Dreaming big: Unearthing the talent driving Dubai’s creative scene

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To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Vuse is working with international DJ and producer Anfisa Letyago and legendary album sleeve artist Brian Cannon to discover musicians and artists from around the world, and the creative scenes they’re forging.

The Street Covers docuseries from Vuse, first teased in July, sees the Neapolitan electronic music phenomenon Anfisa Letyago and Brian Cannon, designer of iconic album covers for the likes of Oasis and The Verve, taking a deep dive into the underground scenes of Dubai, Barcelona, Medellín, Johannesburg and Liverpool, searching for the creative voices driving them forward.

Street Covers is a unique global platform from Vuse that builds upon the brand’s decade-long pursuit of supporting up-and-coming talent and charging beyond in creativity – spotlighting musicians operating outside of the mainstream and partnering them with artists to revive the lost art of the album cover.

Released today, Dubai is the focal point of the first Street Covers episode, Underground Dubai: Where Art and Music Collide — giving viewers a glimpse into the lives of those establishing a new sonic and visual movement in “The Sandy City”. In this episode, we meet DJ and producer Rami Chami and visual artist Foad Hamzeh, who take us beyond the flash cars and fast cash that first spring to mind when thinking of the skyscraper-filled metropolis. “There are so many expats living here with a lot of cultures mixing together, and this is what defines the creative scene in Dubai,” says Rami. “Being such a new city, we’re creating the culture as we go — and it’s an identity that’s ever-evolving which is pretty unique.”

“If you ask tourists to describe Dubai, music isn’t something that comes up,” he continues. “What many people don’t know is there’s a rich scene here and we’re defining the creative culture in real time. It normally takes centuries for an area to get its unique musical identity, but with so many influences coming together at once, Dubai is already shaking up the music industry and finding its voice.”

Through the eyes of Foad Hamzeh, we’re shown the visually creative side of the city, as he takes us to Alserkal Avenue, a budding creative hub with photography and film studios, galleries and a cinema, alongside local and global artist residencies. Hamzeh speaks through his cultural inspirations and explains how he fuses these sentiments with contemporary styles in his work, with English graffiti and traditional Arabic calligraphy being significant influences. “There’s so much more to Dubai than what you initially see from the skyscrapers, the cars, and the speed of everything – there’s an amazing arts and music scene is going on that the outside world doesn’t know about,” says Foad. “For me, what makes Dubai so special is the huge expanse of desert on the doorstep – in the ever-changing, fast-paced landscape of the city, it’s a constant and I spend a lot of time there seeking inspiration.”

In the first episode of Vuse’s docuseries, the two artists come together in one of Chami’s favourite recording studios, where he invites those in the room to collaborate on a track he hopes will embody the countless languages that can be heard while walking through the streets of Dubai, with Foad using the music and its inspirations to create corresponding visuals. “Foad and I have been mixing in similar circles for a while, and he had seen me play at B 018.DXB a few times, so it’s amazing to finally connect and be able to work together” explains Rami.

Chami touches on his experiences growing up immersed in Lebanon’s underground club culture, where the people around him “had nothing to lose…they partied like there was no tomorrow.” He hoped to translate those feelings – particularly those inspired by Beirut’s bunker-turned-club venue B 018 – into Dubai’s nightlife, helping to establish a new version of the iconic club in the city called B 018.DXB. We are introduced to the marked contributions of the Lebanese diaspora – a driving force behind Dubai’s electronic music and arts culture – and B 018.DXB’s role in serving as a physical manifestation of the city’s underground musical spirit.

Rami explains that many homegrown events saw Dubai’s sandy surroundings as a source of creative inspiration, with groups of friends driving out to the desert with speakers and throwing parties, which began gaining traction. Foad, who takes us on a dune buggy ride over the expanses of the desert in the film, explains that “time stops when you’re in an empty space like the desert.”

Much of Foad’s work is based on combining traditional Arabic motifs with markers from the world of street art and, with Brian’s expert guidance as part of the Street Covers project, he took inspiration from a plethora of visual concepts to represent Rami’s new track. “[The end product] is a mish-mash of cultures, based on the fact that Rami’s track is based on US hip hop, dance, garage and house music, with Foad also integrating his use of Arabic text and script in an American graffiti style,” says Brian.

Brian admits that he “didn’t know there was much of a scene” in Dubai before he travelled there as part of Vuse’s Street Covers project. “I learned there are entire districts in the city dedicated to art and music… I left with a very positive impression.”

“Everyone’s got preconceived ideas of what Dubai is like, and it was nothing like that in the end,” Brian continues. “I was surprised by the culture, the art scene, the music scene, and the size of the place. I don’t think you can get your head around the fact that it was a patch of desert not that long ago until you visit and see the astonishing job they’ve done of building it up.”

Similarly, Anfisa felt she learned a lot about the city during the process of making the film and working on the project. “I’ve been to Dubai a few times now and it’s very different from European countries in terms of music, where the underground scene is usually deeply rooted in music culture,” says Anfisa. “However, I find that people in Dubai are very open to different genres of music and this has become even clearer in the last three years or so.”

Anfisa says that her work on Vuse’s Street Covers project with Rami began with “a long conversation where we shared experiences, ideas, fears and feelings.”

“We spent time in the studio where I gave him some advice for his career,” she continues. “I told him to be true to himself, to follow his instincts and listen to his creative self. I suggested working on a global sound that had a particular focus on Dubai, and that he release remixes of his tracks using other artists, which is a good way to broaden the range of his music. He is a good artist, I am sure we will hear his name in the industry soon.”

Similarly, using his years of experience, Brian worked closely with Foad to guide him through the process of designing an album cover. “I explained to Foad the need to communicate as much as possible with Rami,” he says. “That’s what I’ve done over the years, and I seem to have had success with it.”

Brian shared that working with both artists was “a pleasure” adding, “they’re lovely guys, the pair of them, both dedicated and true artists. They both believe in what they are doing. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

This edition of Vuse’s Street Covers docuseries comes to a head at a local shawarma joint, in a location seemingly worlds apart from the glass-covered skyscrapers and high-end cars are commonly associated with Dubai. “They probably thought there would be a Lamborghini next to us the whole time,” jokes Foad, as he and Rami reflect on how it feels to be able to introduce new people to the unpolished, culturally vibrant side of Dubai, and look forward to their creative collaboration.

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Watch Underground Dubai: Where Art and Music Collide below.

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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