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| 16 January, 2017

Wasla Arabic music festival in Dubai: Meet the artists

Image used for illustrative purpose.
The crowd reacts during the second day of the Desert Rhythm Festival in Dubai October 27, 2007. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

Image used for illustrative purpose. The crowd reacts during the second day of the Desert Rhythm Festival in Dubai October 27, 2007. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

Monday, Jan 16, 2017

Wasla, a new Arabic alternative music festival, will hold its first edition in Dubai.

Popular acts from around the Arab world — Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, Jordan and the UAE — will take to the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre stage on January 20, including Mashrou’ Leila, Souad Massi, Jadal, Salhi and Abri & The Funk Radius.

Their styles run the gamut from pop, electronica and Sufi to pure rock, but they have in common a rebellious streak — an existence outside the homogenous world of commercial Arabic music.

Emel Mathlouthi, a Tunisian singer-songwriter known for her protest anthems, describes ‘alternative’ as a brand of resistance.

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“[It is] to be able to create our own independent scene without belonging to any restrictive cultural heritage from the past … or having to obey, or be oppressed by what the commercial Arab scene dictates, that doesn’t allow [for] any different way of seeing the music,” she told Gulf News tabloid!.

Wasla organisers hope to take over the rest of the Middle East in due time.

“The idea is to immerse everyone in the Arabic culture,” said co-founder Amr Ramadan, citing live mural painting, Arabic street food trucks and pop-up retail stalls as selling points.

Ramadan, who boasts nine years of experience in event management, previously founded 3alganoob, the first camping music festival of its kind in the region. He said that the Wasla line-up came together for a reason.

“The music and lyrics discuss identity and what it means to be Arab through the political and social changes happening in the region. The messages delivered by the artists, mostly of peace, acceptance and love are so important within the region’s current condition,” he said.

Wael Alaa, an Egyptian electronic musician also known as Neobyrd, will be one of said artists.

“It’s important because everything is alternative nowadays. That’s how people think, feel and live. It’s the real image of now,” he said.

MEET THE ARTISTS

SOUAD MASSI is an Algerian singer of Berber descent, who was once a member of political band Atakor and left her hometown for Paris after death threats.

What do you have planned for your show in Dubai?

I picked five songs, one from each of my albums, so I can help people discover my music.

If your music was a food item, what would it be and why?

A fruit salad so there is something to fit everyone’s taste.

What has been one of the most defining moments of your career so far?

I think it would be January 9, 1999, when I first arrived in France. This date has literally changed my career.

What’s your current favourite song to perform live?

Dar Djedi. Because the older I get, the more I need to go back to my roots.

MASHROU’ LEILA is a Lebanese rock band founded in 2008, known for their four studio albums and distinctive, sardonic storytelling.

How would you describe your sound?

We like to think of ourselves as a pop act, indie pop or alternative pop.

How would you define alternative Arabic music, and why is it important?

Music that does not aim to be a commercial product. There is nothing wrong with music that caters to mass taste, but when the goal is to sell, the methods become questionable. Any music that holds a different goal at its core I would consider alternative, irrespective of style or taste.

What has been one of the most defining moments of your career so far?

Definitely having the chance to perform on legendary stages such as the Barbican and the Music Hall of Willamsburg, but also small personal things, like recording with a symphony. Having professional musicians playing music that was written in your bedroom really puts things in perspective.

What’s your current favourite song to perform live?

Probably Falyakon. It’s the song that we use to transition from the first part to the second part of our set and it changes the whole mood in the venue.

NEOBYRD is the Egyptian electronic artist Wael Alaa, who gained popularity after his tracks With You Again and My Sweet Heartless enjoyed radio play.

How would you describe your sound?

I’m inspired by different styles of music like classic, ’80’s, disco and hard rock, so I think my sound is a collage of all these spirits.

If your music was a food item, what would it be and why?

Fish — it sounds simple but has a lot of taste and character

What’s your current favourite song to perform live?

It is definitely Good Things Like Chocolate from my album The King is Dead.

What do you have planned for 2017?

A new album which will be signed with a big French record label. Exciting things ahead.

SALHI is a duo made up of Tunisian jazz and Sufi singers Mounir Troudi and Imed Alibi.

What do you have planned for your show in Dubai?

We prepared a programme from our upcoming album full of Soufi, tribal Tunisian songs, and some of its influences [including] Turkish, Persian and Indian sounds.

What has been one of the most defining moments of your career so far?

My best moment was when Robert Plant assisted and supported our project Safar in WOMAD Charlton Park in the UK back in 2014.

What do you have planned for 2017?

We hope to find a record label to support us and work on our upcoming second album, Safar 2.

EMEL MATHLOUTHI is a singer known for her protest songs Ya Tounes Ya Meskina (Poor Tunisia) and Kelmti Horra (My Word is Free), which became popular during the 2010-2011 Tunisian revolution.

How would you describe your sound?

I would say it’s very cinematic, organic and raw. Sometimes a bit experimental, sometimes punkish.

If your music was a food item, what would it be and why?

Maybe it would be the Tunisian dish Mloukhia. It’s very dark and thick but oh how delicious, it can be spicy and it seems that your plate is never ending…

What’s your current favourite song to perform live?

The first song on my set is a hybrid creation born out of a live improvisation. I use sketches of one of my favourite Jeff Buckley songs, New Year’s Prayer. It starts: ‘Oooh, fall in light, fall in light…’ I think it’s the most beautiful entry to the space in between sky and earth: the stage.

What do you have planned for 2017?

My new album release, February 24, and the tour that will follow.

JADAL is a Jordanian group formed in 2003, best known for being one of the first contemporary acts to combine rock melodies with Arabic storytelling.

How would you describe your sound?

Each song has a different story therefore different mood, even if they are all performed in rock, pop or sometimes electro with a hint of oriental influence.

If your music was a food item, what would it be and why?

A lemon, or anything sweet and sour.

What has been one of the most defining moments of your career so far?

Being able to make three independently produced albums with hits in each that crowds are excited to listen to always.

What’s your current favourite song to perform live?

Usually songs like Ashrar and Mish Hadol Nasak.

Don’t miss it!

Tickets to Wasla Festival are Dh295-Dh445, from Virgin Megastore.

By Marwa Hamad, ?Staff Reporter

Gulf News 2017. All rights reserved.