Warmer bureaucratic climate would heat up Dubai live rock music scene

By Nancy Collisson

Blooming where you’re planted is brutal in desert sands. Just ask any thirsty musician in Dubai who’s singing for his or her supper.

The world over, broke train-station buskers prove this time-worn tale, so why should the ones in The Center of Now enjoy a different fate?

Well, according to UAE law, not only shouldn’t they, they can’t, because busking or singing without a license in even licensed establishments is illegal.

The obvious step for a future world-class rock star in the emirate (and there are some!) would be to bang on the door of a bar manager and beg for a gig.

But such requests are too often met with a sorry, but get your axe out of here and beat it.

Managers of bars, located in approving 3-star hotels and up, in Dubai, who might find a cost benefit to hiring performers at their $12-a-beer venues, must apply for a license to hire musical talent from the Dubai Department of Economic Development.

That fee is approximately $600 a month, per performer. So, while a solo artist may seem like a fair investment, said manager might hedge that investment against a regular crowd who might get tired of the same act. And a duo, a trio or a band had better be so good that your business keeps attracting newcomers, because if that group becomes a drag, then they’re just sucking funds not easily compensated for by loyal head-banging boozers.

The streets of Dubai, though beautiful, aren’t paved with champagne and roses – as many around the world fantasize. They’re actually pretty mean, especially for performers.

And those who want to hear raw – especially rock and roll – talent, aren’t typically among the moneyed set who can afford to shell out for it. A crowd of twenty or so chewing a bar’s nuts and nursing a couple of beers during a three-hour set won’t make any manager rich.

Presently, a half dozen Dubai pubs offer open mic nights once a week, which at least leaves the authentic live-music starved a bit happy.

In the end – this dead end of rock in Dubai – the same types who appreciate the rare desert rose will be stunned if they’re able to spot the likes of guitar phenom Alaa Faqir, composer-singer Kevin Nash, soulful saxophonist Julia Jane Stead, or consummate rocker Harris Dio Smith, but, such massive authentic talents ARE around.

Until Dubai’s regulatory sand stops being kicked over the likes of these and other highly talented hungry musicians, only a lucky few in this town will be able to find and enjoy the phenomenal level of cool raw talent these world-class artists generously share.


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