Red Bull Music Academy Weekender: a festival of sight and sound

Vision delves into the emirate’s vibrant and eclectic music festival with headliner Zahed Sultan, musician and multimedia artist

For the first time, Dubai will celebrate international and local musical talent at the Red Bull Music Academy Weekender (RBMAW) from 12-15 April, with over 30 musicians, DJs and artists taking over the city, performing across various locations including Dubai Design District and MusicHall.

As much as the event will be a city-wide ‘party’, it is also a platform for serious art and social reflection. RBMAW kicks off with a performance from multimedia artist Zahed Sultan, a Kuwaiti musician, social entrepreneur and filmmaker, who presents his newest project: ‘Hiwar’. An audio-visual-dance performance, the elaborate art piece is a profound exploration of culture and heritage in the Arabian Gulf.

RBMAW will host over 30 performers
RBMAW will host over 30 performers

The Arabic word for ‘dialogue’, Hiwar investigates the bridges between the traditional pearl-diving music of the Gulf and modern trends in local music. “My ongoing intention for Hiwar is to understand the depths and layers of heritage ‘bahry’ music and tradition,” says Sultan.

The artist works over many media, “integrating lights, visuals, and dance”, which he hopes will “re-contextualise the application of ‘bahry’ culture within a present day format.” In other words, the artist is keen to remind the young RBMAW audience of the relevance of local history in the cotemporary musical landscape.

Sultan suggests that cultural tradition is often appropriated by the media for sales with no true interest in local heritage. He warns of “the confines of force-fed nostalgia or superficial messaging like advertising,” and encourages the audience to educate themselves, in order to better understand history and musical tradition.

The Red Bull Music Academy Weekender is an artistic takeover of the city of Dubai
The Red Bull Music Academy Weekender is an artistic takeover of the city of Dubai

Sultan’s work is particularly interesting in the context of Dubai. Though the emirate is lauded for its innovation and smart technologies, a new cohort of local artists are calling for a return to traditional art, design and architecture, for the city to further embrace its fascinating history as a fishing village. Indeed, says Sultan, “the most interesting experimental engagements I get approached for or to collaborate on have been coming from the UAE” – many of whom will be performing at the RBMAW.

For Sultan to kick off such a prestigious music event with a profound artistic message is significant. It reminds the audience of Dubai’s unique position as a city that is both unquestionably modern and heavily influenced by tradition, and encourages the international cohort of performers to showcase their own rich heritage.