DUBAI // Gayathri Krishnan, who sings her own haunting melodies in Hindi, Tamil and English and strums on a guitar she taught herself to play, is at the cutting edge of the country's emerging music scene.
She contributed songs to the score for the Emirati film City of Life, played at Dubai Sound City, and last November was named by the regional edition of Harper's Bazaar magazine as a musician to watch in the Emirates. Now she has teamed up with the UAE Philharmonic Orchestra to put on a concert some are calling the first of its kind. In November - a venue and date have yet to be announced - the orchestra will accompany Krishnan for a fusion show, featuring only artists based in the UAE.
Called Movement: A Musical Menagerie, it will combine Ms Krishnan's songs, which are clearly influenced by her South Indian roots, with the classical sounds of the 55-piece orchestra. She will be accompanied by an eight-member choir which will create live percussion, a beat boxer - the Dubai-based Richie "Hirabeat" Hiranandani - who mimics synthesisers, and a DJ, Dubai's Lucky Schild, who will amplify and play back some of the sounds.
Also on this crowded stage will be a harpist and an improvisational jazz artist who plays the upright double bass. The idea is to give local musicians the chance to reach a wider audience, said Krishnan, 25. "As much as the scene here has grown in the last few years there is still a barrier that local artists struggle to get past. We are always the opening acts; we're always waiting in the wings. There's so much talent here but nobody really supports it. It's like banging your head against the wall."
Rather than repeatedly flying international acts to the UAE to perform, Krishnan said music promoters should be looking closer to home. Born in Chennai, she grew up in Dubai and spent much of her time after graduating from university trying to make a name for herself in the UAE. She made several appearances at Dubai Lime's open mic nights every other month and, seeking more live performance opportunities, travelled to London and Paris to play at similar open mic events.
After achieving some success last year, when she recorded an EP called Disengage, she came up with the idea of reworking some of her songs, usually acoustic compositions, to fit the dramatic sounds of a symphony orchestra. "The kind of music I make is very simple," she said. "It starts with guitar and vocals and then I add layers of strings and other instruments. I realised there was orchestral potential and I wanted to expand the sound."
Two months ago she approached Philipp Maier, the conductor and artistic director who founded the UAE Philharmonic Orchestra in 2006, and proposed her idea. He was immediately receptive. "Considering the extremely multicultural society in the UAE, a project like this is perfectly suited for attracting multifaceted audiences and showcasing the many different musical levels an orchestra can be involved in," he said.
It was "urgently necessary", he said, for the UAE to create its own musical identity. "We cannot only have an imported music scene, it needs to be able to showcase and nurture local resident talent, which is so abundant in the country." The team is planning two 90-minute shows in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Maier is working on attracting funding. "Since the orchestra still does not receive any form of support, the realisation of this project relies heavily on extensive support from various entities," he said. "I really believe that this is a unique opportunity for anyone truly interested in the cultural life in the country."
Reiner Erlings, the producer who is working on the musical arrangements, said the show would be the first of its kind. "This type of concert has not been done before in the Middle East," Erlings said. "It will bring two musical traditions together in a unique way. Gayathri's music, visionary and experimental, is full of big crescendos and minimalist stages, lending itself to the classical music the orchestra are used to playing. It will appeal to all music lovers."
This will not be the first time Maier has fostered cultural crossover. In 2007, he hosted a Mozart concert with the Australian Jazz Quartet and in January this year he directed a rock-meets-classics festival in his native Germany. He said he had always believed in showcasing the orchestra outside of its usual realm and the UAE was the perfect place to do it. "Where else but in the UAE do we have the possibility of such a strong and multicultural society and artists getting involved in unusual musical projects?" Maier asked.
Visual backdrops and videos to accompany the show will be designed by a Dubai-based artist, Diya Ajit. "This was made in the UAE, for the people of the UAE, and if you compare it to the run-of-the mill acts that we often see on stages here," Erlings said, "then it is something completely different." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org