x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Workers find something to sing about

Labourers in Dubai are exercising their vocal chords as they chase stardom in a unique talent contest.

A Sikh contestant sings in a Pop Idol style contest held at labour camps across the UAE last year.
A Sikh contestant sings in a Pop Idol style contest held at labour camps across the UAE last year.

DUBAI // There is a different kind of sound at construction sites and labour camps these days: something rather more tuneful amid the usual din of building and work gangs coming and going. Labourers are warming up their vocal cords in preparation for the third season of a special "pop idol" contest.

Auditions for the Western Union Camp Ka Champ begin on July 3. Five companies and more than 50 labour camps have confirmed that they will take part in auditions for the labourers-only singing contest, informally known as "Dubai Idol". More camps are expected to join once the auditions begin next week; nearly 200 took part last year. The auditions will be held in accommodation areas such as Al Quoz, Sonapur and Jebel Ali industrial area.

Organisers said yesterday that the contest was developed to give labour camp residents an opportunity to discover their singing talent. "When we started in 2009, we faced initial resistance from the camps, it was a challenge to get people to come forward and be a part of this contest," said Rupa Vinod, managing director of Right Track Advertising, which devised and runs the event. "However, each year the interest levels and response from the camps are increasing. Awareness is spreading and more and more companies are participating."

The contest, whose title means "Champ from the Camp", runs until September. Ms Vinod says she and her team travel to the camps to conduct the auditions. Shortlisted singers go on to the quarter-finals, representing their companies in teams of two. While there is a jury, voting is also done by a live audience of workers, who send text messages naming their favourite singers. The organisers released the schedule for the auditions yesterday and urged more companies to participate. The contest is spread over three phases and will run for eight weeks. Registrations and auditions will be from July 3 to 10 before the judges visit the camps to test the singing talents. The winners of the quarter-finals at the participating camps will make it to the semis at a neutral venue, with an audience of more than 3,000 people.

Last year two 24-year-olds from Pakistan, Muhammed Farooq Mazhar and Asim Khan, became instant celebrities when they beat 600 other labourers to be voted the winners, in the final held at Al Nasr Leisureland in Dubai. Apart from glory and celebrity status in the camps, the winners also walked away with stereos and cash prizes. They are both expected to defend their titles this year. The winners told The National that the event had made them famous, as well as spurring them through their tough lives.

The first season of the contest was held in 2007 with three participating companies and in 2008 there were four companies. This year, a lot more companies are expected to join the contest as the show moves forward with big sponsors and support. pmenon@thenational.ae