Blended, a festival featuring blues, roots, soul and folk all under one roof, treads new ground in the way music events are showcased in the emirate. Will Milner takes a look at the acts you should catch.
Dubai’s music and entertainment landscape has come a long way in a short time. What was once the domain of 1970s nights and cover bands is now a hotpot of bubbling sub-scenes. There is an annual jazz festival, rock festivals, classical music festivals and frequent dance and pop events in and around the Emirates.There are, however, still some distinct gaps on the horizon. New one-off festival, Blended, however, offers a new music policy-driven ethos that will bring joy to the hearts of many music lovers.
Blended, as the name suggests, mixes sound styles and the consciously mature musical pledge is to deliver more in the way of blues, roots, soul, folk and jazz. With the two-day festival promising picnic- blanket lounging, upscale food as well as three separate types of premium seating, the event is likely to appeal to those looking for an alternative to mosh pits and laser shows.
Thursday May 1
It is easy to think that the British soul singer, who hails from the West Country has been around for decades. Perhaps it is because she burst into the musical conscious before the age of 16 and has released half a dozen albums in the interim. But more likely it is the fact that her distinctive throaty singing style apes the great soul singers of the early Motown era. Aficionados claim a recent return to covering her musical heroines has seen a return to form that has been missing since her debut.
Try if you like: Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse.
To call the California singer the man of the moment is an understatement. After switching from rap to more soulful singing, Aloe Blacc has risen from hip-hop obscurity to global chart domination in a few short years. Last year’s star turn providing the vocals for Avicii’s arms-in-the-air anthem ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’ was a musical misstep, although 22 worldwide number ones did a great job in spreading his fame. Swaggering soul effort, ‘The Man’ has topped charts on both sides of the Atlantic in the past month alone and drawn (generous)comparisons with the folk soul style of Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder.
Try if you like: John Legend, Bill Withers.
The term ‘one-man band’ does not do the Australian folk musician justice. Hugely popular on the festival circuit Down Under, Xavier Rudd’s stage set-up features at least three didgeridoos, guitars, drums, bells, banjos and others. More of a spiritual solo orchestra, the resultant sound is one of a mellow, post-surf campfire sing-a-long with environmentalism and freedom the common themes and Aboriginal and New Age influences apparent. Harmonica is never far
from the mix either.
Try if you like: Jack Johnson, Ben Harper.
Friday May 2
When Rolling Stone magazine named the English singer-songwriter the 80th greatest rock artist of all time, it told one of the great truths of modern music: nobody sounds like Elvis Costello. The ‘poet with a punk’s heart’ has a career spanning almost four decades and in that time has exhibited a musical versatility that has seen him cross genres as well as decades. Such is the range that it is difficult to pin down a particular era and despite being a household name and one of the most critically lauded artists to visit these shores it will be interesting to see how a Dubai crowd reacts to a playlist that doesn’t have a few stand out sing-a-long numbers.
Try if you like: Ian Dury, The Stranglers.
Grammy-winning, multi-million selling artists don’t come along often. But Canadian jazz pianist Krall ticks both boxes and her contralto singing style is one of the 21st century’s most popular jazz voices. Whether we will hear the easy listening steadiness of studio albums or more adventurous brand of uptempo, jazz-infected beats more suited to an outdoor crowd, Krall’s performances can take interesting left turns. Either way, we’re hoping to witness a historic musical collaboration. Krall has been out-selling Elvis Costello (to whom she is married) for a decade, but this is the first time they have shared billing at a festival. Duet anybody?
Try if you like: Natalie Cole, Jamie Cullum.
The Hackney-born, Ireland-raised, chart-friendly UK hip hop star Maverick Sabre is blessed with both a soulful croon and a polished rap flow musically, mixing classic soul and folk influences with tight rhymes edgy and an urban rap attack. If singer-songwriters are to survive the 21st Century, they need to sound like this.
Try if you like: Plan B, Jamie T