UAE is an ideal platform for Indian and Pakistani singers uniting for MTV Undivided concerts

It's a well worn cliché that music can cross divides – and nowhere is that truer than the UAE. A clear piece of evidence for this claim comes with the MTV Undivided concerts, which showcase performers from India and Pakistan on a festival bill.

Pakistani singer Shafqat Amanat Ali. Courtesy IndiaCast
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Musicians from India and Pakistan – countries that have historically endured a fractured relationship – will celebrate the positive energy of borderless sound at this weekend’s MTV Undivided concerts, bringing together music lovers from the two nations to Dubai World Trade Centre.

Friday night will showcase classically trained crossover star Shafqat Amanat Ali and the UAE debut of singing/acting starlet Komal Rizvi, both from Pakistan, alongside Indian folk-fusion vocalist Papon.

The following evening will host Indian pop-rock star Kailash Kher and Pakistan folk singer Arif Lohar, also making a debut appearance in the UAE.

“Music is a very effective and positive tool to promote peace and joy to people around us,” says Rizvi. “A tool which helps people momentarily forget their biases, their differences, their borders.”

“MTV Undivided is a great concept that is trying to bring people together in today’s troubled times,” says Papon. “Whatever our politics or geography may be, India and Pakistan share a history, cultural traditions, musical heritage and even language. How else can you explain the love and popularity of Pakistani singers in India, and vice-versa?”

Symbolically, organisers have stressed there are no “headliners”, with all acts considered equal.

Even better, insiders have hinted at some interesting surprises, and cross-genre collaborations could be on the cards.

Such an ego-free, borderless concert could only occur in the UAE, says Sachin Gokhale, the regional head of business at promoters, IndiaCast.

“With all the permissions and politics, it would be very tough to do this in India or Pakistan,” he says. “The UAE is a natural meeting ground.”

The star Arif Lohar agrees. “Music helps in connecting the right chords between all hearts, it is not affected by borders,” he says.

“[The UAE] is the best place for this, as the distance is achievable from both countries, and people [there] love us very much.”

Papon hailed the UAE’s harmonious mix of cultures as unique on the globe.

“I think the UAE, where people of both countries stay together peacefully, is a perfect example of how there is more in common than different between the people of India and Pakistan,” says the singer, whose real name is Angaraag Mahanta.

“I have played around the world to crowds from different cultures and nationalities, but this weekend will be special.”

These relatively harmonious conditions also offer a fertile and friendly musical breeding ground for the vast number of expatriate musicians who consider the UAE their home.

Musician Nikhil Uzgare is frontman of Point of View, an award-winning rock band, whose members have included musicians from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the United States, and have shared the stage with acts from across the world.

“The UAE is always the meeting ground for these gigs. If you go to India, Pakistan is bashed in the media, and in Pakistan, India is bashed. The only place where the two sides live in peace and harmony is the UAE,” says the 42-year-old musician.

“I wouldn’t have met even a Pakistani if I hadn’t come to the UAE – and would never have expected to play in a band with a Pakistani guitarist, which was an incredible experience.”

The UAE has a long history of hosting symbolic border-crossing concerts, particularly during the summer months, as both nations’ independence day celebrations approach – on August 14 in Pakistan and August 15 in India.

Back in 2008, Bollywood singer Shaan joined Pakistani groups Strings and Overload for a show at Dubai Tennis Stadium.

Significantly, the 2012 Sur Kshetra talent show – which mined rivalries by pitting teams of unsigned Indian and Pakistan singers against each other – was filmed right here in the UAE, with the live final hosted at Dubai World Trade Centre (Pakistan's Nabeel Shaukat Ali was declared the winner).

The venue was also used for 2014’s RedBull SoundClash, which pitted Pakistan’s Strings against India’s Euphoria onstage (declared a draw).

In the same year, the same venue also hosted the border-crossing Dubai Sufi Weekend, which starred some of the subcontinent’s biggest stars in iconic Indian composer A R Rahman and Pakistan’s Qawwali legend Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

As well as connecting expats from the subcontinent, the organisers of the MTV Undivided hope this weekend’s concerts will have the power to connect to the UAE’s diverse plethora of music lovers from all over the globe.

“I think music is something we as humans understand instinctively, it’s in our DNA,” says Gokhale. “It’s a common culture than brings us all together.

“Eid is the best time for this – because it’s the biggest cultural celebration in the calendar – it’s a time to stand together. And what better way to bring people together than music?”

• Tickets for MTV Undivided, from Dh100, are on sale now at