Just this morning I read Talib Kweli’s article on Medium, ‘When ‘White Fragility’ Affects Rappers,’ and thought it was a fantastic piece about equality, racial tension and oppression and how it finds its way into music. Hip Hop, as he mentions, started in the South Bronx where neighborhoods were being demolished and kids were moving onto the streets, creating their own slang and rebelling against the system. Those restraints and pain created one of the most popular and expressive forms of music in the world.
That is part of American culture. Not just hip hop culture, but American culture as a whole. Just like Motown, Delta Blues and Country, all aspects of music and expression are a part of a country’s culture. This got me thinking about the UAE, the country I have called home my whole life and where I learned every aspect of music in my youth. What does culture, in terms of music, mean in the UAE?
The Emirati’s have a strong base of music in their history from the Oud (a stringed instrument), Rababa (another stringed instrument) and Doumbek (a drum) all of which play a big part of their Bedouin heritage. However, the UAE is only around 45 years old and a country made up by a majority of immigrants. This begs the question, what kind of music can be created here? What is the modern culture of music in this country from its people, native or foreign?
We have an amazing number of talented cover bands here in Dubai. Seriously, amazing. But we have about a handful (if not more) original artists who write and compose their own music. There is no umbrella genre to describe the musicians, although there has been a higher number of singer/songwriters in the last few years. Bands play Folk, Metal, Funk and Jazz with no dominant genre. When I was younger, Metal used to dominate the music scene, but looking back I think it was just the friend circles I had. The same concerts that had Metal bands used to host Glam Metal, Ska and Punk bands as well.
Artists in Dubai play the music they want to play and do not conform to any specific genre. I believe that we need to hone in on what makes Dubai, and the UAE at large, such a fascinating place for music. We are all here from incredible walks of life with different influences, cultures and languages. The artists and musicians here get to tell so many varied stories all under one roof. We get to showcase the nuances of all corners of the globe to each other and learn and create. That is a beautiful thing.
Think about a gypsy folk band from the UK regularly spending time and playing shows with a multi-cultural funk band? Or a singer/songwriter from Lebanon mingling with a fantastic Pakistani Michael Jackson impersonator? This happens regularly here in Dubai yet, at the same time, I feel it does not happen enough.
We have all the tools available for us to create a unique culture of music and expression but something seems to be lacking. Perhaps it is the set up for music here in Dubai. Venues do not want original musicians but rather cover bands that fit a certain mould and getting permits to play anywhere in the city is probably the most costly and painstaking process imaginable. The fact of the matter is that being involved in any music scene or industry is an absolute nightmare and maybe we need to put all our heads together and collude to make it a better place for us to thrive.
If one of us makes it on a global scale, we suddenly put Dubai on the map and people will take notice. That’s a common truth that we all know but do not seem to be working towards too well (I think we are but, as always, we can always do better). Culture lies with us, and when people ask what it is like playing and creating music in Dubai, we can always say that as an Hip Hop artist you were influenced by a few D&B DJs that really changed the way you composed your tracks and vice versa. Our individual scenes are not big enough for us to carry on alone, it makes no sense, but if we all act as one scene, as one culture with many sub-cultures then we are something else entirely.
This is more of a call to arms for the people involved in music to continue doing their great work but work with open arms. Let’s put this city on the map and make sure it stays there.