The Wasla Festival is a UAE good news story.
Here is a homegrown event created by local music promoters prepared to look beyond the usual. Where the Arab world's vibrant indie-scene has been perennially overlooked – except for the odd brand promotion gig – for the usual array of pop-stars and heritage acts, promoters have since rightly assumed there is a hunger for the more-edgier and esoteric sounds emanating from the region.
Where major Arab pop concerts cater mostly for families and the older generation keen to hear the hits of their youth or from respective homelands, Wasla is a part of a growing number of regional music events tailor-made for the new social media generation of Arab music lovers.
The music is edgier and more global in scope, yet deeply rooted in the region due to the evocative and poetic word play.
This isn’t the “habibi” laden pop fluff that’s one your television and radio. Instead, they are the social media shareable sounds and stories representing the youth of the region and the diaspora.
From the inaugural event in 2016 at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, the festival has gradually expanded its line-up and audience and returns this weekend for the biggest edition yet. A clear indication of its success is also the fact that influential music touring and events company Live Nation, through its Middle East and North African branch, has joined the party this year.
It's also broadened in scope this year. Wasla 2019 was postponed a month as two new headline acts were added, while Ayloul are no longer part of the line-up.
After the relatively successful experiment of holding the previous Wasla Festival at Dubai Design District, Friday's shows will now be at the more central Burj Park in Dubai Downtown.
The five acts headlining the latest event range from those at the cusp of becoming bonafide international touring acts, to those creating a buzz in the regional indie-music scene. Here's a look at who is coming our way.
Roughly translated in English as "Leila's Project", the Lebanese group can be considered as ambassadors of the burgeoning new music sound of the Middle East.
The band's restless creative spirit have them mixing disparate styles, ranging from angular guitar riffs and synthesisers to drum machines and loops with atmospheric and sometimes satirical lyrics highlighting the nuances and quirks of Lebanese society. They return to Dubai to play new songs from their upcoming fourth album The Beirut School.
If you come to Wasla having not heard of 47 Soul, that's a good thing, as the Palestinian band's sheer urgency and passion is best experienced live and with full volume.
Over the space of six years, the group's tantalising marriage of traditional Palestinian music with club sounds – they describe their genre as "electro-dabke" – has earned them a huge diaspora fanbase across Europe, and gifted them a slot performing at the UK's Glastonbury Festival in 2016. After selling out the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre last year, 47 Soul return to the UAE for their biggest show yet.
To describe Cairokee as Egypt's Coldplay is misleading. Sure, they use the same shimmering guitar arpeggios and hushed vocals that made the UK band superstars, but Cairokee is made of tougher stuff. The five-piece may have been kicking around as early as 2003 but they rose to regional and international prominence courtesy of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
Their song Ya El Midan, which featured fellow Egyptian singer Aida El Ayoubi, became one of a string of protest anthems that emerged from the momentous period. They released six albums since with the latest, Abna'a Albuta So'da (The Ugly Ducklings), another solid collection of atmospheric Arabic rock.
With Jordan's El Morabba3 being hailed as the new Mashrou' Leila, it will be interesting to see how these two bands will get along in Dubai this weekend.
The two groups may be similar in that they possess a certain lyrical flair, but El Morabba3 ("The Square" in English) has a less flamboyant, yet intense post-rock sound. The songs from their 2017 debut self-titled album are dark and hazy, telling tales of an ambivalent society living in turbulent times.
After operating for more than a decade and releasing five albums, the Egyptian four piece are keen to evolve from being national favourites, to a group of regional standing.
Their latest release, 2019's El Album, may continue their pleasing blend of Arabic pop blended with jazz and rock, but it is their most ambitious in scope – they shot videos for all ten songs which can be streamed on their YouTube channel.
Wasla Festival takes placeon April 5 at Burj Park, Downtown Dubai. Doors open at 11am, with music performances from 3pm. Tickets are Dh195 from www.ticketmaster.ae