New website is music to the ears of up-and-coming groups
A three-piece rock band from Dubai, a punk band whose lyrics deal with Islam and a Palestinian gypsy band who remix Arabic folk songs are just three of the groups on a new website set up by a student in Dubai to use the medium of music for social change. Uzma Atcha, 21, a Pakistani living in Dubai, and Esra'a Al Shafei, 23, a Bahraini, joined forces to launch Mideast Tunes, a platform for musicians in the region. "The Middle East is one of the most misunderstood places on the planet," said Miss Atcha. "There have been generations of hatred and animosity between ethnic groups and religious sects so we wanted to try to break those down by using a language everyone can relate to - music."
The site, launched in March, invites artists to subscribe and post their biography, photo and music. Before entries go online, they are vetted by Miss Atcha and Miss al Shafei. "We don't judge them in terms of our taste, we just want to make sure they are a creditable act," said Miss al Shafei. "Also we tend to prefer underground acts who wouldn't normally get any exposure, as well as those who deal with issues like religion, politics or society in general."
The women said they wanted to recognise musicians who had something to say. "A lot of the music we hear on the radio or on TV is synthesised pop," said Miss Atcha. "It has no meaning. Regional talent gets overshadowed by this." Mideast Tunes can be played through an online radio portal called Revolt Radio, based in Saudi Arabia, or downloaded with an iPhone "app". In its first three weeks, the "app" has been downloaded 700 times. The site, www.mideastunes.com, has just more than 100 acts, with around 20 more approaching it each week. Sho?, a three-piece rock band based in Dubai, are one of seven enlisted acts from the UAE. Zara Quiroga, 27, the band's singer, welcomed the chance to reach a wider audience. "When I tell my friends I am in a rock band in Dubai they are always shocked," said Quiroga, from Portugal. "They don't realise such a thing can exist, they think Dubai is too conservative for that.
"I think the rest of the world is pretty misinformed about the region and this website can help to change that." Nasir Akmal, 29, a hip-hop artist with Afghan and Pakistani roots who performs under the name Deen, said the advantage for musicians came from the pooling of fans. "If I draw traffic to the site then they will find out about other musicians and vice versa. The biggest roadblock to getting music heard here is getting it on the radio and approaching record labels. Any exposure will help, and this site puts attention on the Middle East."