Ethiopian singer Teddy Afro’s concert showed me the energy of UAE music scene

As temperatures rise, it would be easy to think that the UAE’s live music scene has gone silent for the time being.

While the main concert schedule is lighter than usual, the eclectic selection proves that the local concert scene is not only vibrant but also representative of the UAE’s diverse communities.

To see and feel it for yourself, visit low-key shows and venues. Not only are they the lifeblood of the country’s live events industry, they enable precious moments of community connection as organizers and musicians work hard to create on stage.

While social media and billboards are promoting Spanish pop star Enrique Iglesias’ upcoming concert at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena in September, the venue Last weekend took place a smaller and relatively unknown show that was as influential as any blockbuster act.

Singer Teddy Afro may only be familiar to discerning fans of world music, but to those from Ethiopia, he is their Taylor Swift. So when the show was announced, word spread across the Ethiopian community’s social media channels and WhatsApp groups. Restaurants and hair salons proudly displayed concert posters in their windows, and even church groups from Abu Dhabi and Dubai mobilized to rent minivans to bring fans to the arena.

The end result is one of the most joyful concerts in the UAE. The arena was resized to a comfortable 5,000-seat hall, and fans finally saw the sounds of their proud culture echoing on stage.

Alai, an Ethiopian taxi driver from Dubai, told me that the concert was more important to him than the music. “Like everyone here, you miss your home country,” he said in the arena lobby. “So it makes you proud to see people from my country doing big things in the UAE. There are Ethiopians here that I’ve met for the first time, so I’m happy to come and dance and make some friends too.

These experiences of rich communities can be found across the UAE, in all sizes and voices. Not only do they provide respite from the rigors of daily life, but they can also provide temporary relief from the trauma of being away from home.

This is the case for the Sudanese community in the United Arab Emirates, whose cultural gatherings took on greater resonance last year after their homeland descended into armed conflict. In May, the sweet melodies of Sudanese pop music were heard at the Heart of the Emirates Sudan Festival at the Dubai World Trade Center, providing catharsis for a strained community. I watched women burst into tears as they sang one of the late Mohammed Wardi’s classic folk songs, and families danced to the upbeat beats of Nancy Ajaj, the evening’s headliner.

A similar effect is sure to be experienced on Saturday when the UAE’s vibrant Levantine community gathers at Dubai’s Digital Arts Theater to celebrate Palestine’s folk music heritage.

Lebanese singer Rita Mikhael will perform songs inspired by Palestine’s greatest composers and poets, providing a timely reminder of Palestine’s history and heritage. Sometimes these lesser-known shows are gateways to the discovery of new genres. The Digital Arts Theater is once again the ideal place to begin these journeys, with an ongoing program of concerts ranging from Cuban mambo and French chanson to New Orleans jazz and mystical Sufi chants.

Those unfamiliar with the Philippines’ legendary rock history should check out Eraser Heads, who made a rare appearance at the Dubai Exhibition Center in December, and the UAE’s major clubs are the best way to hear the latest electronic music from Africa.

It all goes to show that the local music scene is not only vibrant but also embodies the cosmopolitan and inclusive nature of the UAE.

Updated: July 5, 2024 at 6:02 pm

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