If you want proof that the UAE’s music scene is as strong as it’s ever been, you need only look at the string of terrific albums released by local acts in the past 12 months. Many of the emirates’ best known bands had a quiet 2013, but that’s just left space for many new acts and familiar faces to shine. Here are some of our favourite releases.
Fatiniza: Nothing is Impossible
Colombian rock songstress Fatiniza faced quite a task in following up her 2010 debut album Confusion, fed by breakout video hit ‘Out of Control’. But after catching up with her in the studio a year before, we were glad to see the Dubai-based singer emerge in March with a more varied and mature product in Nothing is Impossible.
Kamal Musallam: Homemade in Rome
***NOTE: Homemade in Rome's scheduled release was delayed from it's original 2013 date - the album is now expected to be released in May 2014.
Following from last year’s triumphant Greatest Hits album – and after picking up an award from Time Out earlier this year – Dubai’s best known instrumental master is back with album number (gasp) five. It’s typically eclectic fare from the relentlessly inventive Syrian oud and guitar player, this time hooking up with a bunch of Italian jazzmen – and a flamenco dancer who tapped along in the corner – and recording them playing Arabic-tinged fusion live in a front room (thus the name). What will he do next? Whatever it is, we’re intrigued.
N1yah: My Name Is N1yah
Lebanese-born, Dubai-based rapper N1yah is being touted by her press agents as the ‘Nicki Minaj of the Middle East’. Sure her rhymes sparkle, her delivery is punched with sass and her flow seamless, but there’s a little more edge to her introductorily mixtape than Minaj’s more recent work. Producer Prince Q channels the harsher minimalism of the UK grime scene, his bare beats and samples a welcome antidote the US R&B sheen you might expect, presenting a sparse but gritty template for N1yah to spit her rhymes. She’s only 19 years old, and signed up to DJ Bliss’ Bliss Inc empire, we can predict you’ll be hearing a lot more of N1yah soon. For now, hear the mixtape here.
Bull Funk Zoo: Bull Funk Zoo
Remember Abri, the UAE’s best-selling band ever, led by eponymous frontman Hamdan Al-Abri? Well since that group burned out a few years ago, Dubai’s most recognisable vocal chords have been kept busy gigging and guesting about with many of the city’s best players, but one of the more fruitful unions has been his working with guitarist Assaad Lakkis’s funk outfit Bull Funk Zoo. Despite an ever-changing line-up and an over-reliance on cover gigs, the band emerged with a strong debut album in 2013, mixing Hendrix style riffing, Red Hot Chili Peppers-ish rock-funk and a dirty garage stomp, on a record complete with both soulful yearners, up-tempo burners, and plenty of retro funk-flavoured grooves.
Tim Hassall: Gallatin
Dropping just before the holiday season with a December 19 release, we were eagerly anticipating Dubai-based troubadour Tim Hassall’s latest effort at the time of writing. Recorded in East Nashville, Tennessee, the singer-songwriter promises a genre-hopping record, which was mixed by producer Reiner Erlings (Snoop Dogg, Flo Rida) and mastered by Grammy award‐winning engineer Doug Sax in Los Angeles (Rolling Stones, Ray Charles). We’re rightly intrigued.
Sikka Score 01
We were delighted this year when arts organisation Sikka not only programmed more than a week of al fresco live music at this year’s Art Dubai Bastikiya spin off – but put the time in to record each of the performing artists in the studio to create this, one of the first compilation albums of local musicians, produced by none other than Kamal Musallam (yep, he had a pretty busy year). The result is a unique snapshot of the scene in all its ragged glory, lurching through genres from classical guitar recitals to beatboxing, soul-pop and to electronic glitchery. In truth it’s a mixed bag in every sense, but it’s sure an admirable project and there’s plenty here that’s worth a second listen.