'Whatever comes to Bahrain stays in the music': How fusion group Majaz represents the country’s vibrant scene

The band will perform a free online concert for Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation this week

From left to right, Salah Alawi, Jehad Al Hallal, Abdulla Faisal and Hameed Al Saeed make up Bahraini band Majaz. Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation
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Majaz's creations are not so much songs as they are audible journeys.

The Bahraini band use their eclectic sounds to trace a path from the GCC to locales such as North Africa and South-East Asia, taking musical inspiration from the regions' cultures.

Fans now have a chance to join them on that journey in an online gig on Friday, June 19, to be streamed on the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation's YouTube page. And that partnership is rather apt, says the group's vocalist and bassist, Salah Alawi.

"We have always been more comfortable doing things that are different," he says.

"We began as an instrumental group and now there are some vocal lines in what we do. It is all about learning about different cultures, mixing different styles and having the listener experience as many different emotions as they can within the song."

That expansive approach can be attributed to each band member hailing from other Bahraini indie groups. In addition to Alawi and cellist Jehad Al Hallal, who both have their own solo careers, guitarist Hameed Al Saeed is part of the rockers Silverlake while percussionist Abdulla Faisal is part of the Boffais crew.

With such myriad influences, Alawi admits a certain measure of compromise is part of Majaz’s creative process. That firm belief, however, that the whole is better than the sum of its parts has resulted in some exceptional pieces of music.

The band's latest release is a case in point. Sung in Swahili, Mashujaa Wa Jangwa is groovy jam mixing Gulf sensibilities with North Africa-inspired percussion.

Rihla (translated to mean journey), a 2017 EP, meanwhile, features tracks mixing everything from the ambient to Indian raga, flamenco and rock.

An evolving Bahraini music community

Such an eclectic approach is part of the Bahraini DNA, Alawi says.

With the Gulf country having a long history of welcoming expats, that exchange of cultures resulted in a small yet vibrant local music scene.

“The bands here play many different styles, from traditional to progressive music,” he says. “Basically, whatever comes to Bahrain ends up staying here in the music, in some way.

"But if you look at the modern history of the country, rock bands have been performing here since the 1980s. Since then, it has been just been a case of evolution.”

Online gigs are an opportunity

Speaking of which, the band is all about taking the next step, embracing the virtual gig format in the wake of the pandemic. However, the experience has not been without its challenges.

With a key part of Majaz’s appeal being the interplay with the audience in live shows, Alawi says pre-recording the concert for the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation was an eye-opening experience.

“It was just us in front of these cameras and lights, so it took us a while to adjust,” he says.

“But there was an intimacy and minimalism to it that we enjoyed. Our concert will be really personal in that we will perform and have small discussions in between the songs as well.”

While the virtual gig model is not ideal for Majaz, Alawi says it is has been useful in spreading the word about the group.

“And that’s why I encourage other bands to take up these opportunities when they can,” he says.

“Hopefully, we will all go back to performing live soon. But until then, these online shows will become a point of reference for promoters, particularly those overseas, who are interested in what you do.”

Majaz will perform from 8pm on Friday, June 19 on the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation YouTube page