Lip Sync War is just as it sounds: contestants put on a performance by mouthing, or at least trying to, the words to their favourite songs
How Lip Sync War event has caught the fancy of Abu Dhabi music lovers
Something about Habila “Hatch” Malgwi’s rendition of I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys, however crowd-pleasing, feels just a little too polished. As Malgwi makes his way back to his friends, a bystander close to the stage bellows to a pal: “He killed it!”
That’s the kind of enthusiasm driving Lip Sync War, a popular new event at the Courtyard by Marriott World Trade Centre Abu Dhabi’s rooftop space Up and Below, which features absolutely no vocals on stage, but all sorts of singalongs off it.
It turns out that the 29-year-old Malgwi, who works for a United Nations partner called Arton Capital, used to be in a band of his own called SB5. “We were like the Backstreet Boys of Nigeria,” he says and, explaining their ultimate demise, adds: “I grew up and then I had to make money.”
Lip Sync War is just as it sounds. Contestants put on a performance by mouthing, or at least trying to, the words to their favourite songs. Their ability to match the actual words and connect with the crowd determines their success. The event, which launched in Dubai last year, is organised by Dorian Rogers, a teacher and founder of the popular and long-running poetry open mic night Rooftop Rhythms, as well as the newer Adult Game Night and the Silent Party.
He based this latest event on Lip Sync Battles, a popular show in the United States hosted by the rapper LL Cool J. Jimmy Fallon also does a version of Lip Sync Battles on his nightly talk show, with videos of himself pitted against stars such as Melissa McCarthy and Emma Stone frequently going viral.
Each of the three Abu Dhabi events so far has been a success, attracting about two dozen performers and a full audience who often dance, sing or even yell along to whatever song is playing. The competition is fierce, but the atmosphere is warm, as though everyone already knows each other. “I would attribute it to what we do,” explains Rogers, over the din of the crowd at the event earlier this month. “We’re about community, we like to support people.”
The “singers” and their entourages hail from countries as diverse as Columbia, China, South Africa, Nairobi and Egypt, including an enthusiastic half-dozen blue-and-gold-clad members of the American sorority Sigma Gamma Rho, who do a Jill Scott number. On this night, there is also a rendition of Ike and Tina Turner’s Proud Mary (duos are inherently ill-advised, however, as only one microphone is provided) that ends in a touch of mock domestic violence that goes over with a bit of a thud; a shaky rendition of Abba’s Dancing Queen – from a woman who seems unbothered that she knows only half the words; a passable Eminem’s Lose Yourself; and an ever-predictable turn of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back.
Judging from the bravado of those who take to the stage, some who hop off confidently before the song is even over, showmanship is not the only key to a great and memorable lip-syncing performance. “I think it’s song choice,” says Rogers, as a Columbian singer takes the stage. “Of course knowing the words, but as soon as he started, people knew it was Despacito.”
At each of the monthly events, the crowd chooses a winner, who gets a brunch for two and a spot in the Lip Sync War finals in April. That will feature “the best of the best”, explains Rogers, who is expecting costumes.
Bobby Carter, a 41-year-old dad from the United States currently earning his MBA, takes to the stage to back up his friend Ebony Brown on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. “It’s Abu Dhabi’s best-kept secret,” Carter says. “There should be a hundred more people here. I can’t get enough.”
Brown, a born performer who nails her performance, leaves the stage to loud cheers. “Yas Queen,” yells out Andrew Wolhuter, a 29-year-old life coach from Johannesburg, who will later bust out an over-the-top lip sync of Anastacia’s Paid My Dues.
“I loved it,” says Brown. “I’ve done karaoke, but I’ve never done lip-synching. I used to perform in high school. This is nothing to me.”
Iman Mohammed, a 26-year-old physical therapist, is a bundle of nerves, however. She attended the event twice before building up enough confidence to get up and perform Katy Perry’s Dark Horse, a fitting choice, since she not only blew everyone away with her spot-on rapping, but also won the night. “I was just doing it for fun,” she says. “The crowd was amazing.”
The next Lip Sync War event will take place at the Courtyard by Marriott World Trade Centre, Abu Dhabi, on January 5. To sign up, go to www.facebook.com/groups/rooftoprhythms