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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Flamingods’ Kamal Rasool credits Dubai for inspiring new album Majesty

Following Glastonbury gigs and considerable UK hype, Flamingods might prove to be the UAE's biggest musical export yet. Founder and frontman Kamal tells how upcoming third album was inspired by three years living in the UAE.
Kamal Rasool, the lead singer of indie band Flamingods. Antonie Robertson / The National
Kamal Rasool, the lead singer of indie band Flamingods. Antonie Robertson / The National

Listening to Flamingods’s new third album, you would never guess it was born in Dubai.

Majesty is beautifully beguiling, with its swathes of shimmering sounds and layers of instruments from across the globe. It’s a cosmopolitan collage of sonic textures, calling to mind exotic terrains and faraway planets.

Nothing, then, like the stereotypes people hold of glitzy Dubai. What few fans of the band even know, is that while the quintet’s profile has been steadily rising in Europe, for the past three years founder and frontman Kamal Rasool has been living in the UAE.

Sadly, not anymore. Following gigs on three different stages at last year’s Glastonbury Festival, in January Flamingods signed with Soundway Records – a world music imprint normally specialising in reissues of forgotten records from Africa and Asia – to release Majesty in June. In preparation, last month the 25-year-old artist packed up and left the Emirates for good, joining the other four-fifths of his band – and much of their fan base – in London. Preferring to keep a low profile, Flamingods have played just one UAE gig, at The Music Room in late 2014.

“I miss the energy of the place,” says Rasool. He did not leave without a parting gift. The video for Majesty’s debut single, Rhama, was shot right here, in Dubai and Al Ain. Directed by UAE studio Barbu, the clip is a gripping portrait of the vibrant traditional kushti wrestling scene popular in the Pakistani expat community; the cameras go inside the homes and gyms of the part-time heroes, and document the epic clashes held weekly at Deira Corniche.

Such a tribute is a touching farewell, especially considering Rasool never wanted to live in the UAE in the first place.

Raised in Bahrain, by a Turkish mother and Bahraini father, Rasool emigrated to the UK in 2010 to study at London College of Communication, where he formed Flamingods. But after graduating, visa restrictions meant he was forced to abruptly leave the country. Rasool and bandmate Charles Prest chose Dubai because “there weren’t many good jobs in Bahrain”. Instead he worked for arts magazine Brownbook, DIFC’s hipster hangout The Magazine Shop and Al Quoz print and design hub Toil & Tinker.

“I’ve spent three years going back and forth,” says Rasool. “We’ve never given a shot at full-time music, but now it just feels time to give it a go.”

Flamingods was originally conceived as a bedroom solo project. The aim was to explore the sonic possibilities of exotic instruments collected on travels across the world and recorded on rough home demos or, as Rasool describes it, “weird music – no one got at all”. During his London stay, Rasool began assembling school-friends from Bahrain, also studying in the UK – Charles Prest, Sam Rowe and Craig Doporto, and later recruiting British-Indian Karthik Poduval – who together began hosting trippy, hours-long, instrument-swapping psychedelic jams. Debut album Sun (2013) was largely improvised live in the studio.

By contrast, 2014’s breakthrough LP Hyperborea – which attracted praise from The Guardian and NME – was recorded by five musicians never in the same room together.

Outcast from London at the time, Rasool began frantically recording song snippets and sending them to his bandmates back home, a process he compares to therapy.

Majesty on the other hand, was recorded on a boat, over two studio stints last year.

Much of the material was written and arranged during a series of frantic three-way jams in Dubai last February, between Prest, Rowe and Rasool, who estimates as much as nine-tenths of the album was born in the UAE.

He credits the vibe of his cosmopolitan neighbourhood Satwa with much of the inspiration – regularly breaking out for snacks at a nearby Afghan bakery and infamous Pakistani restaurant Ravi.

“The energy in Satwa is incredible,” he says. “You get such diverse communities living all around you – bringing their food, music, personalities. You take in everything around you and it seeps its way into our music.

“Also, when you’re attempting to make a psychedelic exotica record,” he adds with a smile, “the sunshine helps.”

Majesty will be released on June 10, pre-orders from www.soundwayrecords.com. Watch the video for Rhama on YouTube

rgarratt@thenational.ae