How Autostrad became the indie ambassadors of Jordanian culture and music

To call Autostrad an indie act would be squarely underselling the point – in the band's worldly palette one detects wistful Arabian melodies, deep reggae grooves, spacey electronica and a politicised, rock n' roll intent alike.

Jordanian band Autostrad. Courtesy Step Music

To describe Autostrad as an indie act is to undersell them – in the band’s worldly palette one can detect wistful Arabian melodies, deep reggae grooves, spacey electronica and a politicised rock ’n’ roll intent.

The Jordanian trailblazers will make their biggest UAE appearance to date on Friday (March 7), at Step Music, the inaugural regional music showcase.

Formed in 2007, the sextet, claim to be the first indie act to perform in Jordanian Arabic, and were underground icons before today’s burgeoning Middle Eastern indie scene developed.

Almost four years have passed since their last album, Nitrogen, and they have performed infrequently in the past two years – but Autostrad are anything but winding down, with two new LPs due for release this year.

The first is a fourth artist album, titled Analogue, which promises to push the band's genre-straddling sound in even braver directions.

“The whole idea of this album is to be a wake-up call to the youth of the Arab world,” says Abdellah Aboulhamid, the band’s manager and English- language spokesman.

“The lyrics are a metaphorical story that’s being told to a young man – [who is] metaphorically all the Arab youth – about how we need to be one, to work together, to let go of all the bad habits, the laziness that is such a common thing to see in the Arab world. To go and do something, work hard, go forward in whatever you’re doing – believe in yourself.”

The second release is set to be even more ambitious. The result of two years spent travelling across Jordan, Expansions to the Governorates features collaborations with more than a dozen compatriots playing traditional Jordanian music and instruments.

All of the guest musicians were brought to Amman for an experimental two-month artistic residency, where they worked to compose and arrange material alongside members of Autostrad.

The project will be released in Jordan this year, with a worldwide release in 2018.

“The objective with this is for people, whether they’re Jordanian or Arab or from around the world, to know about Jordanian culture and music that is unknown even to Jordanians inside Jordan,” says Aboulhamid.

While Autostrad are looking to the past for fresh inspiration, they remain committed to championing the Middle East’s indie scene, which is being showcased this weekend by Step Music.

The band’s colloquial catchphrase is “Agwa no3” – meaning “the best kind” – and the optimism they hold for their peers is palpable.

“More music exists, more bands exist – more people are doing music, and even the people who were doing music before didn’t have any spaces to be heard,” says Aboulhamid.

“Even the corporations are going this way – many big record labels are trying to find more independent artists.

“It will continue to grow. We see now a lot of Middle Eastern and North African bands being represented heavily in Europe and the United States. The world is a big place, and if anything bad happens to the music industry somewhere, there is always another place to go to. There is always a [market] for it – and it is increasing.”