"Where words fail, music speaks": It’s funny that the man who said these words, Hans Christian Andersen, was an author. Many quotes about music, said by some of the world’s brightest minds, have been similar. Heinrich Heine – another writer – said: “When words leave off, music begins.” And Victor Hugo (also a writer), mused: “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
But, for us at Time Out, it’s English singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry who really gets it... “But when you get music and words together, that can be a very powerful thing.”
It’s for that very reason we’ve joined forces with local musicians and music lovers, from every genre, to create this dedicated music issue and a brand-new event, held in Bahrain on Friday September 30.
Music has always been an important part of the island’s culture, even back in the days of the pearl trade, before oil was discovered, when there was pearl diving music (fijiri in Arabic). Traditions such as these are kept alive today through initiatives, particularly in Bahrain, like the renovation of Dar Jinaa or October’s Bahrain International Music Festival.
Of course, it’s changed a lot since the 1920s. Nowadays, you’ll find almost every genre. For instance, there’s a huge metal fan base, as well as partygoers who love house and techno beats. Bahrain loves reggae, but there has also been a surge in Latin dance events and, more recently, swing/electro swing nights. You’ll find blues groups, jazz musicians, rock bands and even experimental sound artists.
Let’s face it, though, being a contemporary musician in a tiny country like Bahrain can’t be easy. Especially now. With many people and places understandably tightening purse strings, musicians can find it hard to secure well-paying gigs. Or any gigs at all.
“I think Bahrain’s music scene is in an interesting place right now,” says Tarik Omar, a DJ and co-founder of Boho Baha, an initiative that aimed to create experiences for local artists to perform at.
“With some of the changes that happened over the last year, it’s become a lot more expensive to go out. This is going to hurt a lot of musicians at first, but it’s also going to force people to get creative with what they do if they want to stick around.”
Just a few years ago major strides were being made. In 2009, community-based, independent record label Museland launched to promote and encourage local talent. In 2010, Bahraini entrepreneur Esra’a al Shafei founded the regional music streaming site Mideast Tunes and the amount of artists from Bahrain on there has grown exponentially. More recently, Malja, a Red Bull project, opened to offer artists a free space where they can create and collaborate.
But it’s not enough, says Omar.
“We need more support from sponsors,” he says. “Right now Red Bull are one of the only guys that will lend decent, reliable support to local musicians… but what the scene really needs is a few more partners that are willing to support local music projects and not just the big, shiny international things.”
On the other hand, Mo Zowayed, a successful Bahraini musician, who is heading to the US on tour this summer, disagrees. “I’m convinced that Bahrain is the best place in the world to be a musician right now,” he says. “There are so many opportunities and venues to play, and so many great bar managers who are really embracing local talent. Sure, your end goal will probably be to make it in another country, but as a place for musicians to grow and feel support, there’s nothing like it.”
Zowayed isn’t the only musician who started out in Bahrain and managed to reach audiences overseas. Bahraini electronic artist Esam Hamad, aka Cosmo, who is a Red Bull Music Academy alumni, released his second EP just a few weeks ago and recently performed at Austin, Texas’ South by South West festival. Multi-instrumental band Flamingods, which is made up of five guys who all grew up on the island, recently signed to the UK’s Soundway Records and even played Glastonbury in the UK last year.
There’s no denying that the talent is here and, in the right circumstances, the opportunities are, too. But it’s up to all of us to make sure the scene continues to flourish. Not just the musicians.
It’s up to the venue managers to seek out local talent for residencies instead of flying in bands from around the world. It’s up to the sponsors to reach out and make sure these musicians are being fairly paid for their art. And it’s up to everyone else to attend the gigs.
It’s just as Bono (a musician this time) once said: “Music can change the world, because it can change people.” All we have to do is work together to be a part of that change for Bahrain.