x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Rock and a hard place

Naser Mestarihi thinks he has put Doha on the musical map by releasing what may be the country’s first rock album.

Naser Mestarihi claims to have released the first rock album from Qatar. Courtesy Naser Mestarihi
Naser Mestarihi claims to have released the first rock album from Qatar. Courtesy Naser Mestarihi

It’s rare for an artist to be called a pioneer with a first album – but this is what happened to the Doha musician Naser Mestarihi, upon the ­release in June of his debut 1987.

After “extensive researching” of various catalogues, he came to the conclusion that the recording is the first rock album ever to be released from Qatar.

“I was interested to see what else has been done but we found nothing,” he explains. “With the exception of demos and unofficial cassettes my album seems to be the first one to be professionally produced and released.”

The album’s title doesn’t only refer to the year of his birth, but is also a throwback to the era’s melodic hard rock and hair metal: tracks such as Blazing Temple recall the driving riffs of Mötley Crüe while Mestarihi’s full-throated wail in Exodus Highway echoes the vocal acrobatics of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickenson.

Mestarihi says the era can sometimes be unfairly maligned – there is more to the music than spandex suits and dodgy video clips. “Sure they were bands like Poison that were a bit mediocre,” he says. “But you also had Mötley Crüe or Van Halen, which is more good songwriting than just image. That’s what I tried to aim for: good songwriting and good technical guitar-playing as well.”

With the lack of local infrastructure to support such a genre, the 25-year-old self-financed the album in addition to adding lead, rhythm and bass guitar to his singer-songwriter credit.

Mestarihi explains he didn’t mind the hard work, as it was the only way to survive in Qatar’s nascent music scene.

Born and raised in Doha to a Jordanian father and Pakistani mother, Mestarihi is a stalwart of the local rock community. Sick of cover bands dominating the few available hotel stages, Mestarihi once set up his own gig by renting out a clubhouse and inviting friends.

The do-it-yourself ethic is born from a music-loving family: Mestarihi’s eight uncles are professional musicians while his father also knew his way around a few guitar chords.

That said, it took a while for the music bug to truly hit the younger Mestarihi. “I don’t tell many people this story but I used to be scared of the guitar,” he recalls.

“I was like 4 years old and my mom had an acoustic guitar and every time I see it at home I would break down and have nightmares in bed. My dad had to lock the guitar up in the back of the car. That fear went on for a few years.”

The tremors subsided when, at the age of 6, Mestarihi began listening to his father’s cassette compilation of The Beatles. The love of harmony eventually returned him to the guitar and this time the bogeyman became a best friend.

Self-taught from the age of 15, Mestarihi began composing his songs a year later and by the age of 17 began gigging with his own bands.

Mestarihi’s journey led him to play numerous gigs in Dubai, the last being the album launch in May at The Music Room.

A rising talent in the region, Mestarihi is also known as the go-to guy for aspiring Qatar-based rockers seeking advice on how to plug in and get their careers started.

Mestarihi says what local musicians need most is encouragement. “I see the scene here and I find a lot of talented musicians. Unfortunately they are so demotivated and fatalistic, they think that things are not going to go anywhere,” he says.

“For me, I feel like if I can make music and I can sustain some ­income and have a good life then I will do this for the rest of my life. Even if I don’t make it big, as long as I can make records and play shows I am happy.”

• 1987 by Naser Mestarihi is out now. For more details, visit www.nasermestarihi.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae