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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Big Hass shines the light on the region’s promising music talents

We find out how hip-hop music personality Big Hass is positioning himself as a source of support for up-and-coming artists

Saudi Arabian music personality Hassan Dennaoui wants to promote regional artists, and debate, in YouTube show ‘Buckle up’. Antonie Robertson / The National
Saudi Arabian music personality Hassan Dennaoui wants to promote regional artists, and debate, in YouTube show ‘Buckle up’. Antonie Robertson / The National

There is something about a good drive that results in a certain kind of insight. This was partly the idea behind the YouTube series Buckle Up.

Hosted by regional music personality Hass “Big Hass” Dennaoui, the weekly episodes find him driving around Dubai while interviewing some of the latest talents and unsung heroes of the regional music industry.

With the ninth episode coming up this week, the series already featured a who’s who of the indie-Arab music scene such as Moroccan hip-hop producer and Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Cilvaringz, Iraqi poet and photographer Cheb Moha and popular Saudi social media personality Anas Iskander.

The interviews, which range from 15 to 40 minutes, have the Saudi Arabian delving into his subjects’ respective crafts as he attempts to find out what makes them creatively tick.

While being an experienced interviewer - Hass is host of the only radio show dedicated to Arabic hip-hop, Laish Hip-Hop, for the Saudi Arabian based station Mix FM - Dennaoui explains that cruising down the UAE’s multi-lane roads and highways is an ideal way to indulge in some spirited and unscripted conversations.

“When I am doing radio, I am going in certain direction and know where I want things to go,” he says. “But on Buckle Up it is more free. You basically get me raw and uncut and it is a good way to shed light on amazingly talented people.”

After making his mark in the kingdom, Dennaoui moved to Dubai two years ago and has been juggling multiple projects.

In addition to Laish Hip Hop, he is also a presenter with the Sharjah based English language station Pulse FM as well as employed by the music streaming service Anghami as a hip-hop editor.

What binds these gigs together is that it allows Dennaoui to indulge in his quest to unearth new creatives in the Arab world, in addition to paying tribute to the movers and shakers behind the scenes.

As well as providing an avenue to showcase their work, Buckle Up is also a place to listen to incisive analysis regarding of the regional music scene.

“The main challenge that is always discussed is the lack of support. There is a lot of amazing talent here and I can name ten people that can really make it internationally from the top of my head. But there is no specific eco-system here to support that” Dennaoui says. “Now, there is some support here and there, but it is not consistent. It is kind of done from the side. Now that’s not an attack on the mainstream media, it may just mean that these artists have to produce bigger and stronger things to get noticed.”

But as well as being a source of support, Dennaoui is not just a cheer leader for regional talent. He states that some struggling or frustrated musicians have to think more critically about their careers if they want to progress. He points to successful Egyptian indie bands such as Cairokee and Sharmoofers or Jordan’s Aziz Maraqa as examples of artists who, through their studious efforts, built a strong and sustainable fan-base.

“The problem is that some artists are not relatable, and that’s a fact that we need to address. They don’t relate to people and hence there is no connection between them and the fans,” he says. “Another problem is that some of the mentality of the public over here can be closed. They support the big acts but don’t give the smaller ones a chance. I do believe that we also have to open our minds and let in those talents and see how they go.”

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And that message is set to continue as Dennaoui reveals the expansion of the Buckle Up concept to the recording studio.

Later in the year, he plans to launch the Buckle Up, Analyse Dis concept, which will have him sit down with specific artists and producers as they break down the elements of a particular song they have made. With these initiatives mostly self-funded and done in his spare time - not to mention the fact that Dennaoui is also a family man with a young child – he says it is a sense of duty that keeps him going.

“When an artist tells me that you are the only force that is pushing us out there, then I do feel a sense of responsibility,” he says. “I do believe that if you have the power and platform to affect someone positively, then it is a duty for you to do so. I aim to do this till my last breath.”

You can see episodes of Buckle Up on YouTube on the channel Big Hass

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