Look to cities like London, Los Angeles and New York and you’ll see that bars, cafés and clubs have a reputation for being a home away from home for itinerant musos – they just pitch up, get out their instruments and holler (hopefully) sweet music into the microphone. And there’s no doubt that the open mic experience does great things for them in the long run, helping them build a following in the local community and teaching them how to engage the crowd. And since engaging the crowd is one of the biggest parts of any performance, that’s an important lesson indeed.
But in Dubai open-mic nights are fewer and further between, and the live performance culture is therefore still in an embryonic stage. The artists, though talented, often seem quieter and more withdrawn, and the venues are a world away – if you’ll excuse the pun – from the great free-for-all venues in other countries. For instance, you can tell Tim Hassell learned his trade in big cities abroad because he has the skills of a showman and engages directly with the audience.
That’s not the only big difference between here and abroad. Overseas, open-mic nights are just that: anybody can rock up and take the stage, regardless of whether they are guitarists, pianists, Welsh harp players – yes! I have seen one! – dub poets or turntablists. But in Dubai, you’ll no doubt be listening to a packed roster of acoustic guitarists. And no matter how good they are, a line-up like that can verge on monotony.
It’s not the fault of the organisers, though. Holly from Dubai Lime explains: ‘We support many genres of music and encourage diversity. We tell musicians to feel free to bring down their guitars, keyboards, wind instruments, string instruments, backing, hand drums, and the rest.’
So I think it’s time for musicians to step up and get into this scene – and don’t just leave it to the acoustics. There’s plenty of scope for performers of all kinds. And sure, you can’t crank it up to 11 – those Dubai laws and all – but feel free to be as creative as you want. We need more than guitarists and ballad singers – there’s no reason not to bring your friends and jam once in a while.
Still, the signs are encouraging: attendance is improving, with as many as 60 people attending events, and the performances are improving all the time. Some of the strummers, like musical duo The Meerkats, have even played at gigs by visiting international acts.
If you’re interested in showing your skills on the mic, free up a Tuesday or Saturday and email firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know you’re coming. Bring your drums, your saxophone, your flute or just your own voice and we can all play a part in changing JBR into the next globally famous musical melting pot.
Zahra showcases the latest local musical talent on Open Mic – the radio show, that is – every Saturday from 8pm-10pm on Dubai Eye 103.8