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UAE Live!


Over the last several years, a growing number of Western music acts have made their first appearance in the UAE. Established, high profile entertainers, icons even, are beginning to converge on a land where the muezzins and khaleeji singers were once the only voices to swoon the masses.

Khaleeji still remains this nation’s soundtrack. But with Western expats returning after the financial crisis and both Abu Dhabi and Dubai becoming international standards, it was only a matter of time before rock n roll royalty (and all its jesters) would land upon this soil with such force.

The UAE is an entertainment oasis quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Much of this region has forbidden or is apathetic towards the kind of acts these two emirates embrace.

The UAE is quite different from other Middle Eastern countries in that respect. Artists such as Madonna and Snoop Lion (formally the artist known as Snoop Dogg), often regarded as controversial in the States, somehow enjoy success in this country where playing out their sexually suggestive lyrics would be a crime.

Part of the lure for these artists is, well, this is Abu Dhabi and Dubai, overly polished playgrounds for the fashion-conscious and entrepreneurial trailblazers. But there’s the other part, the most important to a brand and its bottom line: the money. And the UAE, especially Abu Dhabi, can dish it out.

According to an Arabian Business article last year, which quoted an industry insider, Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment can pay upwards of a million U.S. dollars to pull in someone like the Material Girl and $100K for those top acts not so legendary. This, according to the article, is in-line with Las Vegas’ exorbitant standards.

But for the much smaller acts, bands like The Fray or The Script or even songwriter James Blunt, all recent performers here, the incentives are far less enticing. These acts usually wind up in the Sandance or Dubai Jazz festivals and might even find a much smaller supplemental gig in Muscat and Doha.

Those other countries, though, only see that type of action a little more than a place like, say, Jeddah or Kabul. And for an artist coming to the Middle East whose worthy of 20-40 thousand spectators, there is no other place in the Middle East but the UAE’s two prominent cities.

The most important aspect of it all is that they’re coming. Today it’s the UAE, but tomorrow it could be multiple stops in this region. The world is shrinking and music is crossing boundaries, bridging cultural gaps and planting seeds into a ground once infertile to such ideas. If Lady GaGa plays Amman one day, that city, for better or worse, will have the UAE to thank for it.

Artists as varied as Guns n Roses and Justin Bieber, from Nicki Manaj to the recently reincarnated The Stone Roses (who will be here February 21st) are finding what’s known in the Arabic culture as a majlis, a place to exchange ideas or to entertain.

Last year an American band, The Black Lips, flew from the safety of their indie-enclave to the Middle East on a tour sweeping through Iraq and Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. And, of course, a gig in Dubai.

This tour was documented and scenes in that documentary show the band playing a small, Iraqi meeting hall while Erbil locals watch from white, plastic garden chairs. At first glance very few in the sparse crowd look too much like rock fans or have ever heard a telecaster, but they politely clap, nonetheless. Then the documentary shifts to Dubai where the frenzied fans mosh to the Lips’ heavier side. Distortion. Screaming. Rock n Roll. The crowd looks like water boiling. The sound, like a fistfight. A girl kisses a guitar player while he’s playing on stage and the scene, though thousands of miles from where the music originated, looks like it could have been filmed in any smoky, beer-drenched dive in America.

Perhaps the greatest side effect from this surge of concerts is the region’s ability to counter-act negative media stereotypes about the culture. As Snoop said to a 7Days reporter just after his New Year’s Eve show this year: “In America they say so many wild things about the Middle East . . . they say things that try to scare us away. But when we come here we see a different perspective and when we go back to America we tell everybody what a beautiful place this is.”

Images: cover & 1: danorbit. via photopin cc