You could call him a late starter. But 10 years from now, wherever Dubai-based acoustic guitarist and singer Abbo lays his hat, you can be sure he’d be holding his head high, knowing he gave it all up to follow his heart.
The former Royal Air Force engineer from the UK only learnt to play the guitar at 26, so he could turn his words into songs, and started off practicing on the graveyard shift in haunted Second World War aircraft hangers in North London. Then three years later, he walked away from his day job to become a full-time musician.
Abbo toured for a few years, from New York to Doha and Manila to Dubai, before he decided to call the UAE home.
And now he’s ready to launch his next EP called The Lend with a performance at Thrive, a mixed networking event that fuses fashion, art and music. Soundbites spoke to Abbo about his new project, being a musician in the UAE and what the future could look like for him:
Q: Tell us a little more about your EP.
A: The Lend EP is a collection of introspective biographical songs performed using one instrument and a vocal recorded live and in one take. The last two bonus songs on the record So Far and Another World were in fact made up on the spot and didn’t exist before the “record” button was pressed.
Q: How would you describe your music?
A: Music to keep you company when you want to be alone
Q: You gave up your Royal Air Force job for a career in music. Why?
A: I had always been a frustrated musician and I gave up my Royal Air Force job seven years before I started music full time but continued as an aircraft technician until a pivotal moment arose in my life where I came to a crossroads. I chose the right path and followed my passion which has led me on an amazing adventure over the past 11 years travelling all over the world playing amazing gigs and festivals and working with incredible musicians.
Q: When did you come to Dubai??
A: About six years ago I was in New York playing gigs and meandering on some Hobo solo vagabond tour with very little onward direction apart from the stipulation “Head East”. I ended up in Sydney four years later. It was time then I figured to stop somewhere and gather my thoughts on which direction to go next. So when my wife was offered a job here we moved, I started looking after my daughter and working on my music and all those ideas gathered from being on the road. I took a break from the live scene and being out six or seven nights a week playing which had been my staple for the last decade nearly. It was an easy choice to come here as this is my third stay in Dubai and it keeps drawing me back, my earliest memories are of the UAE, all different amazing smells of this place from my childhood when I was here first.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of being a musician in the UAE?
A: Every country poses different challenges, but they have to be met head on and an attempt has to be made to overcome them or work with them, it’s more difficult to simply want to change things to suit all the time, that’s when patience is needed. I just see a different set of challenges compared to all the other countries I have been lucky enough to have travelled too. I would say specifically to Dubai though the main challenge is the size of the music scene compared to the size of the city, also awareness of the public to what is here and the unique issue of such a transient society here.
All of us musicians need a solid fanbase and when people move around to and from here that much, it is harder to gain that solid support. But, this place is a blank canvas when it comes to its music scene, that is the most unique thing I have ever seen.
Ten years from now all the hard work will be done by the pioneers of today. I guess a neighbourhood of live music venues all close together would help too. The likes of local singer Hamdan Al Abri, he for one should be more of a major player on the international scene with his talent in my opinion and we should all get behind him and push him more into that arena along with all the other great musicians I have met since being here. He was the only name I knew of before I came to Dubai and he should be championed more for his accomplishments.
Q: How did the EP come about?
A: The Lend EP is an independent release. The recording was courtesy of Rolling Stone magazine and their Street to Stage competition prize which I won as a finalist in last years competition, it was recorded at the SAE Institute Dubai by two great recording engineers Randula De Silva and Sandeep Sequira. We managed to record 18 songs in four hours. The printing of the CD had to be outsourced too, but the rest of the work on the final product was done by me — the writing, performing, CD artwork design and photography.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your performance on Wednesday?
A: Well a promoter I know here Ethan Auguste, runs Thrive UAE which is an enterprise aiming to gather weekly. He invites along anyone and everyone in the creative and arts industry to network and expand awareness of each others talents. Many opportunities can come from this format and as he puts on local live performers and local DJs to entertain the crowd as the night goes on it’s a perfect combination of creative people performing for other creative people. So I jumped at the chance when he asked me to play the night for The Lend EP launch.
I will play most of the songs from the EP, and a mix of old and new original songs, plus some uniquely interpreted cover versions ranging from artists as diverse as U2, Bob Dylan, Christina Aguilera, Amy Winehouse, Jeff Buckley, Ray Parker Jnr (of Ghostbusters fame)
Q: What next for you?
A: I have already started on the next album project which will incorporate collaborations with different musicians in Dubai/UAE and the surrounding region, performing and working with me on each new track in an attempt to try and let the public out there know how many great musicians and talents are right here on their doorstep. Five new tracks are already written and one of them is already complete. The first finished song of this new project was a great collaboration with local Dubstep Producer FIDGIT. I’ve named this overall project The United Audio Experiment.
Q: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
A: I will still be a working musician, I would like to think I had a great band by then and was still supporting my growing family by doing the one thing I love the most in life continuing this incredible musical adventure. As long as I’m doing this and still have a great big smile on my face and all the great family and friends I have around me now are still there, then that’s more than enough for me. Oh yeah, a Grammy or two and a few number one albums would be pretty cool too I guess.
Don’t miss it:
Abbo performs on July 3 at the Thrive UAE event at Sublime, the IBIS Hotel, Dubai World Trade Centre. Show starts 9pm. Entry is free. For more on Abbo, go to abbomusic.com
Don’t miss it
Abbo performs tomorrow night at the Thrive UAE event at Sublime, the IBIS Hotel, Dubai World Trade Centre. Show starts 9pm. Entry is free. For more on Abbo, go to abbomusic.com