It was hailed as a brave new opportunity for local musicians and music lovers alike; a weekly night, set under the starlight, where the city’s talented musicians could escape the shackles of the cover version circuit, jam with fellow players and present original music to appreciative listeners. But less than three months after the weekly Live Local Loud gigs launched on Wafi Rooftop, the night has been suddenly cut to a monthly slot – and will now feature an international headline act. The first, on January 20, will see theatrical French troupe Les Fils de Teuhpu bring their energetic gypsy-to-reggae, brass, strings and drum approach to Dubai for the first time.
It sounds great, but for a Live Local Loud night, what happened to the ‘local’? One hiccup is that Dubai’s music scene simply isn’t big enough to present a double bill of original acts every week. ‘The reality is you have about three months’ worth – and then we’d have to go around again,’ says Shelly Frost, director of The Fridge, the venue behind the nights. ‘There aren’t 100 fabulous acts [in Dubai], so you need to get the same names playing again and again, which makes it hard to keep promoting interesting, entertaining gigs every week.’
Live Local Loud was started in October, inspired by the Peanut Butter Jam nights that entertained crowds on Wafi Rooftop for more than a decade before folding in 2009. But where those jam nights presented predominantly covers bands doing their thing, the mission statement this time around was to promote local music.
‘Peanut Butter Jam had an extraordinary lifespan. When you look at events in Dubai, they last a year or two if they’re lucky,’ says Shelly. ‘There were some interesting nights, but towards the end it got to the point where it was hard to keep it going – by the end it subsided. What we wanted to do was have a much-missed platform for artists of an eclectic nature to get up and jam together. You get that fabulous thing called spontaneity, you feel that creative energy rather than just seeing people churn it out. And it’s more interesting for the musicians because there are so few opportunities for that kind of thing in Dubai.’
The truth is it was not a lack of local talent that has seen the nights falter, but an apathetic audience. The new and improved events hope to combat that – and nurture the scene – by presenting one local act alongside a larger international name, offering an invaluable chance to gain exposure. ‘Original music doesn’t have the same draw as a main act or a covers band,’ bemoans Shelly. ‘A Pink Floyd tribute gig will get 600 people; original music will get 180 if you’re lucky.’
Shelly is a huge champion of local musicians and knows exactly the struggles they face. A native of South Africa, she arrived in Dubai 14 years ago to work as a harpist in the lobby of Jumeirah Beach Hotel. In 2007 she founded booking agency and artists’ haven The Fridge, which continues to grow annually in its support for local music. The Fridge launched the first album on its in-house label in December, with at least six more planned for this year. Meanwhile January 16 sees the opening of The Fridge’s ninth series of in-house gigs, at its base in a warehouse in Al Quoz.
‘There’s no magic answer – we just need to keep on doing it and raise awareness,’ Shelly adds. ‘None of this is surprising for a city of the size and diversification of Dubai. There’s much more support for original music than there ever has been. It’s not only the audience that’s young but the artists too. As bands grow, the audience does too; it all works hand in hand. There’s no way to speed that up – it’s an organic process.’
Live local talent
Five of the best local acts to play Live Local Loud so far
Currently promoting debut solo album Oh Restless Heart, folksy Hassall performs regularly with his band The August Company, has toured across Europe and North America, and his music was featured on local film City of Life.
Rachael Calladine and The Everyday People
Jazzy soul singer Calladine has had the honour of performing at the iconic Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in her native UK more than 25 times, has shared bills with the likes of Jamiroquai, Brand New Heavies, Joss Stone and The Prodigy, and sung backing vocals for The Spice Girls and Kylie.
Melisa Le Rue
Soul songstress Le Rue has played the UK’s Glastonbury Festival with Latin Dub Sound System, and more recently sang solo at Abu Dhabi Film Festival and at Neos’ New Year’s Eve party at The Address Downtown Dubai.
Colombian singer Fatiniza was raised on Latin rhythms that infuse her original music, evidenced on her debut LP Confusion, which hit Virgin Radio’s top 10 chart in Dubai.
Originally formed for a one-off gig at Dubai International Jazz Festival, Egyptian/Middle Eastern band Dahab have been combining elements of Arabic, rock, jazz, blues and folk in their original music for seven years.