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Dubai Summer Surprises resounds with Khaleeji beats and soulful tunes

posted on 26/07/2015: 1485 views

A week after the capital launched its Abu Dhabi Summer Season concerts, this weekend, it was Dubai's turn to bring stars to the stage for back-to-back shows at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

A big crowd turned out for the Thursday- and Friday-night shows – part of Dubai Summer Surprises – featuring five of the biggest-selling artists in the region.

The organisers pulled out all the stops to make the event a grand affair, with a large, neon-lit stage and each artist backed by an orchestra that was more than two-dozen strong and featured strings, horns, Khaleeji percussion and, on Thursday night, a baglama (oriental guitar) courtesy of a guest musician from Turkey. Here's how the artists fared on stage.

The lady in green: Diana Haddad

Clad in a stunning emerald-green dress that she described as "simple”, the Emirati-¬Lebanese star kicked off the proceedings on Thursday with a crowd-favourite selection of Khaleeji and Levant tunes.

At about the 15-minute mark, the dancing began in the aisles and Haddad maintained the momentum by dropping the up-tempo Khaleeji folk trackBait Al Sha'er before following it up with the breezy pop of Bala Rouhi from last year's solid selling album Ya Bashar.

The Khaleeji-dabka fusion of Madri, Men Modah also went down a treat – however, the call-and-¬¬response hook of Mani Mani was rendered incoherent due to the overpowering orchestra. That aside, Haddad should be pleased with a set that strengthens her claim to the title of Princess of Arab Song.

The enchanting Nawal Al Kuwaitia

There is something about the 48-year-old Kuwaiti chanteuse that inspires a dash of awe and respect. Where Haddad was all girl-next-door smiles, Al Kuwaitia was a mix of steely determination and maternal love.

Her set was an enchanting affair, full of swooning strings and evocative lyrics. After the opener, Lawla Al Mahaba, showcased her soulful and husky voice, came the heart-wrenching Ya Fahemni, which arguably received the biggest cheer of the night. The track is a testament to the Khaleeji song at its best, where the lyrics are just as important as the instrumentation.

"And your love for me began before I was created,” Al Kuwaitia sang as she clutched her chest. "It was scrolled on the first page of a book already written.”

Abdallah Al Rowaished keeps the hits rolling

It's a good thing Al Rowaished has a 30-year catalogue of catchy Khaleeji pop nuggets – it was the melodic kick needed for a crowd that was starting to get a little tired by the time the Kuwaiti took the stage at 1am, the last of Thursday's acts.

Al Rowaished remains one of the more accessible acts in the Khaleeji music canon because of his trademark upbeat tracks, which are full of groove, thumping percussion and call and response chorus.

Kulu Al Shanik is a case in point – the rather downbeat lyrics were balanced by the boisterous orchestra, which immediately had the crowd, particularly the teenagers, on their feet. By the time the playful Ya Quluni Seebu arrived with its big hooks, the fatigue was well and truly gone. You only wish Al Rowaished had joined in the fun a bit more, too – he mostly observed the dancing crowd like a satisfied headmaster.

Kadim Al Sahir is the Arab world's Leonard Cohen

The venue was a near sell-out for the Friday-night performances, featuring the Iraqi superstar Kadim Al Sahir and Emirati pop king Hussain Al Jasmi.

It was the former who took the stage first, with a near-identical set list to the one delivered at Sharjah's Al Majaz Amphitheater in January. Still, it's Al Sahir we are talking about, and the man delivered another near-flawless performance.

The 57-year-old holds a status in the Arab world similar to Leonard Cohen for lovers of western music, with songs steeped in passion and classical Arabic poetry. Akoun Aw La Akoun, with its minimal instrumentation and operatic vocal delivery, was hair-raising stuff and rightfully elicited a standing ovation.

Some levity was provided by a folk track that had the Iraqi fans on their feet to engage in traditional chobi dance (with dabka-¬like movements), snaking their away through the isles. Finishing the set with the grandioseKatheer Al Hadeeth – with its epic closing cry of "Baghdad” – Al Sahir told the crowd to prepare for "a surprise”, before leaving the stage.

Hussain Al Jasmi keeps it pop

It was left to Al Jasmi to round off the weekend's performances with another hit-laden set. The Khor Fakkan singer dispensed with the mammoth string section and replaced it with three keyboard players. Nevertheless, the smaller set-up delivered solid backing to energetic tunes such Bahr Al Shouq and the anthemic Al Youm Bi Safir.

As well as his high tenor, Al Jasmi is a gifted composer, with an ear for hooks. For example, the key to one of his biggest hits, Al Tayer, is that nonsensical refrain of "dah-dum” in the chorus, which is straight out of the bubble-gum pop songbook. No wonder it's also a favourite of young children, who crowded the dance floor – a sight that gave Al Jasmi so much joy that he invited them to the stage for a group hug.

A new song by old friends

As Al Jasmi and Al Sahir are good friends, it wasn't a huge surprise when the duo decided to perform a duet in the middle of Al Jasmi's headline set. The real thrill, however, came in the form of a new song that Al Sahir wrote specifically for the event. The untitled track, Al Sahir explained, is "a gift to those people who maintain the traditions of their country and who work hard in making it better”. Sung in a Khaleeji dialect, the rhythmic piece was delivered in a Gulf-pop style in which the singers traded a verse each. It also featured a dozen Emirati crew clad in kanduras, delivering a traditional dance. It was a fine way to end a weekend of strong performances that satisfied the faithful. – The National -


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