Looking Back, Looking Forward


6 months ago, I performed for the very first time with a live band at one of Dubai’s most iconic live music venues, Stereo Arcade. There was a crowd of about 100 people and an unbelievable amount of energy packed within a space that seemed to close in on me as the night proceeded. After performing, I dismantled my keyboard in a small storage room backstage, shoved it into its case and dragged it across the dance floor before slipping away unnoticed through one of the back door fire exits. I came home that night and wrote the first entry in my journal (http://www.hasanmalikmusic.com/journal/stereofunk), and haven’t written in this journal since. Had I known of what the next few months had in store on the night of my Stereo Arcade performance, I would have certainly scheduled in some much needed time to update my journal, but the speed at which events unfolded left me neglecting the need for reflection. As I look ahead to the next few months, I realise how important it is to revisit the experiences and recapture the emotions that have shaped my recent development as a performing artist. 

Stereo Arcade

Stereo Arcade

Throughout October and November, I made more than a dozen trips to Abu Dhabi to take part in Yasalam AE’s Emerging Talent Workshops; I had been selected as one of 10 shortlisted acts by Flash Entertainment, and was competing for a du Arena residency and the chance to perform at Beats on the Beach alongside the likes of Sean Paul, Nancy Ajram and Travis Scott. As well as attending the weekly workshops in Abu Dhabi, I was rehearsing at the Fridge with my band in Dubai so that we would be ready to perform at Beats on the Beach if I proceeded in the Emerging Talent Competition. After weeks of workshops and performances, I was chosen as part of the final 3 and performed in front of a judging panel consisting of Rania Hamadeh (Vice President Marketing at Universal Music MENA), Bill Bragin (Executive Artistic Director at NYUAD), Reiner Erlings (award-winning composer and producer), and Oliver Wood (Hollaphonic) on the first night of Beats on the Beach in front of 20,000 people.

Nothing can really prepare you for a performance of that scale.  The minute you walk out on stage, the technical aspects of performing that you’ve spent hours perfecting no longer carry any weight, and you tend to fall back on your instincts; you lose all sense of urgency and no longer have to fight to feel complete control of your performance. It’s a feeling like no other - one that makes every late night and long drive worth it. I’ll never forget the beach light up during our performance of Beyoncé’s ‘Halo', and the reassurance of having my band members behind me to carve out a rounded, purposeful sound. That night, I was announced Yasalam’s 'Emerging Talent Competition Winner’, and would perform a six-song set at Beats on the Beach again in two days’ time. Being backstage on the final night of Beats on the Beach was surreal; we were given our own dressing room next to both Travis Scott and Nancy Ajram, and as we sat backstage, I remember Anthony turning to me and saying, ‘I could get used to this.’ After our performance on the final night, I sat side-stage and studied the ways in which these two completely different artists were able to command attention from their audiences through their performances, and left with a vision for how I wanted to develop my own live show.

The next evening, the band and I performed at the Village at du Arena before Rihanna's F1 After-Race concert; I left the venue straight after the performance after what had been an exhausting weekend, but my band stayed behind and met Rihanna backstage! My next du Arena show was on New Years Eve before Coldplay - Anthony, Eemon and I met up for a few acoustic rehearsals before our performance and started arranging some of my originals. The rehearsals were a really nice opportunity for us to learn more about each other musically, and were a lot less hectic than our previous rehearsals for Beats on the Beach. After our New Years show, we got to meet Coldplay briefly before they went on stage, and I waited outside Chris Martin’s dressing room after the show for as long as I could until his security team eventually realised I wasn't part of the crew! I did, however, manage to sneak through a letter and CD to one of his tour managers - I wonder if it ever got to Chris! 

Into the New Year, I received a call from Virgin asking me to perform at RedFest DXB; I had performed at the festival in 2016 as part of their ‘School of Rock’ competition, but to be called back as an artist as opposed to being attached to a competition was a huge step forward.  After attending Young Musicians of the Gulf in Bahrain in early January, I returned to Dubai with only a week left to put together a show for RedFest DXB; the band and I squeezed in a couple of late night rehearsals and had a great sound check at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Wednesday evening. Everything appeared to be set for our performance on Friday, but the weather had its own plans. Heavy rain on Friday meant that the organisers had to reschedule the festival to the following day. I received a call on Friday evening informing me that I would no longer be able to perform at RedFest DXB due to timing constraints - this was obviously hugely disheartening given all the effort put towards our performance. I initially felt a sense of betrayal by the industry that I had grown to love over the past year, and couldn’t make sense of what appeared to be an impulsive decision. After numerous phone calls back and forth with the various organisers, it became apparent that the nature of the industry I had chosen to be a part of can be as ruthless as it is rewarding, and that I needed to develop an ability to look forward rather than be consumed by the prospect of failure. That night, Eemon and I went for dinner at a pizza place opposite Dubai Media City Amphitheatre and tried our best to make sense of it all - we cracked a few jokes about the whole thing and started discussing plans for the next few months.

I should also mention that during my RedFest DXB sound check on Wednesday night, I had the pleasant surprise of catching up with Abbo and Josh Williams - they had come to help Aman Sheriff, who was sound-checking for the School of Rock competition. For those of you who don’t know, Abbo is essentially the pioneer of the local music scene - he has worked tirelessly to put on open-mic nights for local artists over the past few years, and has been an integral part of the surge of the local music scene. And Josh Williams is Dubai’s leading indie record producer - I worked with him on my debut single, ‘For Now’ as part of the GoPlayTheWorld compilation album that went #1 on iTunes Middle East last year, and we’re currently finalising plans for something really exciting in the near future ...watch this space! 

Next month, I’ll be performing at the Souk Madinat Amphitheatre with Done Events (organizers of RedFest DXB) – it’s funny how things pan out. I’ll also hopefully be performing at a few of the music nights across the city as well; I really miss these nights and the community that it has fostered.

As well as performing, I’ll be spending these next few months immersed in songwriting; there are loads and loads of unfinished lyrics, melodies and ideas that I can’t wait to return to and complete, and I’ll try and share that process as much as possible! It’s no secret that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, and while the last six months haven’t been plain sailing, there is enough in the horizon to keep me going.

Hasan Malik