Now that there’s a growing lo-fi acoustic music culture here in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, how far do you think the music scene can go? Because I imagine that it’s very different from places like London.
The thing is Dubai is a very transient place. Dubai’s also a very new city. But in terms of where I see the music scene heading, I think what Freshly Ground Sounds has done is gather all these scattered individuals who want what I want – I’m not the only one, you’re not the only one –into a community that wants to hear what the U.A.E. has to offer. One of the key things about FGS is that it’s not just about the musicians, it is about you guys who love to come as well; and I think that’s why it’s grown because even the fans feel that they’re a part of it. So Freshly Ground Sounds has really been an integral part of that area of amusement and it’s just going to keep growing. Maybe, more initiatives like it will join us, and that would be great. It’s what we need. We need the power in numbers. We’re the only organization at the time, so we’re just going to keep doing what we do and see where the next season goes.
As an artist and the founder of Freshly Ground Sounds, are there any creative hindrances that you and other local artists face?
The bulk of the regulations around entertainment licensing are geared towards ticketed events at licensed venues (i.e. mainly hotels) in ‘21+’ bars or clubs and it’s slightly different for each Emirate. We tried our first hotel event on a rooftop in Dubai Media City recently and we automatically had to discount some talented under-21 bands from our line-up. Restricting performances to a type of venue, a ticketed event and an age category is a hindrance to creativity. For example, our youngest FGS performer is 13 and I want to find these kids venues to play for free so they can practice and their talent can be nurtured. There are some grey areas that are tricky to navigate and rules can differ from venue to venue so this is a conversation I always have with each venue manager. Together, we’re learning more about the direction the U.A.E. is heading and the regulatory structure that is needed to cater for the budding art and cultural scene.
I also know that you’re a musician. I got to see you sing at the Gulf Music Festival. Could you tell us about your band?
So Steven, a friend of mine, saw me start Freshly Ground Sounds and one day, he said, “Oh, I used to play the bass.” And I said, “Play! Play the bass again!” He also plays the guitar, which is what he did at a Freshly Ground Sounds pop-up event at the Burj Park in January. But then he brought his bass back and we just started a band. I’ve played the guitar on and off for the past few years but never really stayed in one place to get into it a lot. I’ve written some things here and there, put in a few compilation albums but nothing big.
When I returned to the U.A.E. and I started Freshly Ground Sounds, I thought, “You know what? It’s about time I started playing again.” So I did and I started this band with Steven called Kudos by Proxy. We started in February, so we’re a very young band. In that time, we’ve played at the Gulf Music Festival, for the new MINI at The Mine Gallery, and recently, for Fête de la Musique [at Madinat Jumeirah]. We’ve already been on a compilation album, so it’s going well.
What inspired the name Kudos by Proxy? How would you describe your music?
It’s like an intellectually sarcastic name, if you want to call it that even. It was Steven’s idea. I don’t think it’s an inspiration from anywhere. It’s just a name that sounds good when you say it fast or slow, so we just went with it. I don’t get too hung up on band names because ultimately, the name’s significance is only significant to the band. For the audience the focus on the name falls away when the music comes through. There are some pretty awful band names out there that make excellent music. I won’t name them.[As for the music], well, songwriting is really important to me. The lyrics are really important to me. So I would say it’s acoustic folk-pop with an emphasis on the songwriting element.
That’s an interesting genre. Why folk-pop?
We work with the instruments we’ve got, right? So I play the harmonica and guitar, and Steven’s on bass. Naturally, you get the same sounds from those combinations. We have a ukulele player joining us over the summer and right now, we’re looking for a percussionist or drummer. I guess it’s folk-pop because it comes from the songwriting element, and the way I sing and play. Usually our songs have a catchy riff, which is where the pop element comes in; but I don’t really like to label genres, it’s really open for anyone to think what they think.
Are there plans to work on an album?
There are, actually! By March of next year, we’re hoping to have our album ready. We’ve already recorded four tracks as a basic acoustic demo, andwe got that done one afternoon on a weekend. We’ll be recording another four or five over the next few months just as another EP.
Are there any upcoming events that we should keep an eye out for?
Yes! We’re going to die down a bit during the summer [for Ramadan]. We’re working on a brand new, awesome website. It’s going to be amazing! And then we’re going to kick off our new season with a three-day regional tour. Sometime in September or October, there’ll be a big announcement for our first comeback – a welcome to the new season.
As the founder of Freshly Ground Sounds, what are your hopes for it as you think about the future?
I don’t want it to change. If it gets bigger, it gets bigger, and that’s great. But we’re going to stick to this formula because damn, it seems to be working. Obviously every organization and idea needs to adapt because as it grows, it’ll go through different pulls and pushes to get to where it needs to go and that will naturally happen with Freshly Ground Sounds. I know that. As and when things happen, we’ll adapt. For example, right now we need a website and we’re getting a website. We needed a structure to our line-up, now we have that because we have a huge over subscription. How do you fit 90 artists into six slots once a month? So we’ll see but I’m not going to change the basic principles, which is: it’s community-based, it’s open, it’s lo-fi. Those things aren’t going to change.
Ismat “Izzy” Abidi is a lawyer, musician and the founder of Dubai-based acoustic music community Freshly Ground Sounds. You can follow Freshly Ground Sounds on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and listen to the first EP online. You can also follow her band Kudos By Proxy on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Gimel Samera is Junior Articles Editor for The Missing Slate.