x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Myriam fares well on the Corniche

No matter your tastes, a stroll along Abu Dhabi's Corniche is likely to tickle your musical fancy.

Whereas previous trips to Abu Dhabi's Corniche may have afforded a cool breeze and an ice cream, its recent transformation into Formula One entertainment hub means that an evening stroll can now turn into a great night out. Racing-car simulators, interactive track guides, jewellery stands, temporary tattoo parlours, enough food outlets to ensure that you never eat the same thing twice - it's all there. And then there's the giant screen, which last week showed driving-themed movies including The Italian Job, Cars and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

This week it's the turn of the musicians, who have come from all over the world to take part in Beats on the Beach, a series of free open-air concerts designed, along with the rest of the Yasalam programme, to involve the community in the Grand Prix. While rock and pop legends are due to fill the Yas Marina Circuit over four consecutive nights - starting with Beyoncé on Thursday - Beats on the Beach, which is free and open to all, has more of a world-music feel.

Kicking things off on night one were the Jordanian master of Arabic fusion Kamal Musallam, the Lebanese singer Myriam Fares, the seven-piece South African band FreshlyGround and more Lebanese glitz in the form of Fares Karam. Many lucky attendees had snagged a beanbag from which to watch the action, but big screens ensured that nobody missed out. And for added atmosphere, several dhows, their sails billowing in the breeze, had been moored in the shallow waters.

The shows got off to an ambient start with Musallam, who, along with the Mexican drummer Israel Varela and the Italian bassist Daniele Cappucci, struck into his signature lilting jazz-funk sound. Looking, sans beard, uncannily like André the Giant in The Princess Bride, Musallam got the crowd if not dancing, then swaying. Meanwhile families milled about with their new tattoos, some slightly unsteady from the Formula One simulator.

A long break followed, during which time the audience swelled considerably. Myriam Fares, who has been called the "best young singer in the Arab world" drew quite a crowd. When she finally appeared in a white pit-babe-type catsuit, her cloud of amber curls flying, she was met with enthusiastic screams. Even more so when she decided to break out her best dance moves. "Best in the Arab world" may not be an entirely accurate description when it came to her vocal performance, but many, it seemed, were not there for that. During extended periods of drum-laden backing, she executed a series of not so much dances as alluring poses. The crowd's mood was ecstatic, the audience yelling along to the lyrics and waving. "Gimme some noise!" she shouted back encouragingly.

From that breathless routine, there was only one way we could go. Frankly, it was a relief. Based in Cape Town, FreshlyGround's sound is a mixture of African folk, blues, jazz and indie rock. Headed up by the lead singer Zolani Mahola, who was on Tuesday wearing a cute blonde wig à la Queen Latifah, this was the band's first visit to the UAE. And they were undoubtably the best act of the night. With one member on the flute and another on a tiny violin-like instrument, there was a whiff of 1970s idealism about them. But the performance, which was run through with themes of heartbreak and unrequited love, was refreshingly sincere. "What do I do with all these feelings tearing me up inside," rasped Mahola, wearing a quirky spotted top and leggings.

Then it was back to more Lebanese pop, this time from Fares Karam, who strolled out on to the stage wearing a sparkly silver T-shirt. So nonchalant was his bearing that he could have been reading a bedtime story. But then that's what you get from the man who has had a run not only of hits but anthems, and is considered among Lebanon's great pop artists. Almost more entertaining than Karam's performance, though, was the troupe of middle-aged drummers backing him, who at one point had a "drum-off" in the middle of the stage. It was a thrilling spectacle and closed the performances memorably. And, luckily for us all, three more nights remain.

Beat Antenna, Soul II Soul, May Hariri and Above & Beyond will perform tonight on the Corniche next to the F1 Fanzone from 8pm. Go to www.yasalam.ae for the full programme.