x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Music world beats path to our door

40 years of the UAE: No matter what their genre, the top-line acts are proving the country has become a must for global tours.

Chris Martin of Coldplay performs at the Emirates Palace in 2009.
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs at the Emirates Palace in 2009.

Whether pop star or rocker, rapper or DJ, Bollywood act or Grammy Award-winning star, the UAE has become a popular stop for performers from around the world.

The country has established itself as a must for musicians' world tours and celebrated music promoters and major record labels have used the UAE as a regional base for their global enterprises.

Where the country's early years saw only a few tours by Arab stars such as the Lebanese songstress Fairuz and the legendary Umm Kalthum, who performed twice in the UAE in 1971, the concert calendar is now filled with an eclectic list of top-line artists.

Next month's schedule ranges from the Egyptian pop star Tamer Hosny and the Bollywood giants Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, to the R'n'B artist Chris Brown and Culture Club.

Recently announced was the return of the Grammy Award winners Coldplay, who will ring in the New Year on Abu Dhabi's Corniche as part of the Volvo Ocean Race.

"It's definitely a very healthy and buoyant market," says Mike Fairburn of the event organiser Flash, which is responsible for some of the city's biggest events including the Formula One concerts this month and next month's two-day dance festival Creamfields.

This year, Flash coaxed Metallica and Janet Jackson into making their first Middle East appearances in Abu Dhabi, and Sade will perform at Yas Island on December 16.

Mr Fairburn says convincing the superstars to make the UAE stop-over does not require tense negotiations as it provides a rare new performing experience.

"All artists want to play and perform in new territories to new passionate fans, and Abu Dhabi offers them that opportunity," he says.

It is not only the big stars that are drawn. The major promoter Live Nation, which has exclusive booking deals with artists such as Shakira and Nickleback, launched its Middle East branch in Dubai's Arjaan Al Sufouh complex in 2009.

The company was behind tours by Eric Clapton and Maroon 5 this year, and launched its DXB festival at Dubai's Nasimi Beach.

While he will not name names, Tyler Mervyn, the managing director of Live Nation, says some US artists take quite a bit of convincing before stepping foot on a UAE stage.

"Because of the media, some of these artists think of the Middle East as Iraq, Iran or Libya," Mr Mervyn says. "But when they come here and are amazed by the hospitality of the people, the sun, the facilities - they love it immediately."

The leisure facilities are a major selling point, he says.

"Sting is fond of a particular hotel in Dubai, so when he is here he stays there and swims," says Mr Mervyn.

"Prince also enjoyed the beaches here. A lot of artists go dune bashing. It has almost become mandatory when touring here."

But as with all things showbiz, the industry runs with a low margin for error, as the Cyclops managing director Anita Shah discovered after bringing the Arabic singer Nancy Ajram to perform in Dubai's Madinat Jumeirah on November 17.

Ms Shah says that after successfully bringing out dozens of Bollywood acts, she decided to take the punt on Ajram as her first Arab performance. The vast venue, however, was only 70 per cent filled.

She says lessons were learnt and she will launch another series of Arabic performances next year.

"I will definitely do it again and bring another artist in Eid next year," Ms Shah says. "It was a learning experience and we will continue looking forward."