It's not about how good you are, it's about what you're saying. That is the Jordanian music ethos, according to Autostrad vocalist and guitarist Yazan Al Rousan. The veteran indie-rock group, viewed as leaders of the country's healthy rock community, say their penchant for direct, politically laced lyrics is more to do with location than inspiration.
"The thing is you need to realise where we are living," Al Rousan says. "We live by the River Jordan, with Palestine relatively close by. It's a small and very sensitive area geographically. When you come from a such a place, there is no room for wishy-washy lyrics. The artists and bands here are direct and not scared to tell you what they think."
From the synth and Arabic folk mash-up of El Morabba3 to the ethereal world music of Tarabband (who performed on Abu Dhabi's Corniche as part of New Year's Eve celebrations), the Jordanian indie scene is brimming with artists unbridled in creativity and those willing to challenge listeners with innovative projects. Autostrad, who play at Wasla at Dubai Design District on Friday, are no different.
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Since forming in 2007, the sextet have built a dedicated following via their taut live shows and trio of albums, including powerful 2013 release Nitrogen, which was home to indie hit Khalas.
Al Rousan confirms that the band are now back in the studio to record a new album, titled Analog. True to form, they are tackling big issues such as technology and youth disenfranchisement across the region in their new work.
"A lot of these songs come from experience. It's not about studying something to make a point," he says. "We are living in an interesting time in the region, and we have to pay attention and work hard in what we do."
Debuting some of these new songs at Wasla is a useful exercise for the band, because they never set out to polish their sound in the studio – energy is key to Autostrad gigs.
“That’s where our strength lies, and we want to bring that energy into the studio and capture the spirit of the live performances,” Al Rousan says. “What is different now is that we have more experience. We are comfortable in the studio and we work well together when we are recording. A lot of that is because we tour regularly and enjoy playing in front of different crowds.”
But music hasn't necessarily been the main focus during all of their shows. Autostrad's decision to engage in a 2013 Palestinian tour, with stops in Golan Heights, Nazareth, Haifa, Ramallah and Jerusalem's Old City, caused controversy at home, with political activists, accusing the group of flouting the cultural boycott of Israel.
Al Rousan stands firm on the group's endeavour: "Why shouldn't I go to Al Quds [Jerusalem] or Haifa?," he asks. "Also, we are not going to these cities as visitors. In Jordan, nearly every family has members, like fathers or mothers, who come from Palestine. And if you go back, we shared a lot of the same area. So as a resident of Amman, I have every right to swim in the sea of Haifa – that is one of the closest coasts. But the situation of the occupation has made these things difficult and complicated. I don't look at it as breaking the boycott. As a band, we rented the venue and sound systems from Arabs, and we played in an Arab city in front of Arab youth – so in that sense, I don't understand the criticism to be honest."
With the group's fan base established within the region, Al Rousan says there is no reason why the band shouldn't reach out for an international audience.
"I want it all – as an artist that is a natural impulse," he says. "You want to get better, and in turn want as many people to hear us. It's not so much ambition as it is an evolution."
Hence the importance of festivals such as Wasla. Al Rousan says such festivals are great vehicles to showcase the best of the regional music scene to an international audience.
“These kinds of events are important, in that it is simply more than performances,” he says. “They are gatherings and they help us get closer to each other and know more about each other - the music is there to help make that connection."
Autostrad perform at Wasla on Friday at 6.45pm, Dubai Design District. Tickets are now available from Virgin Megastores from Dh245 and from the door at Dh295. For details got to tickets.virginmegastore.me. The first act takes the stage at 4pm.