x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Freshly Ground Sounds is all ears for independent acoustic music in the UAE

Freshly Ground Sounds, a movement to establish a non-commercial acoustic music scene in the UAE, has gained tremendous momentum, with nine resident artists compiling an Extended Playlist that recently went live on SoundCloud.

The band Physical Graffiti plays at a Freshly Ground Sounds acoustic night held at The Archive in Safa Park. Razan Alzayani / The National
The band Physical Graffiti plays at a Freshly Ground Sounds acoustic night held at The Archive in Safa Park. Razan Alzayani / The National

What began at a public performance at Safa Park in December has grown into a movement to establish a non-commercial, acoustic music community in the Emirates. And that initiative, Freshly Ground Sounds (FGS), has seen nine performing artists compile an Extended Play (EP) that went live on the popular music website SoundCloud last month.

With that move, FGS has managed to propel living-room musicians into popular playlist artists in less than six months.

Ismat Abidi, the founder of FGS, says their first EP is a product of successful efforts to create an intimate local music setting in the country.

“We started off with 22 artists on our books and were expecting 70 people to turn up for our first gig,” says Abidi, who established FGS with the sound engineer Tareq Khorsheed.

“About 200 people showed up and things just took off from there. We now have more than 80 artists signed up with us and have hosted seven events so far.”

Abidi, who grew up in Abu Dhabi, moved to London to work as a lawyer and became an active part of the lo-fi music trend in London. She missed the plug-and-play culture when she returned to the Emirates and pushed to set up FGS.

“It has created a sphere in the music scene which did not exist before,” says Abidi.

“It bridges the gap between commercial artists and amateur musicians, nurtures the interests of people who want to play original music, folk tunes or acoustic covers of hip-hop. We allow all of that.”

The Roseleaf sessions

Artists who proved to be most popular in their first season of events, mainly held at the Roseleaf Cafe at Dubai Garden Centre and The Archive at Safa Park, were invited to record their original tracks for Volume 1 – The Roseleaf Sessions EP.

The six-track compilation, funded by The Roseleaf Cafe, is a melange of sounds and styles by bands and independent musicians. Among the featured artists are Josh Monteath, Peter Martin, Mariam Yakan and the bands Kudos By Proxy (Ismat Abidi and Steven John Bond), Physical Graffiti (Zubin Aroz and Darren Dharmai) and Sound Block (Denis Mankovsky and Gabii Carnino)

The FGS team uploaded the tracks on SoundCloud in April and distributed album artwork created by the Dubai-based illustrator Dina Sami at cafe gatherings to drum up support.

“This is truly a community effort – bringing together venues, musicians, music lovers and sketch artists,” says Abidi, who works as a lawyer in Dubai.

“We took the help of trained sound engineers to record the tracks and got Dina to illustrate each artist. There is a little information about each artist and their track in the promotional material.”

A local platform

The 28-year-old graphic designer Yakan, one of the featured artists on the EP, has been singing since childhood and has performed in several open-mic shows in Dubai, but making a professional record is a boost to her aspirations as an artist.

“I began playing the guitar eight year back and like to write songs inspired by conversations, cities and leaving home,” says the Lebanese musician.

Her song City Gates, featured in Volume 1, is about Lebanon, leaving home and dreams of returning to the gates of Beirut. “My style of music is very chilled,” she says.

“There has always been a need for a platform for local artists, a place dedicated to promoting original music. Freshly Ground Sounds provides the opportunity to meet other musicians, discover different sounds and get audience feedback.”

Takeaway

Bond of Kudos By Proxy, who recorded Birthday Candle with Abidi, says the EP encapsulates their first season and is a feeler for what the audience can expect from them.

“So many people came to the events, but they didn’t leave with anything tangible,” says the 29-year-old Bond, who is an editor of a travel magazine in Dubai.

“They have pictures, but that’s it. With the EP, they can listen back to some of those sessions.”

The musicians say the appetite for such music is growing rapidly. The EP has been heard and shared by more than 1,000 listeners online.

“The idea is to show the world what the UAE can bring to the music scene. At the same time, we want to encourage future musicians and provide enthusiasm to music lovers by telling them that it isn’t just one dimensional here.”

Abidi says they are working to make the tunes downloadable, too. “But it is always going to be free for listeners,” she says. “The message is that there is independent music out there like this and it is accessible.”

Volume 1 – The Roseleaf Sessions is available on SoundCloud and on Freshly Ground Sounds’ Facebook page. FSG’s Twitter handle is @FreshSoundsUAE

aahmed@thenational.ae