x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Jazz musician Afif launches first album

Spotlight on Beirut-born Elie Afif, a sought-after bass player in the Middle East.

Elie Afif’s next plan is to go to New York to perform. Courtesy The Fridge
Elie Afif’s next plan is to go to New York to perform. Courtesy The Fridge

In 2006, the upright jazz bassist Elie Afif flew to Dubai to meet up with Rony, one of his five brothers. Originally based in Beirut, the musician had seen his gigs dry up because of the war and his drummer brother was just a few hours' flight away.

"My only option was to come here," he says. "I didn't have anything else - I came here and I didn't know what was going to happen."

But Elie quickly found his footing, playing with Rony in The Afif Brothers Quartet. They've played at numerous venues in the UAE, with regular slots at Novotel World Trade Centre's Blue Bar.

Now the talented jazz musician has recorded his first album, Giant Steps to Heaven, set to launch tonight.

Elie has been playing music with Rony since they were children, taking up the guitar at the age of 10 and switching to bass a year later. Fast forward to age 16, and Elie adopted the upright bass, but didn't give up the electric bass altogether.

Early on, Elie imitated basslines from records he owned, including tunes from artists such as Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report and Joni Mitchell.

Leaving school at 14, Elie found he had to fend for himself. "My father refused to give me money," he says, laughing.

So Elie found work as a mechanic and carpenter. "I worked to save money, to pay my [music] teacher US$20 (Dh73.44) a week. It was all for the music and I was sure I didn't want anything but the music," he says.

Having had this experience as a young man, Elie would now like to play a greater part in music education, hosting jazz workshops and lessons in schools. "My target is education - I love to talk about what I love and share it with others," he says.

Elie won a scholarship to attend the Prins Claus Conservatorium in Holland in 2007, attending several masterclasses by the bee-bop jazz pianist Barry Harris. He still travels to Rome twice a year to take part in lessons from Harris, now 82.

Giant Steps to Heaven took just one month to record as the material was already written by Afif himself. "I was just waiting for the right moment and the right musicians. Luckily I found the right guys," he says.

Elie currently plays every night at the Burj Al Arab Hotel, but says he also enjoys playing at the arts venue The Fridge, which is supporting the release.

"It's nice, it's simple and you get people listening and not talking," he says of the venue's attentive audience.

If there is another city where Elie would like to perform, it's New York. He is currently saving money for a visa, which is a "bit difficult", being Lebanese. "I'm sure if I'm there I'll get a completely different energy. I would love to go, but if I can't, I can't. I will still be a jazz player," he says.

"I just hope I make some noise and more people get to know me."


The Giant Steps to Heaven album launch will be held tonight at 7pm at the Media One Hotel's M-Deck in Dubai Media City. Read Tuesday's edition of Arts&Life for Gemma Champ's review of the album.