It was quite a feast for the ears; a booming Indian beatboxer spitting out guttershot beats. A Fender Stratocaster wafting bluesy licks into the air. A wailing Arabic singer-songwriter pouring her heart out at a piano. A Jordanian oud player coaxing exotic quarter-tone scales from his instrument.
This was the almighty cross-cultural jam session, which took place on the final night of Dubai’s Sikka Art Fair in Al Fahidi, the historical neighbourhood in Bur Dubai’s Bastakiya. Traditionally a forum for visual artists, every night of this year’s two-day event wound up with local musicians playing into the early hours.
While you might have missed out on the shows, you won’t have to miss out on the talent. In the weeks since the event, which wrapped up on March 24, 15 of the artists who performed have been busy in the studio recording a song each for a compilation CD. Set to be released next week and funded by Dubai Culture, the disc represents one of the first formal recorded showcases of UAE musicians.
Studio work kicked off the morning after the final concert, at TECOM’s SoundStruck. The whole process was overseen by the festival’s music producer, Kamal Musallam; a Jordanian jazz-world guitarist and oud player who has been a lynchpin of the Dubai music scene for more than a decade.
‘There’s a reason I did all this,’ explains the 42-year-old with characteristic gravity, his intense eyes piercing from beneath his untamed and unkempt hair.
‘I felt this was an opportunity to give something back to Dubai, the place that gave me the opportunity to build up my career to where it is today. It was my responsibility to share my experience and ideas with young and emerging artists.’
These emerging artists were selected in a unique way. Rather than the cut throat world of haggling for gigs, the 15 acts were ‘commissioned’ by Sikka. Inspired by the way visual artists formally bid for support, the organisation launched an online application process last December, inviting artists to pitch their project and offering support of up to Dhs6,000 per artist.
Sikka fair manager Maya Nasser said: ‘There’s not the same support that visual artists get here. All the work is in corporate events and it’s really difficult for musicians to make creative careers. These guys need help.’
The project has been caught casually on camera by Kamal, who plans to edit together 15 short videos detailing the journey each artist took from conceiving their idea to laying it down on record.
‘The biggest challenge was working with artists that had never recorded in a studio before,’ he said. ‘You never get art from someone by treating them like a product; it was about creating a relaxed atmosphere for
artists to find peace with themselves. That’s the only way you get the best from people.’
As we went to press, Kamal was preparing the final cut of the album. Keep an eye on timeoutdubai.com for release details.
Who’s on the CD
As Per Casper
Girl-based acoustic pop trio from Syria and the UK.
Imposing beatboxing talent from India.
Fables of Cantt
Pakistani pop/rock guitar band.
Long-standing Dubai-based Indian female singer-songwriter.
American solo acoustic artist.
Emirati/Swedish piano-based singer-songwriter.
Electronic producer from India.
Experimental Emirati a capella vocalist.
Noush Like Sploosh
Art-folk singer songwriter, fusing acoustic instruments and electro glitches.
Soulful, upbeat commercial rock-pop quartet.
Acoustic solo rock singer-songwriter.
Nigerian R&B and funk bassist and vocalist.
Indonesian solo electronic producer.
Instrumental jazz/funk quartet with members drawn from Syria and India.
Solo classical guitarist from Bulgaria.