This Friday another big musical event hits Dubai. You can be forgiven for thinking I was referring to the Atelier/Festival at the Meydan Racecourse, featuring rapper 50 Cent and soulful songstress Duffy.
In fact, I am referring to another exciting showcase happening half-an-hour away at the Hard Rock Cafe Dubai.
Rolling Stone Middle East’s Street to Stage competition will end that evening: five unsigned finalists, ranging from rockers to alt-country singer-song writers, will perform for a chance to win industry mentorship by – and a possible record deal from – Sony Music Middle East. More importantly, though, the final goes a long away to dispel the false notion that the UAE has nothing to offer in terms of local music talent.
It is disheartening to see the lack of faith concert promoters have in the UAE’s musical community. It is as if the local scene consists solely of radio DJs and the same two or three bands who play everywhere (with the exception of high-tea sessions at hotels).
Part of the problem in fostering indigenous talent lies in the country’s transient nature. Unlike other industries, the music scene, and the wider art community as a whole, can only grow through home-grown players, and that’s from promoters right through to the artists.
In culturally rich communities, concert promoters are former musicians themselves and have encyclopaedic knowledge of the local music scene. Because of this, promoters feel they have a stake in developing their local music scenes.
In the UAE, music promoters – mostly expatriates – seem to be primarily interested in bottom-line figures, hence the dependence on concert line-ups low on imagination but appealing to the lowest common denominator. Fortunately, it is gratifying to see local musicians rallying together to create a music scene despite the odds. The regular heavy-metal festival Metal Asylum, started and funded by two metal fans, has placed the country’s emerging metal scene on the map.
There is also a growing number of artist-produced hip-hop showcases in Dubai, exhibiting some of the country’s best rappers and spoken word artists. With Friday night’s Street to Stage final, it will be the country’s rock bands and singer-songwriters showcasing their talents. Those looking for an alternative to mass-produced entertainment should check out the finals at Hard Rock Cafe Dubai. There may be no big names, but it will surely provide an enriching experience only local talent can offer.
Saeed Saeed is a reporter for The National’s Arts&Life