Sikka Art Fair, one of the flagship events of the Dubai art season, was created to support and showcase Emirati artists as well as up-and-coming artists from across the region. Held at Al Fahidi Historial Neighbourhood, the free-to-attend event features exhibitions, installations, films and workshops. Live music from regional artists is one of the fair’s highlights. Here are six acts not to miss this year:

Counting in Spanish

190319 Neel Kumar
Image Credit: Neel Kumar

Previously Physical Graffiti, Counting in Spanish are an indie/alternative group from Dubai. The band consists of Sandeep Sequeira, (guitar), Darren Dharmai (bass), Zubin Aroz (vocals, guitar) and Ankhurr Chawaak (drums). They’ve performed at The Fridge in Alserkal Avenue, the Abu Dhabi F1 in 2015, RedfestDXB in 2015, the Red Bull Music Weekend 2016 and the Museland Records Showcase 2018 in Bahrain. Their most recent performance was last week at the Mother of the Nation Festival in Abu Dhabi. The band met as students at the SAE Institute, and played their first show in 2013.

Their first EP (self-recorded, produced and mastered) released in 2016. ‘Return’ is a set of eight songs that are equal parts morose and reflective. Field recordings ranging from traffic to snippets of conversation are integrated into the album’s ambient landscape, imbuing it with a depth and nostalgia that serve as a complement and counterpoint to the urgency of tracks like ‘When I Leave’ and ‘Turquoise’.

‘Return’ sits comfortably between the output of Australian band ‘Purplene’, with its tranquil vocals and angular crescendos, and the quieter moments of Scottish post-rock band Mogwai’s first album ‘Young Team’. Their second EP is in progress and slated for release sometime this year.

Counting in Spanish will perform on March 22, from 10:15 to 11 pm.


190319 Angel-O
Image Credit: Angel-O

Within You Without You are an ethereal wave/dream pop duo from the Philippines based in Al Nahda, Sharjah. They are named after a Beatles song from the 1967 album ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band’.

WYWY have been active since 2015, getting married and having two kids in the process. They’ve played in Singapore, the Philippines. Georgia and across the UAE. Their most recent performance was a special 15-minute set at the Alserkal Residency and Project Space, during day one of their Art Week. The piece was done in collaboration with Yugoslavian artist Zelja Gita Blaksic as part of her SYN installation.

They performed at The Fridge’s 27th concert series, the Quoz Arts Fest, previous Sikka Art Fairs and last year’s Mutek, the UAE’s first multi-day festival catering to lovers and practitioners of experimental electronic music and the digital arts.

Apart from their active role in the art scene, they frequently perform at independently organised community concerts, house parties and their own bedroom sessions.

One half of the duo, Mickie Alveraz (guitar and synth), also plays guitar in the recently formed pop punk band Slowdown Honey, and several years prior in one of Dubai’s first hardcore punk groups, Lipslide.

The other half, Mrs X (vocals/looper/percussion/ synth), performs as Astral LXXXII, an experimental solo project that utilises synthesisers, found sound and vocal effects. Her most recent performance was at Umm Al Quwain’s abandoned plane site in collaboration with Somalian rapper Freek, and the Dubai-based, Indian Monster Crew.

Like most experimental outfits, WYWY shine during live shows, where improvisation enlivens a growing repertoire. Songs like ‘Lunesta’ off their first EP, with its steady acoustic line, eerie, delicate xylophone and the mounting drone of X’s voice is almost meditative. Played live, her vocals can shift from siren-like to harrowing as Alvarez cuts through the din on his electric guitar.

WYWY perform on March 21 from 9.15pm to 10pm.

We Left as Humans

190319 Francis John Contreras
Image Credit: Francis John Contreras

We Left as Humans — Cromwell and David Ojeda (guitar), Mark Casimiro (bass guitar), Axell Florida (drums), Andrew Borella (keyboard), and Miguel Perez (guitar) — are back at Sikka, on the same stage they made their live debut three years ago in March 2016. The six-piece post-rock band released their self-titled first album later that year. ‘We Left as Humans’ is a solid effort. Their music is best described as overwhelmingly triumphant, in the vein of groups like 65daysofstatic.

They made their comeback after a two-year hiatus at The Fridge’s 27th concert series earlier this year.

We Left as Humans play on March 21 from 10.15pm to 11pm.

We Speak In Colors

Image Credit: Katie Krulock

Andrew Armstrong’s ongoing project is two-pronged. We Speak In Colors encompasses singles and EPs of mostly indie-folk in the vein of artists like Conor Oberst. Equally important are his field recordings (photos, videos, recorded conversations, and think pieces) that sometimes hinge on the journalistic.

After living out his young adulthood between Somerset, Pittsburgh, Nantucket and Nashville, Armstrong moved to Abu Dubai in the summer of 2015 to teach. He travels to induce states of heightened creativity, addressing the trials and pleasures of movement, his physical and mental health, and the company he keeps throughout.

Armstrong’s artistic ethos is exemplified in one video documenting a barbershop conversation in Najda, one of Abu Dhabi’s oldest neighbourhoods. At the tail end of the 11-minute clip is an in-house performance of his song ‘Prednisone’, the only version available online.

We Speak In Colors performs on March 24 from 7pm to 7.45pm.


190319 Waleed Shah
Image Credit: Waleed Shah

Vandalye is an alternative folk rock band based out of Dubai, founded by Thomas McCone (guitar), Lucas McCone (guitar) and Scott Attew (vocals/guitar).

Vandalye are veterans of scene-maker Abbo Abbondandolo’s Go Play The World open mic series, where they met in September 2015. Their first single ‘Don’t Lie to Me’ released in February 2016. This was followed by a five-track debut EP entitled ‘From the Beginning’, the following May. Their EP would go on to top the Middle East iTunes Charts, and they are hard at work on their highly anticipated first album.

Vandalye’s influences range as widely as the poetry of Jack Kerouac to the music of the Bloc Party, The National and Mumford and Sons. Their music is written and recorded between Dubai and Hamburg, Germany.

The band have opened for a number of international acts such as Lionel Richie, Elton John, and Stereophonics. Their rise from open-mic favourites to arena rock openers for more than 25,000 people at a time is commendable.

Vandalye perform on March 24 from 9.15pm to 10pm.

The Deer Hum

190319 Zubin Aroz
Image Credit: Zubin Aroz

The Deer Hum are a Dubai-based, five piece indie/alternative act comprising of Andrei Ramos (lead vocals/guitars/piano), Yohaan Samuel (acoustic guitar/vocals), JJ Deligero (drums/vocals), Alvin Ramos (bass guitar/keys) and Manuel Obando (electric guitar). The band formed in November 2013, with a heavy gestation period leading up to their first EP’s release in 2018.

The cover of 2018’s ‘Take Time’ features the quintet as children in their obligatory discount-studio visa photos. The Deer Hum, like many of their contemporaries, address the turbulence and transiency of expatriate life. The EP is fairly diverse, with tracks like the piano-driven ‘Soldiers’, the infectious ‘Like Flint’ and ‘Take Time’ which got a beautiful, extended live arrangement during the EP’s launch at the Fridge’s 26th concert series last year.

‘Take Time’ is a polished effort from a band that hopes to be back in the studio very soon.

The Deer Hum perform on March 23 from 8.15pm to 9pm.

— Mohammad El Jachi is an intern at Gulf News.

Don’t miss it!

Entry to Sikka Art Fair, running until March 24, is free.