Dubai's live music scene slowly comes back to life after pandemic shutdowns

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After a year that has disrupted the events industry like no other, Dubai’s music scene is slowly coming back to life.

Entertainment venues in the UAE were shut down on March 15 to slow the spread of COVID-19, and it was not until September 15 that Dubai Tourism announced the return of the emirate’s leisure events sector.

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Now, new events, gigs, and bookings are popping up as performers work to once again populate Dubai’s stages, slowly reviving the industry.

Al Arabiya English spoke to several musicians who shared their experiences of the hardships of lockdown and the joy of being able to perform again as the emirate continues its trend of easing restrictions.


Shebani performs on stage. (Hitesh Dewasi via Facebook)
Shebani performs on stage. (Hitesh Dewasi via Facebook)

For Iraqi-born singer Shebani, the past year has been one of dizzying highs and crushing lows. In December 2019, a few months before the pandemic struck, Shebani was thrilled to play the biggest gig of her life: opening for Jorja Smith and Liam Payne to a crowd of around 20,000 people at the Dubai Shopping Festival 2020.

“It was really life changing, because when you perform at that kind of scale, it really opens up your eyes to why you’re up there and why you’re doing this,” she told Al Arabiya.

“And the energy that you get from the crowd just shows you that connection that you get off of music, and expressing yourself through music, and sharing the songs that you’re writing.”

When the pandemic hit, Shebani’s schedule of performing several times a week suddenly dried up, and she found herself, like many others, taking stock of her life and career path.

“I was scared, as everybody was,” she said. “I felt scared not only because of the pandemic with the virus itself, but also for my future.”

Suffering from the mental and financial toll of lockdown as her income stream dried up, the professional musician began to look for jobs to support herself.

But in the last few months, as lockdown measures eased, Shebani began going out and meeting up with friends, and as her mental health improved, she also started to notice the industry around her picking up again. Companies and brands, she said, have started showing interest in hiring live performers again, for both in-person and virtual events.

She also found a renewed sense of creativity, with new ideas coming to her as life began to return to normal.

Shebani is planning her first show since lockdown this month, with an exact date yet to be confirmed.

“It’s slowly picking up, and I’m very, very glad.”

DJ Ironik and Mina Jay

Left to right: Richard Upshall, Mina Jay, and DJ Ironik
Left to right: Richard Upshall, Mina Jay, and DJ Ironik

British chart-topping rapper DJ Ironik recently got together with Iranian-born, Dubai-based model Mina Jay to record a new single 1399 (2020 in the Persian calendar) at Studio Republik off Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai.

DJ Ironik, who is a regular visitor to Dubai, praised the fact that the emirate has been more accommodating towards live performers than elsewhere in the world during the pandemic.

“It is great to be able to perform live here in Dubai, something that I simply cannot do at the moment in Europe due to the pandemic,” he said. “I love this town.”

He has performed recently at Illuzions, Mantis, and Seven Sisters, as well as a number of private parties.

The track was co-written by DJ Ironik, Mina Jay, with input from record label RU Listening founder Richard Upshall.

The lyrics delve into the emotions surrounding the chaos of the pandemic, with Ironik rapping “lockdown got me, but I can’t let this stop me,” and Mina Jay rhyming in Farsi about how despite the challenges, life still goes on.


Jindi performs on stage. (Facebook)
Jindi performs on stage. (Facebook)

Jindi is a professional musician who, before the pandemic, performed up to three times a week in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Just before lockdown, he traveled to Zimbabwe to shoot a music video for his track “Midnight Love,” featuring Zimbabwean dancehall artist MC Smylie.

He made it back to Dubai on March 3, just weeks before lockdown was announced.

“I remember coming into terminal three of Dubai Airport with my mask on and I was literally the only one there wearing a mask. Looking at it now it was like ‘I did it first,’” he told Al Arabiya English.

Quickly realizing that his busy performing schedule would be affected by the pandemic, Jindi set up the Out of Nowhere Sessions on Instagram (@outofnowheresessions) to promote local talent virtually.

After a challenging few months, he eventually landed his first Dubai gig in September, and has been performing regularly since then.

Speaking about his first gig after lockdown, he said: “I think this had to be one of the highlights of the whole year. I even held the mic and I told them ‘you guys make all this worth it.’

“After all that time, coming back and seeing that same energy is priceless.”

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