Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 March 2018

Afghan musician Shuja Rabbani is breaking down barriers through EDM beats

The Sharjah-based musician believes hopes to heal the world through his electronic music and increase its popularity in Afghanistan and beyond.

Afghan EDM artist Shuja Rabbani at his recording studio in Sharjah. Anna Nielsen for the National
Afghan EDM artist Shuja Rabbani at his recording studio in Sharjah. Anna Nielsen for the National

It might seem as though EDM has invaded the world in the past few years – but now one ­Sharjah-based producer wants to use electronic dance music to heal its woes, too.

Afghan musician Shuja Rabbani believes beats and blips could prove a valuable tool in bridging the gulfs between fractured communities in his homeland – and far beyond.

Naturally, it’s his own work for which he has highest hopes and he promotes online with the hashtag #EDMA (electronic dance music Afghanistan).

It seems to be catching on, with Rabbani’s new single, Prisoner of My Dance Floor, clocking more than 700,000 views on Facebook since its release last month. It was followed by the full album, Alpha Male, which went on sale on January 16.

“Coming from a place like Afghanistan, you see war throughout your life,” says the 35-year-old artist. “We haven’t seen peace in a long time.

“With music, people can come together and work towards peace. Music doesn’t have any language – if it sounds good, it brings people together.”

The reason EDM could prove particularly purposeful, says Rabbani, is because of the genre’s largely instrumental nature, euphoric mood and suitability for large public gatherings.

But despite conquering charts the world over, Rabbani says the trendsetting genre has yet to gain a foothold in his country.

“In Afghanistan, people, even young people, still have very traditional tastes,” he says. “I can’t think of anybody doing what I’m doing. EDM is not a genre that stands out or has made the charts.

“The concept of music that doesn’t have any voice on it is very, very new. If it gets established, its going to have a huge impact, especially since the music is made to be heard outdoors, with big crowds and at festivals. That would really help in a country like ours. There are so many different ethnicities that haven’t got on historically, something like this could really help.”

Such ambition shouldn’t be dismissed as artistic indulgence – Rabbani is a man who defies all the clichés you might associate with musicians.

Instead of airy ideals and scattershot idiosyncrasy, he talks about business strategy and online integration. Rather than a tight T-shirt, his website features Rabbani in a staid business suit. Instead of late nights in the club, Rabbani is at a corporate desk job by 6am. He has never gigged live and describes his routine with military precision.

Waking at 4am each day, he uses the commute from his home in Sharjah to Dubai to listen to the audio books he reviews at weekends. It is in the evenings that the music happens – he clocks about four hours nightly without fail. That does not leave much time for a social life, I note.

“I started to realise recently, if I don’t start making time for my friends, I won’t have any friends,” he says. “When the album’s out of the way, I can relax a bit and make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Rabbani has no formal music training. Born in Pakistan, he grew up in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. He moved to the UAE two decades ago, with five years spent studying in Australia. After returning to the Emirates at the start of the millennium, Rabbani began making music using now-­antiquated software on his desktop computer. Slowly, his arsenal of equipment – and talent – grew, and he began sharing his compositions online five years ago.

He then established Rabbani Records, which he claims is the “first-ever Afghan-owned and online-registered music company”. His first release was last year’s debut album Afghan Provocateur – it was more than a clever name, gaining traction online following a Twitter campaign inspired by the Afghan elections.

His artistic abilities aside, Rabbani believes it’s his start-up ethic and canny use of online marketing that could prove the key in upsetting the status quo and sparking the #EDMA revolution he craves so much. I’m trying to break down the barriers and help people to understand there’s not just familiar channels into music,” he says.

“People are so fixated on being signed up to a record label. All you need is some software and the will to break out and market yourself on social media.”

Find out more about Shuja Rabbani at www.shujarabbani.com