Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

From the UAE to the world, hip-hop crew Foreign Beggars calls it quits at the end of the year

The respected UK based group will perform in Dubai later in the year

Foreign Beggars’s Pavan Mukhi revelled in their show at the Secret Solstice Festival last month, where the group performed after The Black Eyed Peas Getty
Foreign Beggars’s Pavan Mukhi revelled in their show at the Secret Solstice Festival last month, where the group performed after The Black Eyed Peas Getty

If a book was ever written about the UAE’s music scene, a fair few passages would be dedicated to Foreign Beggars. The hip-hop crew was one of the country’s first international success stories, finding their roots in Dubai in the late 1990s before relocating to London and performing at some of the world’s biggest music festivals.

Some of the acts the four-piece band supported over the years include Snoop Dogg, Public Enemy and Wu Tang Clan. Last month they performed at Iceland’s quirky Secret Solstice Festival among some of their favourite acts. “Oh, that was great, man,” says Pavan Mukhi, who raps under the name Orifice Vulgatron. “We were sandwiched between The Black Eyed Peas and The Sugarhill Gang, and it was a time of the year when the country was in sunlight for 24 hours. It was brilliant.”

But Mukhi’s experience at the festival was bittersweet. After more than two decades on the grind, he says the group has decided to call it a day at the end of the year. But they will not quit before embarking on a farewell world tour that will include a performance in Dubai. “Are you kidding bro? We are definitely coming back,” Mukhi says. “We are still working on it, but expect an announcement later in the year. It will be a great home gig.”

That Mukhi still calls Dubai home despite living in Britain for more than a decade is testament to the role the emirate played in launching the group. In a way, Foreign Beggars are also the perfect example of the creative riches such a cosmopolitan society yields.

An Indian born in Dubai, Mukhi met fellow Foreign Beggars member, Dag Nabbit – who grew up in Iraq before relocating to the UAE as a child – at Dubai English Speaking School. Mukhi says the UAE entertainment scene he remembers from his childhood was a far cry from the thriving landscape it is now.

“For expat kids that were living there at the time, any kind of entertainment was really for those who were over the age of 21,” he says. “If you were younger than 21 you either did sports, went to the cinema, went to Leisureland or stayed at home.”

Such a lack of options led Mukhi and his peers to create their own home-grown music scene. “What happened was all these kids from all these different Dubai schools, such as Choueifat, Emirates International School and Dubai College, would all end up gravitating towards each other,” he says. “After school, we would put on events such as house parties, battles of the bands or even go to each other’s houses and jam. I mean, in my house we would get six or seven bands coming nearly every day and simply playing music together.”

A central hub for that scene was Dubai’s famed Al Mansour music shop in Deira. “It was a time where the only available music in these shops was what was in the charts,” he says. “But sometimes you got acts that kind of slipped through the net and I would get music by Ice-T, 2 Live Crew and Metallica.”

Keen to widen his musical palate and industry contacts, Mukhi moved to Britain in 1999, with Dag Nabbit joining him a year later. The pair solidified Foreign Beggars and through touring and releasing music regularly, the group became one of the most respected names in Britain’s independent hip-hop scene.

Ironically, while the UK hip-hop community was more developed compared to its counterpart in the UAE, when the duo arrived in Britain they once again found themselves in a small scene that was bubbling slowly to the surface. This was a time where the idea of an English grime artist headlining the UK’s celebrated Glastonbury Festival, as rapper Stormzy did last month, was utterly unthinkable.

That said, as well as adding two members to Foreign Beggars, rapper Metropolis and DJ Nonames, Mukhi says his UK experience gave him a front-row seat to watch as the community, with its vibrant mesh of rappers and DJs, developed.

“We worked with Skrillex before he became the superstar he is now,” he says. “We also knew people such as Rag’n’Bone Man and Roots Manuva. These people were all part of that community.”

Those connections benefited Foreign Beggars, with the group collaborating with Rag’n’Bone Man on last year’s album 2 2 Karma. The single, Standard, may surprise some Rag’n’Bone fans as the British artist shows off some impressive rapping skills, a talent he honed long before he became the successful singer he is today. “We are both from the same era of hip-hop and grew up on the same artists and we met way before he blew up,” Mukhi says. “It is interesting in that we collaborated together because he signed a music deal in which he can do any kind of rap music he wants. So that allows him to collaborate with people he knows and respects.”

With Mukhi looking forward to exploring new creative terrain after Foreign Beggars calls it a day, he describes the group’s journey as nothing but successful. From those early jam sessions in his family’s Dubai home to performing shows across the world, the group always did things on their own terms.

“Look, I don’t live in a mansion or drive fancy sports cars,” he says. “But I can do what I want to do and whenever I want to do it. Music is my job and my life. Now that is success for me.”

Updated: July 21, 2019 12:40 PM

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