The ABRI factor

One of the most significant names on the UAE music scene, Hamdan Al-Abri, talks about opening for Kanye West and his future plans for a movie soundtrack

Still only 33 years old, Hamdan Al-Abri is one of the biggest and most respected names in the UAE’s fast-emerging music scene. The Emirati singer-songwriter was one of the founders and the frontman of Dubai-based soul band ABRI, hailed by Time Out as ‘the best original band Dubai has ever seen’, and today he is among a small group of Dubai-based artists with genuine international cachet.

When ABRI wound down in late 2009, after two widely acclaimed albums and tour dates across the UK, India, the UAE, Bahrain and the Maldives, Hamdan elected to work on his solo career. A self-titled solo debut EP followed in October 2011, which leaned away from the jazz-funk with which ABRI had become synonymous, and towards a more experimental, electronic approach. With the help of [Dubai-based jazz drummer] Rony Afif, he has now formed a new band named Abri & Funk Radius.

Hamdan Al-Abri
A self-titled solo debut EP leaned away from the jazz-funk towards a more experimental, electronic approach

Hamdan has opened for international artists including Kanye West, Sade, Ziggy Marley and Joss Stone, and performed around the world, from the UK and UAE, to the wider Middle East and Asia. He loves playing live, however away from the stage he exhibits none of the braggadocio exhibited by many front men.

“I love performing on stage because I get lost in the music and the energy,” he says. “When it comes to having to do public speaking in front of people, or acting for the camera for a music video, it’s a whole different territory and I get really nervous. I’m more or less an introvert and shy by nature, so it’s not really my cup of tea but I know that it comes with the territory of being a musician.”

Although he might be camera shy himself, Hamdan’s solo tracks have burst beyond the borders of music television, appearing in episodes of hit US drama CSI, and Ringer, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. When one fan posted the scenes on YouTube, Hamdan was unable to resist taking a look – and a listen.

“It’s kind of surreal seeing that, it almost felt like somebody did it in their bedroom, superimposing my music on their scene,” he laughs. “Unfortunately in Ringer the scene was nothing to do with what I was singing about in the song Falling, but I understand why they wanted to use it. You write the song and it’s a personal experience in terms of writing and recording it, but as soon as you let it go, then people hear it and have their own interpretation of what it is. It’s cool: any exposure is good exposure.

“I’d like my songs to make it onto a movie soundtrack,” he adds. “I remember Donnie Darko and there was a rendition of Tears for Fears’ Mad World, by Gary Jules, and I loved it because it worked so well with the scene. Without the song the scene would have had so much less impact. I want to make that kind of impact on a feature film.”

I love performing on stage because I get lost in the music and the energy


Right now, Hamdan is enjoying his part in a music collective. “I enjoy working as a solo artist although I did miss bouncing ideas off other musicians, and that’s why I formed Abri & Funk Radius,” he says. “I’m really enjoying being a part of that again.”

Furthermore, he believes that the band is part of a growing music scene in Dubai. “When we started in 2005 with ABRI there were just a handful of musicians in Dubai,” he recalls. “Now there are more and more people going out there and playing their own music and expressing themselves. It’s growing and it’s exciting, and as time goes on it’s going to continue to get better.”