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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Soundtrack your relationships through a playlist

Through its combination of personality and rigour, the playlist could be the 21st century form of the written letter

Duran Duran. Getty
Duran Duran. Getty

One of my favourite relationships is based on melodies rather than words, and is with a group of former university friends and fellow music-lovers in Australia. We would catch up occasionally during the semester, but rather than exchanging anecdotes, we would pass each other CDs of self-made compilations that detailed our latest musical crushes and the new sounds we were feeding off.

Despite our parting of ways at the end of university and eventually settling in different countries, some members of the old crew have resurfaced recently, and we’ve begun to exchange online playlists via our WhatsApp group.

As a music-lover, it’s super-rewarding and I was impressed at how having a playlist curated for me immediately captured my attention.

The songs give me an insight into what my friends are into at this particular moment, and the deft manner in which they were created is fairly rare to find when it comes to personal communication today.

This exchange of musical tastes planted the seeds for my work in developing The National’s own music page on Apple Music – the first Middle Eastern publication to have one.

With five playlists promising more than four hours of music, the aim of our collection is to introduce and celebrate the eclectic sounds of the region – and make those trips up and down Sheikh Zayed Road that much easier.

As one of the page’s curators, my aim is to inspire a re-appreciation of the playlist that if done right, combines personality and rigour. Reflecting on my life as I often do in these weekly columns, I have come to realise how important playlists have been to my personal development.

The first time I came across one was as an 8-year-old during my first stint living in Abu Dhabi. At the time our family had a live-in maid from the Philippines. Every now and then, whenever my parents would go out, Teresa would invite some of her friends to our place for a little house party. One mate would often arrive with a cassette tape with songs he’d recorded from the radio. Not only did I learn more about Filipino noodle dish pancit and pop music icon Gary Valenciano from those hangouts, but I was also introduced to 1980s pop music from the likes of Duran Duran and Roxette.

This experience inspired me to ­create my own mix tapes, a task I took very seriously. Like a teenager about to embark on a fishing expedition, I would wake up early in the morning and sit next to the radio with my recorder poised to record the perfect tunes. It took me a month to get a 60-minute tape done, and I would give them various names ranging from Jungle Rock to Jangle Pop. Then I would give the tape to a friend – who would often reciprocate with their own – and it meant something. It was the equivalent of movie scenes where gangsters would cut their hands before shaking each other’s firmly, except this was a friendship sealed by tape rather than blood.

Fast-forward a few decades, and I am now getting the same thrill online. When creating the new playlists for The National, I approach the process with the same studiousness I did all those years ago.

I hope that through listening to them or reading this piece, it may inspire you to jump online and create your own playlist for somebody who can use the musical company, whether they commute or just need some cheering up.

Done in your own time and in secret, if you choose, you can then send it to your mate by phone message, and I can guarantee the gesture will be greatly appreciated.

Which brings me to the final point about playlists. There are some rules: first, the music needs to follow a clear theme – from the abstract collections about the weather to the gooey romanticism of “songs that remind me of you”. Second is the “one-song” rule, in which you can only use a song by one artist in the mixtape. Additional inclusions from said artist alludes to a poor work ethic, a lack of care from the curator and ultimately won’t win the attention of your listener. The final rule is keep it sharp, cohesive and not too long. Nobody likes a show-off.

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Read more of Saeed's thoughts:

The unique pleasure of watching the World Cup right here in the UAE

Advice for students now that school exams are looming

A chance encounter with an ageing tycoon provides useful life lessons

How storytelling reveals who we are and creates bonds between us

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