Soul singer Layla Kardan on residency at Quincy Jones's Dubai jazz spot: 'We are in the spotlight’

The Dubai artist is readying the release of a new EP

Layla Kardan performs at Q's Bar and Lounge. Courtesy Palazzo Versace
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From the moment you step into Qs Bar and Lounge, you know you are in the hands of a master.

From the dim lighting scheme and mahogany brown leather couches to the southern inspired cuisine on the menu, everything is curated by the music mogul Quincy Jones.

This is also true to what happens on stage.

For the last three years, the venue at Dubai’s Palazzo Versace has seen performances by some of the hottest underground jazz and soul music acts from the US.

This is what makes Layla Kardan's residency a landmark for the UAE music scene.

With the pandemic upending the US travel industry, the venue's management team looked closer to home for an act ahead of reopening the venue at limited capacity. With a three-month Thursday night residency underway, Kardan is back in her element.

"It is definitely a fantastic opportunity and an honour, to not only play there but just to be out performing," Kardan tells The National. "I have missed the stage so much because, for me, it was always a place where I can release whatever tension I have. To not be able to do that for months really affected me when it came to my mental health."

Songs of detachment

To lift her spirits, Kardan did the next best thing by working on a collection of songs that would form her upcoming EP, Abscission. Recently released lead single You is a synth driven RnB number which has Kardan's sultry vocals paired with taut beats and shuddering bass lines. Accompanied by a moody nocturnal video shot in a desert location on Dubai's outskirts, the lyrics, explore some of the shackles that comes with a careening relationship.

It is a subject in line with the overall theme of the EP.

“I lay out in the title; abscission, is the process of releasing organisms that don’t really serve the original plant,” she says. “Each songs examines that from an emotional standpoint and how we have to, at times, detach and let go of things that are not healthy for us. Just doing this project during the pandemic when I was at home was really helpful. I am really grateful for that.”

That said, don’t expect Kardan to be dropping the new tunes among her three sets on Thursday.

With her three piece backing band, she will deliver a crowd friendly set full of standards by the likes of Nina Simone and Nancy Sinatra as well as some quirky lounge remakes of pop hits Oops!... I Did It Again by Britney Spears and Lil Nas X's Old Town Road.

“I want to honour the fact that we are at a great jazz club so I want to keep the music playful and nostalgic,” she says. “While the songs maybe well known and loved, they are all our original takes of it. We don’t it want to seem like it’s some kind of karaoke night.”

UAE acts time to shine

The residency is part of a flurry of music activity for Kardan, which also includes headlining next month's music festival Breakout DXB at Downtown Dubai.

With the pandemic forcing event organisers to seek the talents of UAE music acts, Kardan says the local scene has a great chance to not only thrive, but show sections of the public what they have taken for granted for years.

“A lot of the time people just want to see the next big pop star from overseas. Look, I get that, but there are also some amazing hard working artists here too,” she says. “I am not going to say that everything will change because of this. The big concerts will return and people will go to them but at least for now, we are in the spotlight and we can show people what we can do.”

Layla Kardan performs at Q’s Bar and Lounge at Palazzo Versace Dubai, every Thursday. Doors are open from 7pm. Minimum spend Dh350. For reservations, call 04 556 8888 or email