x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Labours of love

Finalists from the city's X Factor-style labour camp competition, called Camp Ka Champ (Champ of the Camp) took the stage at The JamJar gallery.

Ashraful performs during the Camp Ka Champ concert at The JamJar.
Ashraful performs during the Camp Ka Champ concert at The JamJar.

Dubai's Mahmovies film shows tend to follow a similar format. First up is the screening itself, followed by a concert. The difference this week, however, was that the 200-plus strong audience at The JamJar gallery in Al Quoz was not awaiting strictly professional musicians on the stage, but the finalists from the city's X Factor-style labour camp competition, called Camp Ka Champ (Champ of the Camp).

The film chosen for Monday evening's screening was Sita Sings the Blues, the animated retelling of the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. Watching it was a gallery crammed with people, perched on beanbags and spilling through the double doors at the back. "It's brilliant," said Belinda, a British watcher who said she was a huge Mahmovies fan but especially interested in this performance. The appearance of the singers had caught "a lot of attention", agreed Rachel Brown from The JamJar.

The Mahmovies event marked the first time any of the competition's participants had performed in public. When the filmmaker and series' founder, Mahmoud Kaabour, stood up to talk about their performance even before the film started, she said, the applause was "amazing". "The Mahmovies audience is the perfect, supportive one to encourage them in their first concert," she added. "A lot of people didn't know about the competition before, so it's brought it to a whole new audience."

Two of those who run the competition, from the advertising firm Right Track, were on hand at the gallery too. "People don't know the talent available in the camps and that's what we want to show," explained Rupa Vinod, Right Track's managing director. "These guys don't have time to practise. They don't have musical instruments, they don't have a player in their room. All they get to listen to is probably a radio they might share with somebody. Still, they're interested in coming up and the challenge of singing. That's the best part."

Performing were nine singers in all, two winners from the last season of the competition, and the rest finalists. They came from three different camps - in Al Quoz, Sonapur and Jebel Ali. "For this, a lot of guys have taken leave from their jobs with loss of pay. They have travelled from different parts of the city on their own," said Vinod's colleague Anand Iyer, adding that it had been the same with two rehearsals at the gallery for the performance that night.

The hope, said Vinod, was that there could be more performances in public like this. "All they need is a free station. They're not even using a microphone, they're not looking for anything else. They just want people to appreciate them. And they're so passionate about coming here and doing it," she said. The film having finished, people drifted in and out of the doors for a short break before Kaabour took to the stage. He said he had spent a number of weeks communicating with Right Track in an effort to set the concert up, bringing different sections of Dubai together. His interest had also led to the possibility of filming a documentary on the next series of the competition, he announced.

"You are going to hear some voices that will melt your heart," he smiled. "Please welcome the labourers." The performances were split. Most were solo, one was a memorable duet with a whistle solo, and there was a group finale to close the night. A cappella-style and with some nifty dance moves, a good number of the songs sung were from Hindi films and drew cheers from particular audience members when they recognised the opening chords.

"This is Farouk, or Mr Love," said Kaabour, introducing one singer. The final solo performance of the night was another spin from the evening's opener, Ashraful. Sunglasses on, he announced that he wanted to dedicate the track to the audience. "Rock star," shouted a woman from the crowd. "Everybody put your hands up in the air," he sang, interspersed with Hindi. In a show of support, most people did.

Mahmovies continues next Monday. For more details see www.thejamjardubai.com.