x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Making a big noise at Womad

Kamal Musallam and Sokoor al Magabeel have been snapped up to perform at Womad in the UK.

Sokoor al Magabeel perform on the opening night at Womad Abu Dhabi.
Sokoor al Magabeel perform on the opening night at Womad Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // When the jazz musician Kamal Musallam and Sokoor al Magabeel, a group of Emirati folk dancers and percussionists, took to the stage before an adoring crowd of 20,000 on the Corniche beach, one man was watching them very, very closely.

That was in late April during the Womad Abu Dhabi world music festival and Chris Smith, the director of the main Womad (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festival in the UK, was standing backstage trying to decide how the fusion of jazz guitar and traditional Emirati folk beats would go down in England. Pretty well, it turns out. "We had only just finished our performance when we were introduced to Mr Smith, who told us the good news. We were very excited," said Musallam, a Jordanian who lives in Dubai, describing how Mr Smith intercepted them as they stepped off stage after their three-song set and offered them a chance to play at the Womad festival in Charlton Park in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, later this month.

Besides playing before crowds expected to top 35,000 and gaining international exposure during the three-day event, the artists will also get the chance to meet Womad's founder, the former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel. Major world music acts such as Afro Celt Sound System, the Dhol Foundation, Ozomatli and the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan have all taken to the stage at previous UK events. Musallam, 39, and Sokoor al Magabeel, who started their collaboration specifically for Womad Abu Dhabi, will be joined in the UK by Abri, a Dubai-based soul, jazz and R&B band. It will be the first time any of them have played in the UK.

"The idea was to find the best way to represent our part of the world at the festival where so many different ethnicities would be gathered," said Musallam. Abri will play only one track during the Charlton Park Womad, a composition written for the event by Hamdan al Abri, the band's lead singer, Julian Symes, its keyboard player, and Musallam. The song, called 'This is the World', tells the story of the UAE and the importance of tribal ancestry.

"We are performing on a world stage," said Musallam. "So we wanted to create something to say who we are and to present this part of the world, how we are living and how we have progressed." The day after their performance, the group will host a percussion workshop for fans, showing them how to fuse Arab and folk rhythms. "It will be a pleasure to show people that the most important thing about music making is passion for your art," said Musallam.

He conceived the collaboration between himself and Sokoor al Magabeel in the run-up to the Abu Dhabi Womad, and they received support from the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. "I only came up with the idea just before the event so we didn't have much time to rehearse and only performed three songs on the Abu Dhabi stage," Musallam said. "Since then the project has developed into a recording project. We've spent every day in the studio putting together an album as well as spending a lot of time rehearsing for the show."

The collaboration plans to release a 12-track album, entitled Lulu (pearl in Arabic), in the next few days. When on stage at the UK's Charlton Park Womad, which opens on July 24, the UAE group will include six musicians and 17 dancers and percussionists. aseaman@thenational.ae