From the underground house movement to mainstream hip-hop, folksy blues tunes to gypsy jazz, these are the genres and musicians you need to look out for at Bahrain Jams...
This artist collective was started by French expat Siegfried Masson very recently. Before setting it up, he worked in the hospitality industry, at a local hotel, where he got the chance to organise a few music events, getting in touch with local DJs and promoters while he was at it. “I couldn’t find what I was exactly looking for here,” he tells us. “I felt a need to gather some DJs very specific about their music under one group and community. I believed this would help them develop and at the same time help Bahrain become a musical destination in the GCC.”
As a lover of underground house music, Masson set about gathering together musicians on the electronic scene and managing their appearances. So far he has ten, including some of the artists on these pages – Sami Dee, Sunny Raeva, Captain Tea and Dust Frequency. “Bahrain’s music scene is very commercial… but I believe this is just a lack of exposure to something different,” he says. “I hear nostalgic people talking of that time, when you could listen and dance to more out-of-mainstream vibes in venues… I think Bahrain is in fact hungry for a range of tunes as open as the great Bahraini mentality.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Tony Attalla is a Kuwait-born, Egyptian-Lebanese rap artist, music producer and actor, as well as the founder of cigAwet Productions. He started out back in 2000 in Kuwait and moved to Bahrain four years later to develop and continue his new-found career. Every year since, he’s been doing just that, writing songs, making music videos and working on his debut album Countless Blessings.
“The Bahrain music scene is massive and versatile considering the size of this little island,” Attalla tells Time Out. “Many venues and outlets in Bahrain provide local talents with opportunities and a platform to showcase their art or talent, but the local artists struggle to get appreciated and valued for their art.
“[People have a] tendency to under-evaluate, expect a very cheap fee and prefer to pay much more for a non-local artist,” he says.
In order to change this, Attalla believes we need more events, as well as local music charts or awards.
“It’s always nice to bring in guest celebrities and stars from all over the world, but these stars couldn’t have reached stardom without the push and support of their local scenes first.”
Captain Tea, aka Tarik Omar, had his first foray into music more than 20 years ago, when he studied classical violin and piano as a child. “By the time I reached my 20s I had gotten a little too into Radiohead,” he tells us. “It totally pulled me into the world of electronica.” He learned how to play the synth and dove head-first into production, eventually trying his hands on the DJ decks, and co-founded Boho Baha, creating a platform for local music artists like himself.
As a lover of non-commercial music, it’s been quite a challenge for Omar to get where he is today. “I can be fairly stubborn when it comes to compromising on that, which taught me that finding gigs aren’t the real challenge I needed to address – it was finding or creating my audience.” This was one of the main reasons he got Boho Baha going. “I didn’t want other musicians to have to struggle as much as I did to find their audience.” Omar, however, has since moved in his own direction and is now focusing more on his DJ persona, Captain Tea.
“I play a hybrid DJ/live show now that utilises a drum machine and some synths and stuff alongside the music I play.”
His influences come from across the world, and from every genre, from funk to jazz to house to swing, and his groovy sets are real crowd-pleasers.
You know that sound of radio transmission? Well, that’s what originally inspired 38-year-old Pakistani Khuram Javed to become a musician. At first, he was a major player on the underground music scene around Pakistan and, when he moved here, helped develop one in Bahrain, playing at venues such as Bushido, Wrangler and Sky Bar.
Interestingly, though, he started off playing death metal, but soon lost interest as he felt something was missing. “That is why I went to electronic and made the sounds I wanted to hear.”
He started producing in 1993, practised graphic design and multimedia arts, and started experimenting with music through different software. Now, his influences are varied as, for him, “good music is good music” – so he’s not constrained by genres when producing or DJing. When asked to describe his sound, this is what he says: “Music affects you through a medium. Imagine you are in a cube which is made of emotions and we can control your oxygen, gravity, temperature and pressure... This is all done by frequencies and the wavelength of sound." Essentially, he tries to create a space in which he can affect the listeners’ feelings. While that description might baffle most casual music fans, Dust Frequency’s live sets are something to behold.
This Bahraini folk singer-songwriter is easily one of the most exciting musicians in Bahrain right now. His sound, which blends American bluegrass with upbeat harmonica and acoustic guitar-driven melodies, has been catching our attention for a good couple of years now. Earlier this year, he and his band released their debut EP New York Times (they’ve already started working on a second one, which will be launched next summer) and are about to head off on a US tour with renowned English pianist and singer Jools Holland in October.
Other than Zowayed, who sings and plays guitar, the people behind the band are Antonio Henriques, from Portugal, on double bass, Iba Almohsen, from Saudi Arabia, on guitar, Reynold Phillips, from India, on drums and Szabi Nigo, from Hungary, on trumpet (he’s also in the Belly of Paris line-up).
Despite the international tour, right now, Zowayed thinks Bahrain is one of the best places to be a musician but, he admits, it could be better. “A lot of people are now catching onto the idea of going out to see a band to hear their original material,” he tells Time Out. “But still, the majority want to hear covers of pop songs or oldies.
“Sure, it’s tough at first, but when you start getting a following because of music you’ve written, you just can’t go back.”
British-Bahraini house DJ and producer Sami Dee, who is also behind art.haus Productions, was inspired to become a musician back when he was at high school in Morcambe, England. “One of the older kids in my neighbourhood bought some turntables, so me and his younger brother used to sneak goes on them,” the 37-year-old tells us. “I caught the mixing bug instantly.” He has been on the scene ever since.
Inspired by artists as wide-ranging as Marvin Gaye to Wu-Tang Clan, and club nights such as Space (London), Dee describes his current sound as “Chicago influences jazzy, disco, acid house. Detroit techno, old school hip-hop and disco.”
Luckily, he says there seems to be more of an appetite for underground electronic music these days. “It's no secret that a lot of this music was first introduced to Bahrain by the former owner of Likwid night club, Karim Miknas,” explains Dee. “After he left the island, the remaining DJs and promoters have done what they can to keep the scene alive. I think we've had more electronic music events this year than we've had in the last four or five, so we're heading in the right direction.”
However, he says, we need more, better-equipped places. “Venues also need to stop asking musicians to play for free. They have to be considered as valuable entertainment.”
It was in 2009 that Belarusian DJ Sunny Raeva started her career in music, but she’s been dancing to DJs’ tunes in clubs since she can remember.
She’s been a resident DJ at various venues in both Dubai and Bahrain, playing her chilled-out ambient beats, which have influences from electronica, deep tech, house, minimal, dub and broken beat.
“These days, I am very much influenced by minimal techno sounds from Romania,” she tells Time Out. “It has a very special feel and depth that represent what I try to achieve.” What exactly is that, you ask? “I love to combine different instruments of different countries in one beautiful picture of the world,” she explains.
“I am aiming at a music meant to influence the heart and open chakras.”
While that statement might be a bit on the hippy side for you, there’s no denying Sunny Raeva’s a talented lady, gathering a decent following, alongside her DJ friends from the Glassroom Entertainment collective.
“There are a lot of artists out there who Bahrain still hasn’t discovered,” she says.
“The electronic music scene here is only starting to grow up, but it will continue further. With the Glassroom team, we will make sure of that.”
The Hot Club of Bahrain
This gypsy jazz band consists of aspiring musicians Abdulla Haji on clarinet and saxophone, and guitarist Mohammed Rashid, the duo behind La Pompe.
Both academic musicians, they were originally inspired by the French gypsy jazz sounds of legends like Jean “Django” Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, and swing music in general.
If it wasn't the first, this was certainly one of the first gypsy jazz bands to form in the region, alongside other collaborators, and they’ve been performing both all over the region for years now.
“We don’t think there is an actual or proper music scene on the island,” Haji tells Time Out. “We lack professionalism in how music is promoted and performed. Plus all the music genres are combined together as one music scene, which doesn’t make any sense.” One of the biggest issues holding the scene back, he says, is that venues aren’t providing proper equipment nor are they willing to pay for quality entertainment.
Despite that, “the audience in Bahrain are very supportive,” he says. As for what would make it better? “A music school would make a big difference for the next generation of musicians, for sure.”