Saudi singer Tamtam on building bridges with the West through music: 'It doesn’t need translation'

The musician performs as part of Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan concert series

Saudi singer Tamtam aims to change perceptions through her work. Abu Dhabi Festival
Saudi singer Tamtam aims to change perceptions through her work. Abu Dhabi Festival

It wasn’t so long ago an Arab RnB artist would seriously consider moving to the US or Europe to kickstart their career.

However, with the regional music scene evolving over the years, from holding top notch events to being home to professional recording studios, that calculus is changing as more western pop acts record and shoot music videos in the UAE and across the wider Arab world.

Joining in on the act in recent years is Saudi Arabia.

The thrilling and rapid expansion of its arts and entertainment sector not only positioned the kingdom as a leading cultural hub, but exposed a vibrant and tightly knit music community formerly working underground.

An emerging scene in Saudi Arabia

Getting a first-hand look at the development is Tamtam.

The Saudi soul singer spends her time between Riyadh with family and Los Angeles working on her music career.

The latter yielded a strong collection of vibrant RnB tracks collected over two EPs, 2017's Identify Myself and 2019's Rough Around the Edges.

With the pandemic upending the US music industry, Tamtam returned to Riyadh last year to lay low until it was safe to return.

As it turned out, being back in Saudi is no longer just a holiday.

The thriving music scene at home meant Tamtam can pick up where she left off.

“A lot of the time, you go to these amazing cities like Los Angeles and Paris not just to record and collaborate, but to meet fellow musicians, connect and share experiences,” she says.

“I can now do that here in Saudi because there are so many different and amazing artists here, from classical Arabic poets to singers and rappers.

“All of these are here in my home in Saudi and that has just been really inspiring."

Tamtam provides a taste of that eclectic scene with a coming concert as part of Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan concert series.

Streamed on the festival’s social media channels on Monday, Tamtam, on piano, and a violinist will present compositions featuring classic Arabic poems and reworked versions of original works.

The latter includes her most well-known single Rise, a 2018 release with over one million views on YouTube.

"It has been exciting as well as challenge," she says of the pre-recorded show.

"We incorporated a lot of different elements into these songs. I was writing melodies to these great works of Arabic poetry, this is something I am not used to and some people may not expect of me."

Building bridges

Then again, challenging expectations is something Tamtam is used to ever since the first recording session in Los Angeles six years ago.

"At the beginning the people I met were always shocked that I was singer from Saudi Arabia. They wondered how I found this love for what I do considering there weren't a lot of musical opportunities back home at the time," she says.

"But fortunately things have been changing, there are events in Saudi Arabia now and the music industry over in the US are more aware of what's happening over there."

It’s for this reason Tamtam intends to continue dividing her time between Riyadh and the US once it’s safe to do so.

She encourages fellow Saudi artists to travel abroad and seek collaboration with peers.

“Art really has a way of breaking down any barriers and misconceptions,” she says. "And this is what I love about music is that it doesn’t need translation.

“I love the fact that over the past six years I was there, I was able through my music, in my own small way, helped change perceptions of the Middle East and Saudi Arabia. That is very satisfying.”

Tamtam performs as part of Abu Dhabi Festival's Ramadan series on Monday at 9.30pm. Concerts will be streamed on the Abu Dhabi Festival social media channels including YouTube.

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Read more:

Why Nasser Al Qasabi believes Saudi Arabia will be leading the region's film and TV scene within 20 years

Ahmad Al Shugairi’s new show 'Seen' charts Saudi Arabia’s rapid transformation

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Updated: April 26, 2021 01:23 PM

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