UAE may be multicultural but we’re not diverse when it comes to music, study finds

Audiences tend to mostly support only those live performances that reflect their own cultural identity, according to researchers at American University in Dubai.

The opening of the Dubai Opera may help to improve the public’s appreciation of live music, researchers say. Jon Gambrell / AP Photo
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DUBAI // For such an intensely multicultural country, UAE audiences are surprisingly homogeneous and self-segregating when it comes to the performing arts, a new study has found.

Researchers said the recent addition of the Dubai Opera house and reforms to the public school curriculum meant to enhance music and arts education may help improve the public’s appreciation of, and participation in, live music from many cultures.

“We want to talk about global culture but it’s not quite there yet,” said Dr Steven Buigut, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of economics at the American University in Dubai, who co-authored the study.

“It would be great to see Emiratis going to western pop and western classicals, and westerners going to Arabic classicals – that would be the ideal world – but we’re not there yet. We are all here but we are still kind of moving around in our own cultural islands. We are not yet as mixed as our numbers or our populations suggest.”

The study, UAE Public Participation in the Musical Arts, was published in last month’s issue of Poetics Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, the Media and the Arts.

Dr Buigut and AUD marketing professor Dr Ode Amaize surveyed 1,377 locals and expatriates in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to find out which factors – including age, ethnicity, gender, education and length of residency in the UAE, for example - determine attendance at music performances in the UAE.

“While the UAE is unquestionably a multicultural workplace,” the authors wrote, “there is a distinct cultural link exhibited in the public’s participation across the different music genres.”

For example, respondents who identified as non-Emirati Arabs were “significantly” more likely to attended Arab music performances only.

Participants who said they were Asian were less likely to attend Arab or western classical music performances and “significantly” more likely to go to Indian musical performances.

Westerners stuck to European classical music and other western genres and UAE nationals were the least likely to attend live musical performances.

“Even taking into account the discrepancy in terms of the population size and differences, Emiratis, for the most part, engage in the arts less, relative to other Arabs or other nationalities in the UAE,” said Dr Amaize, co-author of the study. “But this is part of what the UAE Government is trying to encourage more of - the arts.”

The respondents’ length of residency in the UAE was also a “very significant” factor in determining attendance in the performing arts, with those saying they have lived here three years or longer being most likely to go to live shows.

The findings led the researchers to make a number of recommendations.

“In schools, when music is introduced, it should be integrated, in the sense whereby children and young people are exposed to music from other parts of the world,” said Dr Amaize.

“Also, there should be programmes that present inter-genre, intercultural compositions and performances where you have, for example, artists and collaborators from different ethnicities performing together.”

The researchers applauded efforts by Abu Dhabi Education Council to revamp music and arts education in public schools.

“I personally believe in interdisciplinary education, whereby the student is in the music class, but is also drawing from history class, from chemistry, from biology, from geography,” said Dr Amaize.

By introducing children and even audiences at large to international music, schools and cultural institutions are essentially promoting tolerance, said Dr Buigut, which is a value that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, is keen to promote.

“If we are trying to promote global tolerance, then it means we have to feel comfortable in other people’s zones,” said Dr Buigut. “But, if ethnically we are still sort of closed in to our own music, does that mean also we are closed in our beliefs? If that happens, how much tolerance of others’ beliefs and others’ tastes will that mean? If you enjoy and participate in live music performances from other countries, it means you’re also open to the other views in terms of their culture.”