For me it was my first gig at the Blue Note Café in Beirut with Tino Derado (a pianist from New York). He told me: ‘If you make mistakes, nobody will kill you – just beware of repeating the same mistakes.’ For Elie, the main push came from the gig he did with US jazz guitarist Mike Stern at the age of 17. Mike told him: ‘Elie, you’ve got to leave school and keep on playing your bass.’

If they made jazz illegal, what would be your next musical genre of choice?
I guess we’d be outlaws! We appreciate and listen to other types of music a lot, such as classical, electronic, rock and oriental, but we remain on top of all jazz militants.

Finally, finish this sentence: We should come to watch the Afif Brothers play because…
They are goin to burn da house! Get your personal fire extinguisher!

Interview by Samantha Stacey. The Afif Brother Quartet play Blue Bar at Novotel World Trade Center every Friday at 9.30pm, free.

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