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Music of the United Arab Emirates

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The music of the United Arab Emirates stems from the Eastern Arabia music traditions. Distinctive dance songs from the area's fishermen are also well-known. Liwa (or leiwah / leywah) is a type of music and dance performed mainly in communities which contain descendants of Bantu peoples from the African Great Lakes region, and hybrid Afro-Arab rhythms such as the Sha'abi al-Emirati and Bandari remain the standard in both traditional and popular music in this historically cosmopolitan country.

Performers in the country include Mohammed Al Muhairi (better known as Mehad Hamad), Ahlam Ali Al Shamsi, and Hussain Al Jasmi.

The Emirati-American composer Mohammed Fairouz has been commissioned to premiere his fifth symphony at the Abu Dhabi Festival in 2020[1]

In 2020 Emirati Composer Ihab Darwish was commissioned by The Palm Fountain (Dubai, UAE) - world’s largest fountain by the Guinness Book of World Record, to compose an official musical theme “Aim For The Sky” as a sonic brand and its signature music. The composition pays homage to the UAE's culture as well as capture Dubai's cosmopolitanism and is performed regularly at The Palm Fountain at The Pointe, Dubai, from  December 1, 2020.[2]

In 2021 Abu Dhabi Festival commissioned Emirati composer Ihab Darwish, in collaboration with Emmy-winning composer John Debney and Academy Award-winning composer David Shire, to celebrate the historic opening of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi. Bringing together top international composers, musicians and vocal ensembles from Christian, Jewish and Muslim backgrounds, the Symphony of Three. Peace, love, tolerance celebrates unity and peace.[3] The premiere took place on December 30, 2022, and is available online on YouTube.[4]

In June 2022, Ihab Darwish became the first Emirati invited to be a voting member of the Grammy Recording Academy. Darwish is among 2,000 new voting members requested to join the world’s leading society of music professionals, whose mission is “to recognise excellence in the recording arts and sciences, cultivate the well-being of the music community, and ensure that music remains an indelible part of our culture”.[5]

Original music in the UAE[edit]

The UAE houses a lively underground music scene consisting mostly of expatriates. Concentrated in Dubai, the majority of local artists play rock and metal music. Some musicians also play alternative styles of music such as ska, punk, house and experimental music.

Yassin Alsalman, better known by his stage name Narcy, was born in Dubai in 1982.

Canadian singer Karl Wolf lived in Dubai between the ages of three and seventeen, and has since returned to perform in the UAE.[6]

Wissam Khodur, better known as the Syrian/Lebanese MC Eslam Jawaad, has been living in the UAE since 2011. In 2017 he appeared onstage with Gorillaz, having previously worked with bandleader Damon Albarn on The Good, the Bad & the Queen.[7]

Members of the psychedelic indie band Flamingods lived for a time in the UAE, and founder Kamal Rasool credits Dubai as a pivotal incubator and inspiration behind 2016's third album Majesty.[8]

In 2012 the UAE's only chain music retailer, Virgin Megastores, revealed a chart of the best-selling local acts to entertainment magazine Time Out Dubai.[9] Based on total sales of all combined releases, the list was nominally topped by Karl Wolf, with second and third places going to soul-pop quartet Abri and rock group Juliana Down - two of the first homegrown acts to achieve widespread recognition in the Emirates.

In 2015 this concept was repeated in The National, which compiled a list of Virgin's 20 best-selling local releases of the past five years,[10] as well as breaking the chart down by genre.[11] With Wolf this time deemed exempt, the list was topped by Juliana Down's 2011 album Empires (Abri's two albums were released earlier in 2008 and 2009), followed by house-pop duo SickAsSwans' debut These Words and Nigerian-born urban act Ash Hamman's self-titled debut.

A year later The National updated the chart looking specifically at the best-selling releases of the past 12 months, revealing metal act Svengali to be the best-seller with debut Theory of Mind.[12]

Among the best-known UAE acts internationally are metal band Nervecell.[13] Other hard rock and metal acts from the UAE to tour internationally include Anuryzm, E.Y.E.,[14] Point of View and Jay Wud,[15] who launched a fundraising campaign to finance sessions in Los Angeles for third album Transitions.[16]

In 2012 hard rock quintet Point of View launched their debut album Revolutionize the Revolutionary with a concert alongside Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, then a member of Guns N' Roses, who appeared onstage performing songs by both bands.[17] Thal later joined the band on a tour of India[18] and appeared onstage in Abu Dhabi wearing a "PoV" t-shirt.[19] Point of View's lead singer Nikhil Uzgare later branched out into Bollywood, recording a rock song as the theme to movie Iraada.[20]

Following the breakup of Abri, eponymous lead singer Hamdan Al-Abri released a self-titled EP before joining funk-rock band Bull Funk Zoo in 2012, alongside guitarist Assaad Lakkis.[21] He later formed the popular cover band Abri & Funk Radius alongside jazz musicians Rony and Elie Afif, which released its first original music in 2017, debuting the single Sunny Daze,[22] and was the only UAE act invited to perform at the alternative music festival Wasla.[23] Lakkis went on to lead Bull Funk Zoo solo.[24] In 2017 Al-Abri also unveiled new music as a member of trio Abri & the Dream Fleet, collaborating alongside producers Megadon Betamax and Adriano K on the album We Fly.[25] The latter had earlier produced a collection of South American folk songs and curated an accompanying remix disc featuring contributions from international producers, released in 2012 as A L.A.S..[26]

After a period of inactivity, in 2015 Juliana Down frontman Dia Hassan released a debut solo single What is Love?.[27] Juliana Down's former main songwriter and keyboardist Saleh Hamed began releasing music under the stage name "Dozenz"[1] including the album "After The Storm/Chasing The Muse" (originally titled "The Album") in 2021. Following the split of SickAwSwans, in the same year Clarita de Quiroz released her debut album Speak. Delete. Repeat.[28]

Formed in 2013,[29] house-pop duo Hollaphonic have received international attention in the press, recording fourth single Dangerous with guest vocals from British reality TV star Vince Kidd.[30]

Teenage pop singer Esther Eden enjoyed significant local exposure after being handpicked by British star Jessie J to guest onstage at 2014's Redfest DXB festival. Eden was later signed by Universal Music MENA and performed as a solo artist at the same festival a year later.[31]

In 2015 hip-hop trio The Recipe launched a well-received comeback with the single Death to Get Here.[32]

Behold The Locus released their second album 'Nations' in an online format during the summer of 2020.

Jazz and improvised music in the UAE[edit]

The UAE is also home to a small but productive collective of jazz musicians. Among the most celebrated is Lebanese pianist Tarek Yamani (whose third album Peninsular was premiered at the 2017 Abu Dhabi Festival)[33] and compatriots, drummer Rony Afif[34] and his brother Elie Afif.[35]

Jordanian oud player and guitarist Kamal Musallam has released eight albums to date, fusing jazz and Arabic influences, and is consistently ranked among the UAE's bestselling acts.[36] Musallam has performed with notable international musicians including Sting, Bobby McFerrin, Yo-Yo Ma, George Benson and Stanley Jordan and has recorded a full album with Billy Cobham under his project EastMania.[37] For 2009 album Lulu (a tribute to UAE heritage) he collaborated with Emirati folk group Sokoor Al Magabeel, as well as with Hamdan Al Abri and Rasha Rizk.

Notable releases[edit]

Below is an alphabetical list of UAE-based artists who have released original material commercially in the English language:

  • Abri - Albums: Sunchild (2008), Blank Notes (2009)[38]
  • Abri & the Dream Fleet - Album: We Fly (2017)[39]
  • Absolace - Albums: Resolve(d) (2010), Fractals (2012)[40]
  • Adriano K - Album: A L.A.S. (2012)[41]
  • ARS Trio - Album: Time (2015)[42]
  • Beat Antenna - EP: Half Now, Half Later (2009)[43]
  • Bee - Album: The Singles Era (2020)[44]
  • Behold the Locus – Albums: Behold the Locus (2010),[45] Nations (2020)
  • Benevolent – Album: The Covenant (2014)[46]
  • Bull Funk Zoo - Albums: Bull Funk Zoo (2013), Dangerous Radio (2016)[47]
  • Clarita de Quiroz - Album: Speak.Delete.Repeat (2015)[48]
  • Craig Perry - Album: Jigsaw Repeat (2016)[49]
  • DaVinci Park - Album: Overlooking Florence (2016)[50]
  • DD Foxx – Album: Had to Be Me (2012)[51]
  • Desert Heat - Album: When the Desert Speaks (2008)[52]
  • Dwight Dickerson – Album: Glimpses (2011)[53]
  • Elie Afif - Album: Giant Steps to Heaven (2011)[54]
  • Esther Eden - Album: Solitaire (2014)
  • E.Y.E. - Albums: Empty Yard Experiment (2011), Kallisti (2014)[55]
  • Fat Randall - EP: Keep it Down (2016)[56]
  • Hollaphonic - Album: Personal Space (2015),[57] EP: Stand Up (2020)
  • Ihab Darwish - Albums: Waves Of My Life (2018),[58] Hekayat: Symphonic Tales (2021), Symphony of Three: Peace, Love, Tolerance (2022)
  • Jay Wud - Albums: New Blood (2010), False Utopia (2012), Transitions (2017)[59]
  • Juliana Down - Albums: Cause and Affect (2006), Empires (2011)[60]
  • Kamal Musallam - Albums: On a Jordan River's Side (2003), Out of my City (2008), Lulu (2009), Songs for Seung-eun (2011), The Best of Kamal Musallam 1999-2011 (2012), Homemade in Rome (2014),[61] World Peace Trio (2017), Handmade in Hummus Land (2020)
  • Kicksound - EP: Kicksound (2015)[62]
  • Moh Flow - EP: Inspired (2014), Album: This is Yo(u) (2017)[63]
  • Moonshine - EP: Moonshine (2010)[64]
  • Muhaisnah Four - Album: A Memoir (2017)[65]
  • Naser Mestarihi - EP: Naser Mestarihi (2010), Albums: 1987 (2013), Praed Street (2016)
  • Nervecell - EP: Human Chaos (2004), Albums: Preaching Venom (2008), Psychogenocide (2011), Past, Present... Torture (2017)[66]
  • Nikotin - Album: Panodrama (2014)[67]
  • Palayan - Album: Metanoia (2017)[68]
  • Point of View - Album: Revolutionize the Revolutionary (2012)[69]
  • Rouba – Album: Mama’s Back (2013)[70]
  • Sandwash - Album: Master Blaster Hole (2010)[71]
  • Sho? - EP: I Don't Wanna Go (2010)[72]
  • SickAsSwans - Album: These Words (2012)[73]
  • Sun King[74] - Album: Lotus (2008)[75]
  • Svengali – EP: Unscathed (2014), Albums: Theory of Mind (2015),[76] Sayonara (2020)
  • The Boxtones - Albums: In the Pockets of Clowns (2014), Home (2016)[77]
  • The Gypsy Swing Project - Album: Paris-Dubai (2014)[78]
  • Tim Hassall - Albums: Oh Restless Heart (2010), Gallatin (2014)[79]
  • Universal Rogue - EP: Theory for all Seasons (2008)[80]
  • Vandalye - EP: From the Beginning (2016)[81]
  • Vin Sinners - Albums: An Element of Surprise (2011),[82] A Mighty Black Box (2014)[83]

Compilation albums[edit]

A number of compilation albums have been released independently, highlighting different genres of music from the UAE:

  • Ampulance Vol. 1 (2006), Vol. 2 (2007) and Vol. 3 (2009)[84] - Punk and alternative music
  • Desert Lounge Vol. 1 (2005), Vol. 2 (2007), Vol. 3 (2009) and Vol. 4 (2011) - Ambient and chill-out music
  • Ma'ana Vol. 1 (2015) and Vol. 2 (2016)[85] - Dance music and electronica
  • Metal Asylum Vol. 1 (2010) and Vol. 2 (2011)[86] - Hard rock and heavy metal
  • United Assault (2015)[87] - Hardcore punk and extreme metal

See also[edit]


  • Badley, Bill. "Sounds of the Arabian Peninsula". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 351–354. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Maho M. Sebiane, « Le statut socio-économique de la pratique musicale aux Émirats arabes unis : la tradition du leiwah à Dubai », Chroniques yéménites, 14, Numéro 14, 2007.
  1. ^ "Emirati composer Mohammed Fairouz dazzles New York City's Carenegie Hall". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  2. ^ "How Emirati composer Ihab Darwish used Zoom to conduct National Day anthem for the Palm Fountain". The National. 2020-12-02. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  4. ^ Saeed, Saeed (2023-01-06). "How the Abrahamic Family House inspired an epic symphony of peace, love and tolerance". The National. Retrieved 2023-02-10.
  5. ^ Saeed, Saeed (2022-07-01). "Emirati composer Ihab Darwish on why historic vote at Grammys is win for Mena music". The National. Retrieved 2022-07-01.
  6. ^ "Karl Wolf in Dubai". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  7. ^ "Damon Albarn's Arabic rapper of choice is set to reprise a link founded in Syria". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  8. ^ "Flamingods' Kamal Rasool credits Dubai for inspiring new album Majesty". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  9. ^ "10 best-selling UAE acts ever". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  10. ^ "The top 20 best-selling albums by UAE artists since 2010". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  11. ^ "A look at the UAE music scene and the 20 best-selling albums by local artists since 2010". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  12. ^ "Revealed: The best selling UAE acts". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  13. ^ "UAE metal titans Nervecell reveal details of long-awaited third album". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  14. ^ "Empty Yard Experiment kick off UK tour". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  15. ^ "jaywud | TOUR". jaywud. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  16. ^ "Jay Wud get ready to rock on their own terms". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  17. ^ "Guns N' Roses' Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal in Dubai". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  18. ^ "Guns N' Roses' Bumblefoot interview". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  19. ^ "A decade of adoration for Guns N' Roses in the UAE". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  20. ^ "Dubai rocker Nikhil Uzgare records official theme song for Bollywood movie Iraada". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  21. ^ "Bull Funk Zoo in Dubai". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  22. ^ "UAE super-group Abri & Funk Radius unveil first single Sunny Daze". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  23. ^ "Why UAE-based acts Gaya, Funk Radius, The Recipe, and more are finding it harder to breakthrough to mainstream". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  24. ^ "'Bona fide veterans of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix' Bull Funk Zoo on performing at Beats on the Beach". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  25. ^ "UAE super-group Abri & the Dreamfleet take flight with debut single". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  26. ^ "Talking tango and beats with Adriano K". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  27. ^ "Juliana Down assure fans the show will go on". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  28. ^ "Musician Clarita de Quiroz on how fate led her to Dubai, love and an album deal". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  29. ^ "Fast and loose with Hollaphonic". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  30. ^ "Hollaphonic on Dubai show: 'hopefully it will inspire more local talent to make their own music'". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  31. ^ "Dubai teenager Esther Eden balances school with promising music career". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  32. ^ "Hip-hop trio The Recipe are back after a three-year hiatus with a new single". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  33. ^ "Review: Jazz-meets-Khaleeji rhythms in Tarek Yamani's new album Peninsular, premiered at Abu Dhabi Festival". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  34. ^ "Jazz group Rony Afif 4tet keep it real with album performance in Dubai". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  35. ^ "Elie Afif interview". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  36. ^ "10 best-selling UAE acts ever". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  37. ^ "Kamal Musallam on playing with Sting, meeting John McLaughlin, and a whirlwind two years". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  38. ^ Abri - official website
  39. ^ "UAE super-group Abri & the Dreamfleet take flight with debut single". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  40. ^ "Absolace: Fractals – A record full of Middle Eastern promise". Prog magazine. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  41. ^ "Talking tango and beats with Adriano K". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  42. ^ "Three of UAE's best in jazz come together to form ARS Trio". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  43. ^ "Beat Antenna launch EP". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2009-03-09.
  44. ^ "Why Ibrahim Khemeiri decided the pandemic was the perfect time to launch a music career". The National. Retrieved 2020-12-31.
  45. ^ "A look at the UAE music scene and the 20 best-selling albums by local artists since 2010". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  46. ^ "A look at the UAE music scene and the 20 best-selling albums by local artists since 2010". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  47. ^ "'Bona fide veterans of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix' Bull Funk Zoo on performing at Beats on the Beach". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  48. ^ "Musician Clarita de Quiroz on how fate led her to Dubai, love and an album deal". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  49. ^ "Dubai musician Craig Perry's journey from Street to Stage competition to studio for A-listers and beyond". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  50. ^ "Abbo Abbondandolo – from a solo artist to the lead vocalist of rock group DaVinci Park". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  51. ^ "DD Foxx Layal Halabi in Dubai". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  52. ^ Desert Heat - official website
  53. ^ "A look at the UAE music scene and the 20 best-selling albums by local artists since 2010". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  54. ^ "Elie Afif interview". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  55. ^ E.Y.E. - official website Archived 2013-10-17 at the Wayback Machine
  56. ^ "Dubai rockers Fat Randall move with the times to keep spirit of punk alive". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  57. ^ "Hollaphonic, Personal Space". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  58. ^ "Ihab Darwish to debut song at Emirates Palace". Gulf News. Retrieved 2018-02-01.
  59. ^ "Jay Wud - Transitions album review". Metal Hammer. Retrieved 2017-05-27.
  60. ^ "Juliana Down: Dubai's rising musical stars". The National. Retrieved 2011-07-22.
  61. ^ "The UAE's hottest new music". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  62. ^ "Album review - Kicksound - Kicksound". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  63. ^ "How Dubai-based Moh Flow, a former rapper, found his true voice as a singer-songwriter". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  64. ^ Moonshine - official website
  65. ^ "Filipino musician Cromwell Ojeda on what motivates him, his latest project Muhaisnah Four, and performing at D3". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  66. ^ "UAE death metal group Nervecell take their dark fury to the world". The National. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  67. ^ "Dubai rock band Nikotin launch debut album". Gulf News. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
  68. ^ "The sound of catharsis". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  69. ^ "Point of View - Dubai rockers on release of debut album 'Revolutionize the Revolutionary'". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
  70. ^ "A look at the UAE music scene and the 20 best-selling albums by local artists since 2010". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  71. ^ "About as rock 'n' roll as Dubai gets". The National. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  72. ^ Sho? - official website
  73. ^ "SickasSwans interview". Time Out Abu Dhabi. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  74. ^ "Sun King wins HP music contest". Trade Arabia - Business News Information. Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  75. ^ "Recording an album". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2008-12-15.
  76. ^ "Heavy metal band Svengali is creating a buzz with their music". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  77. ^ "Meet The Boxtones". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  78. ^ "The UAE's hottest new music". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  79. ^ "Tim Hassall – Gallatin album review". Time Out Dubai. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  80. ^ Time Out magazine article about Universal Rogue (25.08.2008)
  81. ^ "Indie-folk trio Vandalye on their rise in the UAE's music scene". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  82. ^ Vin Sinners - official website
  83. ^ "Dubai-based rock band Vin Sinners sign to Universal". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  84. ^ Time Out magazine review of Ampulance Vol. 3 compilation album (19.01.2009)
  85. ^ Online review of Ma'ana Vol. 2 compilation album (25.04.2016)
  86. ^ The National newspaper review of Metal Asylum Vol. 2 compilation album (03.01.2012)
  87. ^ Online review of United Assault compilation album (25.11.2015)