I was invited by the awesome people at Red Bull Lebanon and Red Bull UAE to the Red Bull Music Academy for the region, held for the first time away from Beirut, in Dubai. But, the absolutely amazing venue, organization and programs the Dubai team put together made us feel at home with talented people from the four corners of the world coming together to do one thing: make beautiful music.
The Red Bull Music Academy has been going on since 1998, and the point is to group 30 producers, vocalists, DJs, instrumentalists and other music industry folks under one roof for a series of lectures, workshops, studio time and live jam sessions in the host city’s most happening venues.
I’ll try to recap everything into the segments below.
The venue couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a large villa in the Fahaydiyeh Historical District. It’s where the first folks settled in Dubai in the 1800s, and the original city wall’s ruins can be seen in the courtyard outside. Fitting to have this contrast between the historical, and the cutting-edge stuff that was happening in the 5 studios and the live room which were completely refitted, soundproofed and air-conditioned to provide every type of artist with the right gear and mood to make beautiful music.
What was also nice is that non-musical inspiration was never short, with dozens of museums, artisanal shops and live graffiti by the famous Ruben Sanchez, you could have a stroll around in the milder than usual Dubai weather before diving back into the studios. All in all, awesome venue.
I made over two dozen new friends from all over the Middle East and South Asia. The Lebanon folks I mostly knew well, but after 4 days and nights at Bass Camp, we’ve become quite tight. Ronald Hajjar from Ronin & Nesta, Miran Gurunian from Pindoll, Liliane Chlela (my biggest bully on Twitter), Carl Ferneine from Loopstache and Eddy Ghossein from The Wanton Bishops were representing the diverse musical scenes in the +961.
Other folks I got to meet and watch in action were
- Adil Omar, aka Paki Rambo, the Pakistani rapper with collabs with Xzibit, Cypress Hill and even Slash under his belt.
- Dirar Shawagfeh is the Jordanian drummer in El Morabba3 that Miran described as a “drum machine” because of his perfect timing and consistent awesome delivery on the drum set in the live room and at The Music Room.
- Jibberish, a Dubai-based Sri Lankan rapper with really dope lyrics and beats to match. The English-speaking MC had me at his first music snippet where he suggests we’re at a place even too high for Wiz Khalifa.
- Henry Bennett, a British artist based in Dubai that combines my two favorite music genres: electronic and classical. His cello performance at The Music Room is what blew me away personally.
- Avo Demirjian, from Jordan’s Autostrad band that combines reggae, funk, oriental, rock music and even latin.
One beautiful collaboration was Sahej Bakshi from Dualist Inquiry with his guitar teaming up with post-dubstep, future garage Mumbai-based electronic music producer Sanaya Ardeshir from Sandunes and the multi-instrumentalist electronic and classical composer Henry Bennett on his cello and Zahed Sultan from Kuwait on the keyboards to exemplify what a perfect cross-cultural, cross-genre jam session should really be like.
Derrick May‘s lecture was so incredibly epic, I wrote a special post just for that. Apart from giving everyone a list of the equipment they can use and how to use it (his secret recipe basically), he gave a rare, first-hand story about how Techno music began in Detroit, Michigan in the 1980s. It was very enlightening and you could see it on everyone’s faces: they were really impressed and awed by this extremely funny, humble, and legendary man.
Gareth Jones was the man that moved me the most at the Bass Camp. He was a master at what he does: making sounds come out of the vintage-looking modular synthesizers we all sometimes see, but never really understand. This man has helped shape modern recording history with his legendary work with big artists such as Depeche Mode. What struck me is how humble Mr Jones was. He would take the time to explain every single detail, and show you step-by-step how something’s made whenever you’d venture into his studio, and he stayed with us all the full-length of the Bass Camp, always there to help, chat and even have a couple of enlightening, existential talks whenever the call to prayer sounded and we’d pause the music out of respect for the prayers. His lecture made me want to get my own modular synthesizer and make sexy, spacey sounds. Here’s a short example of what it was like.
Kenny Dope‘s perfect fusion of House, Hip Hop, Latin, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Reggae and even Pop made the club night at DUST in Dubai absolutely epic. I haven’t had so much fun at a party in I don’t know how long. I guess when you get used to the same places, same music, same people, it’s kinda nice, but you don’t go all wild. Kenny Dope took us on a 4-hour long roller coaster with a rooftop packed of people from all over the world and the awesome RBMA crew and participants. It was truly amazing, and we had to delay our bus another 2 hours because no one wanted to leave and everyone wanted more. His lecture was also really nice, a good insight into how the scene goes down in Brooklyn and the states, with a man that has worked with legends like Madonna and Michael Jackson.
The Studio Time
I spent most of the studio time with Ronald, since he was making stuff I understood and knew well: good House music. It was amazing to see the bass line form bit by bit, then have the creative input of folks like Carl Ferneine, Bashar Saii Hadaya and Gareth Jones, and finally, the vocals of Paki Rambo to create a track that is extremely beautiful, super catchy track that has a GTA 5 feel to it and will probably be called Los Santos (spoiler!)
And when you witness the extremely complex process that involves over a dozen different machines and components and a handful of programs on the computer, you begin to realize that the cartoon below really sums it up nicely. I’ll also share the track once it’s available on SoundCloud!
The music making in the live music scene was very different and I found it very delightful since I am not very familiar with it. Each instrumentalist starts jamming a tune, and the others feed off him/her, and vice versa, creating a beautiful, non-verbal back-and-forth that will hopefully yield some beautiful music, which it did at the RBMA. Artists from different parts of the world, and different parts of the industry, coming together to what turned out to be epic tracks and crowd pleasers that took only a handful of days to create.
It was magical. Thank you Red Bull for giving me the opportunity to be part of this. It was a pleasure meeting you all, especially the Red Bull UAE team like Joe, Fouad, Yara, Jailan, Marina, Vicky, Faraz and Mounir, and Red Bull folks from across the region like Maria, Amr, Fouad and everyone else. To all the artists, it was a pleasure spending those 4 days with you all and seeing you in action. To Jackson, Sam, Imad, Fady the conversations over Naked Pizza were amazing ones.
I encourage you all to check out all the awesome peeps I linked to above, and wait for the compilation album that will be released soon. I hope to see you all in the Sound Clash Beirut event in November and can’t wait for next year’s Bass Camp!