The  founder and frontman M Al-Hajjaj of the band Sound of Ruby from Saudi Arabia. Courtesy Sound of Ruby
The founder and frontman M Al-Hajjaj of the band Sound of Ruby from Saudi Arabia. Courtesy Sound of Ruby

Frontman of Sound of Ruby, Saudi’s only punk band, talks about pursuing his passion despite hardships



Sound of Ruby’s modest Bandcamp webpage describes the group as “probably the first ­Saudi rock band”. And about them being the first punk band from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, founder and frontman M Al-Hajjaj is certain.

Not such an outrageous claim when you consider live concerts are banned in KSA. If, as the musician claims, his was the first band to stem from the country, he now estimates there are not more than a total of 25 rock and metal groups in the Kingdom.

The band began in 1996 when Al-Hajjaj bought a guitar, and his friend Nasser Frog, an Arab tabla player, acquired a set of drums (he was later replaced by current drummer Esam Al-Ghamdi). With Nirvana and Mudhoney as early reference points – there's still a distinct strain of the ­former's debut LP Bleach in their sound today – the duo recruited a bassist and second guitarist, and set about bringing the western rock sounds they loved to the GCC.

“It was very weird,” says the Saudi national. “I still remember everything and everyone back then – we were something new. Most people in the Gulf were just into rap and reggae, and Arabic music. No one understood what we were doing. When people came to our shows they just thought it was something loud – ‘What are these sounds?’”

Through self-recording albums and hosting private concerts (modest home affairs for “30 people to come and chill”), the band claim to have formed the centre of a grassroots rock scene which began to emerge from Damman.

“We met a few people into rock music and built a small base, a community for rock musicians,” says Al-Hajjaj.

And, of course, there were certain logistical problems presented by the band’s location. The singer prefers not to directly discuss the societal issues facing the band, but their online profile states: “The band’s entire career was a challenging and dangerous journey because of the non-accepting culture of Arabia. Despite that the band was able to gain many followers. It has been a big sacrifice and a true punk journey.”

Part of that struggle was getting their music heard. With pop music banned in Saudi, mainstream radio success was not an option. “I still believe we are an underground band – in the 90s we were under the sand,” adds the 34-year-old.

Having attracted more notoriety than they anticipated, Sound of Ruby retired from live performance on home soil more than five years ago. “We stopped playing shows in Saudi a long time ago. If you want to make a gig, you go outside.”

Instead, the band perform sporadically across the Gulf. Tomorrow's show at The Music Room marks the group's first performance since the online release of their excellent last album ­Serotonin, recorded at Bahrain's Studio 77 in August.

It’s the latest in a back catalogue of “around” 10 albums, all of which have been made available to listeners without charge. “Music should be free,” says Al-Hajjaj flatly. “We’re against commercial [elements] and ­labels – we don’t want to be like a ­product.”

But that rule has partly been broken. While most of the group's music is currently available to stream free on Bandcamp, CDs are now sold at international gigs. As is the four-track vinyl EP From Under the Sands of the Desert, released in 2011 by French indie imprint Tian An Men 89, a label which specialises in releasing punk bands from marginalised markets.

Such international recognition isn’t lost on Al-Hajjaj, who is brutal in his assessment of the challenges facing the region’s rock scene. “The most famous bands in the Gulf – if you sent them to Los Angeles, they would be on the streets,” he says ­unflinchingly.

It’s clear that the band’s two-decade “challenging and dangerous journey” of music- making hasn’t been an easy one, with few of the liberties and opportunities facing similar bands elsewhere in the world. On top of the societal presses, all the band members are married with children and day jobs (Al-Hajjaj is a customs manager). But it may be the band’s opposition to these very frustrations that has kept them alive for so long.

“I play punk because it’s easy to express yourself with few chords,” adds Al-Hajjaj. “And when you scream you can show your feelings, and your anger, and release some of your stress and anxiety through the songs.”

• Sound of Ruby perform at The Music Room, Majestic Hotel Tower, Bur Dubai from 9pm. Tickets cost Dh60

rgarratt@thenational.ae

'Falling for Christmas'

Director: Janeen Damian

Stars: Lindsay Lohan, Chord Overstreet, Jack Wagner, Aliana Lohan

Rating: 1/5

MATCH INFO

West Ham United 2 (Antonio 73', Ogbonna 90+5')

Tottenham Hotspur 3 (Son 36', Moura 42', Kane 49')

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian
Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).
Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming
Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics
Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

The Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 118hp
Torque: 149Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Price: From Dh61,500
On sale: Now

Our family matters legal consultant

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

Remaining Fixtures

Wednesday: West Indies v Scotland
Thursday: UAE v Zimbabwe
Friday: Afghanistan v Ireland
Sunday: Final

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Herc's Adventures

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Console: PlayStation 1 & 5, Sega Saturn
Rating: 4/5

The specs: 2018 Nissan Patrol Nismo

Price: base / as tested: Dh382,000

Engine: 5.6-litre V8

Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic

Power: 428hp @ 5,800rpm

Torque: 560Nm @ 3,600rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 12.7L / 100km

Brief scores:

Juventus 3

Dybala 6', Bonucci 17', Ronaldo 63'

Frosinone 0

Five calorie-packed Ramadan drinks

Rooh Afza
100ml contains 414 calories
Tang orange drink
100ml serving contains 300 calories
Carob beverage mix
100ml serving contains about 300 calories
Qamar Al Din apricot drink
100ml saving contains 61 calories
Vimto fruit squash
100ml serving contains 30 calories

ESSENTIALS

The flights 
Fly Etihad or Emirates from the UAE to Moscow from 2,763 return per person return including taxes. 
Where to stay 
Trips on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian cost from US$16,995 (Dh62,414) per person, based on two sharing.

SERIES INFO

Afghanistan v Zimbabwe, Abu Dhabi Sunshine Series

All matches at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi

Test series

1st Test: Zimbabwe beat Afghanistan by 10 wickets
2nd Test: Wednesday, 10 March – Sunday, 14 March

Play starts at 9.30am

T20 series

1st T20I: Wednesday, 17 March
2nd T20I: Friday, 19 March
3rd T20I: Saturday, 20 March

TV
Supporters in the UAE can watch the matches on the Rabbithole channel on YouTube