x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Hip-hop performers discover the power of numbers

A group of rappers, DJs and producers find the right Recipe for success in the music industry.

Hani Khatib, aka 'Jabbar', raps in his recording studio.
Hani Khatib, aka 'Jabbar', raps in his recording studio.

DUBAI // The biggest problem facing people who want to make a career in music is getting a decent start - young local musicians especially face a barrage of obstacles. That is why a group of rappers, DJs and producers have pooled their resources to help each other forge musical careers. Nine individual Dubai-based hip-hop artists, all facing similar challenges within the underground music scene in the UAE, formed a collaboration called The Recipe to tackle the obstacles preventing them from getting their music to a wider audience.

Hani Khatib, 24, who performs under the name Jabbar, said the idea was about "power in numbers". Khatib and Lucky Schild, 26, whose performance name is Swerte, came up with the concept in August last year when both were feeling frustrated by restrictions imposed on home-grown music. "The biggest problem to any local musician here is getting started," said Khatib. "Licensing laws are ridiculous. You can't get to perform live without knowing someone, you can't get radio play and even if you have eight albums you'll still never get distribution."

The Department of Municipal Affairs insists that anyone performing to an audience applies for an individual licence that must be renewed for each performance. This makes promoters inclined to avoid local acts, opting instead for booking overseas acts for one-off gigs. The licences also restrict onstage spontaneity as interaction with the crowd is banned, as are impromptu performances. A breach of any of the rules can earn the venue a fine of about Dh30,000 (US$8,170).

Radio stations' content is also restricted by an International Standards Agency code, while distribution outlets are limited to mainstream stores such as Virgin Megastores. Generally distributors are unwilling to spend money on marketing a local band that could be considered a financial risk. All these obstacles meant that although many fans were listening to their music on the internet, fledging artists like Jabbar and Swerte struggled to make an impact.

"We came up with the [Recipe] idea to combine our fans, bring together our talents and show that we have potential," said Khatib. "It is like a platform," explained Schild. "We were not forming a group, more a collaboration to help each other. The original idea was to put together a mix tape including music from all nine artists, which they would simultaneously promote. But earlier this year they were approached by the organiser of a club night called Rock Nation who had been let down at the last minute by his performers. The Recipe artists stepped in and were so well received that they caught the attention of other promoters.

In March, The Recipe performed live at the Four Point Sheraton hotel, then at Dubai Festival City and in Abu Dhabi for the Chevrolet Urban Challenge. "We were lucky with our first break," said Schild. "But we proved to people that we had talent and also that we had lots of fans. I think we opened a lot of eyes. "By the end of the third gig the crowd were chanting 'make CD' and were trying to buy our mix-tape CDs from us even though we were giving them away for free."

Khatib and Schild said the success of The Recipe in such a short time proved there was an appetite for local music, it was just a matter of letting the "music do the talking". Plans are now going ahead to release a mix tape produced by Jabbar and Swerte featuring all the artists' music. "There's no reason why we can't be a commercial success," said Khatib. "In the UAE it only takes 40,000 record sales to make a platinum record and that's very achievable."