GoPlayTheWorld: The man putting UAE music on the map

The open mic collective led by Abbo Abbondandolo knocked Adele from iTunes Middle East number one spot with its local compilation. Andy Buchan finds out what's next for the UAE-based musicians

As a barometer for success, knocking Adele’s globe conquering album 25 from the iTunes UAE top spot is about as good as it gets. The knock-on effect so good, in fact, that Abbo Abbondandolo – the man behind the GoPlayTheWorld compilation that sent the pop princess tumbling down the charts – hasn’t even got round to celebrating it yet.

‘How did we celebrate? So far we haven’t even had a chance to celebrate at all, you’ve just reminded me we still need to do that,’ he says.

It’s easy to understand why Abbo's not had the chance to let his hair down. His GoPlayTheWorld open mic empire stretches to four nights a week, while his own band DaVinci Park scored a number one on iTunes Middle East just a few weeks later with the release of their album Overlooking Florence. And then there’s Vandalye, a band formed and started at one of Abbo's open mic nights, that had a chart topper with its debut EP From The Beginning.

Abbo is quite the hitmaker. ‘We still have a lot more work to do and a lot of great stuff ahead. We are all so proud of the work and progress we have made so far, it’s quite mind blowing to think this has only taken us two years,’ he says. 

‘There is a need here to mention that none of these number one's would have been possible without the help of Joshua F Williams and the rest of the crew at Record Pro Records. Joshua has masterfully produced, engineered, mixed and mastered all of the albums.’  

Musical vision

A full time musician, Abbo has spent a quarter of his life in the UAE in three stints – first in the '70s when it was little more than a desert outpost, again in the '90s and more recently since 2011.

His musical vision began eight years ago as a globe-trotting musician in Sydney, and he put his GoPlayTheWorld open mic nights plan into action in the UAE to provide ‘a platform for new and seasoned singer songwriters and musicians to practice their talents and improve their skills in front of a live audience,’ he says.

When he arrived in the UAE, he saw the perfect breeding ground for talent, but a lack of outlets for artists to showcase their talents. That niche has now been suitably exploited, meaning you can now hear local live music everywhere across the city from DIFC to JLT, with an all encompassing roster meaning artists as young as 12 have been invited on stage. In total, GoPlayTheWorld has put on over 250 events and showcased over 3,000 performers over the last two years.

‘The biggest challenge was letting the original singer-songwriter fans know we are here, most of which had found something else to do on weekends,’ say Abbo. ‘Running these events four nights a week across Dubai after starting two years ago running one night a week, gives you an idea how hungry people have been for this.’

And there’s plenty to feed the appetite when GoPlayTheWorld returns after Ramadan. National radio stations are beginning to sit up and take notice of the local talent, and Abbo is in talks with one of the biggest global live music brands about expanding the singer-songwriter scene in the UAE.

‘Rehearsal studios are getting more bands in to practice at their locations, producers are getting more work from artists wanting to record their songs,’ says Abbo. ‘It makes me tired even thinking about it but so very honoured, proud and humbled to have been able to work with everyone involved too.’ Plenty to celebrate, then.