Soundtrack to my life: 5 songs that influenced NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre artistic director Bill Bragin

From Kiss to Shirley Horn, NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre artistic director Bill Bragin discuss the songs that struck a chord with him

NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre artistic director Bill Bragin talks to us about the songs that shaped his life. Picture courtesy of NYU Abu Dhabi Ars Centre
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Evocative concerts will be the mainstay of the capital for the next six months with the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre kicking off its fourth season of performances. True to its motto, “Come curious, leave inspired,” the programme is once again bringing a diversity of international artists who will grace the stage with various styles of music including jazz, Afrobeat, electro and “east African retro-pop.” With such a mix on offer, what songs inspire the Centre’s artistic director Bill Bragin?

A song that reminds me of my childhood: ‘Detroit Rock City’ by Kiss

I was about 12 years old when I heard Detroit Rock City live on stage. That was at the Nassau Coliseum and that was part of Kiss's Dynasty Tour. They were one of the greatest live bands at the time. I still remember the theatricality, the over the top-ness and Ace Frehley had this Lucite or Plexiglass kind of transparent guitar that had lights in it. You also had all the ridiculousness of Gene Simmons with all of his fire-spitting, and there was this rock 'n' roll atmosphere and the sense of what it means to have 15,000 to 20,000 people together sharing this collective experience. That was super-powerful.

A song that made me want to begin a career in performing arts: ‘Rios, Pontes and Overdrives’ by Chico Science

Chico Science were a super-influential cult band who formed in northeastern Brazil. They mixed regional rhythms with hip-hop, speed-metal, hard-core, punk and later jungle, electronic and dub music. I brought them to SummerStage Music Festival in New York more than 20 years ago. The thing about this group is that even in Brazil they were viewed as a cult band. But when they came and played at SummerStage, the impact of that show in New York, and the response to it back home in Brazil, completely transformed their profile. It made me realise that to work internationally could have really incredible reverberations around the world.

A song that I wish I could have written: ‘Alison’ by Elvis Costello 

It’s one of those songs that cuts through to this very emotional place. The narrative is ambiguous, so you can sort of imagine your own personal situation into it. It evokes these moments of heartbreak and unrequited love and regret, and it does so with great wordplay and melody.

A song that makes me cry: ‘Where Do You Start?’ by Shirley Horn

Horn is one of my all-time favourite singers. Her voice is so pure and her ability to convey a lyric is as good as anyone who ever sung a note. Where Do You Start? is fundamentally a break-up song and it has these lines that say "Which books are yours?/ Which tapes and dreams belong to you and which are mine?/ Our lives are tangled like the branches of a vine, that intertwine". I also saw Shirley sing it shortly before she died. She had diabetes, one of her feet had been amputated, and she was also very clearly nearing the end of her life. So when she sang that song, it also took on this other meaning about how you prepare for death and where you start taking accounts of your life? And in every way, that song, to me, is one of the most beautiful, sad songs ever written and performed.

A song that is a guilty pleasure: ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ by The Weeknd

I don't feel guilty about a great pop song. I have to say that as many times as I hear The Weeknd's I Can't Feel My Face, I respond to it every time. I still don't turn off Ed Sheeran's Shape of You, either. Also, Work by Rihanna is so deeply embedded in my head that the chorus "Work, work, work, work, work," just comes out sometimes.

For the full list of shows for the 2018-2019 season, go to


Read more:

Soundtrack to my life: 5 songs that influenced former Chicago frontman Bill Champlain

Soundtrack to my life: 5 songs that influenced ballet star Mara Galeazzi

Soundtrack to my life: 5 songs that influenced French classical music artist Paul Meyer