Amidst the towering skyscrapers, man-made islands and luxury resort hotels, Dubai is full of festivities, entertainment and music. Music is in Dubai’s pulse. This musical sojourn continues throughout the year but is specifically highlighted during the several festivals that occur during the year. Two of the largest ‘Jazz’ inspired festivals include Blended and the Dubai Jazz Festival. Although great events in themselves the artist line-ups certainly indicate the misinformed perception of Jazz in the region, with the term ‘Jazz’ being used as a marketing tool for a variety of styles. That being said such festival’s success highlight the growing interest in live music amongst a city saturated with glamorous nightclubs and lounges focused on Dance and other Electronic music forms.
Since its inception in 2003, the Dubai Jazz Festival in Dubai has become a signature of the cities entertainment scene. As this annual event has grown significantly in popularity, the city remains prepared to accommodate the large international tourist demographic including the resident expatriate community. The concept behind the festival was to fill a gap in the local market and introduce Jazz Music to larger audiences who are not accustomed with this genre. Although branded as a ‘Jazz Festival’ the notion, ‘Much More Than Jazz,’ a theme coined by the organizers is a more appropriate summary of the yearly artist line-ups. Showcased artists range from Jazz, Soul, Funk and Rnb groups to Rock, Acid, Blues, Fusion and Pop.
So, after these 12 years, has the concept behind the festival clicked? Does the population of Dubai now appreciate Jazz Music? It seems the initiative to familiarize Jazz to the diverse popularity through this festival has somewhat highlighted several interesting aspects of Dubai audiences. The first and most encouraging is that UAE audiences enjoy and crave live musical entertainment. The second is that they’re still not quite aware of what Jazz really is all about. Although many of Dubai’s pubs, wine bars, restaurants, wedding venues and corporate events reverberate with some great live Jazz Music there is still along way to go for Dubai if it wishes to compare itself to cities like New York, New Orleans, Montreal and Paris.
Dubai Audiences have certainly changed within the last decade and there is without a doubt a growing demand for authentic, talented high quality live music in region. The young crowd, more familiar with club music now sincerely are interested in a night out accompanied by some Jazz, Funk or Soul. There are only a few venues around for this sort of interaction, including Blue Bar, Oneo Wine Bar and the recent Jazz Pizza Express where regular tuesday Jam Sessions occur. Unfortunately the lack of venues sincerely invested in thriving Jazz and live music poses an issue for local musicians and audiences craving a flourishing scene.
Great musicians either solo or with bands, grace Dubai with their talent and have subsequently contributed to conveying the reality of this music genre to a wider audience. One interesting reality concerning live entertainment in the UAE is the need for Government performance licenses. A music license you ask? Sounds odd but yes indeed that is the reality and these licenses can come at a hefty costs to venues interested in showcasing either local or international acts. Subsequently this makes bookings of solo artists more common, due to the reduced costs and slightly impedes the spirit of collaboration and mutual improvisation core to Jazz. Even so there still continues a hunger for Jazz bands and larger ensembles and the generally the larger more pricey establishments can afford to spot these costs. Audiences usually are not charged for the entertainment only for their meals and drinks, an attractive offer that satisfies both venues and clients. More of these venues are emerging as places to satisfy the hunger for free music and are significant contributors to the popularity of Jazz music in Dubai.
Fair and more often then not substantial fees for musicians encourage them to continue their art and on a monthly basis more new talent arrives in the desert to chase what seems like an oasis of opportunity when compared to other musically competitive regions like Europe and the USA. Subsequently the array of different musical nationalities is vast with artists resident from England, USA, Australia, Canada, Spain, France, Russia, Moldova, Belarus, Mauritius, Lebanon, Iran, India, Sri Lanka and other diverse locations. They all bring their own inspired interpretations to the table that makes for an electric and entertaining array of musical mash-ups.
So where can the Jazz Music Scene go from here? The beauty of Dubai in regards to entertainment lies in its diverse demographic of expatriates and tourists engaged in the local nightlife. Since generally residents in Dubai have more of a disposable income, compared to if they were in their home countries it is not uncommon for them to regularly eat out at restaurants, visit bars and clubs and attend concerts and events. The bottom line is, they work hard and when they get the chance, they want some down time and entertainment. With the advent of the Dubai 2020 Expo the city has begun further expansion and development in preparation. The possibility for more live music venues interested in supporting and showcasing local Jazz has never been more then now. The city desires more quality music and with the international Jazz musicians flocking to the UAE there is no reason why quality live Jazz can’t thrive. With the Government now officering reduced ‘special’ entertainment licensing for pursuits that encourage cultural development and diversity its looking good for live music in Dubai.
The reality is Dubai is developing. As the roads are built, buildings get higher and more luxury hotels arrive there is a cultural evolution occurring. Dubai may not yet be the epicentre of Jazz in the world but it is without a doubt the epicentre of Jazz in the Middle East.