Tags: creative director
It all pretty much went down like this: me after a frustrating day at work, in the back of a cab, having a friend on the other end of the phone line trying to explain to me how to get to the Magazine Shop, which is located somewhere in Media City… wait no, Internet City, or was it Media City? After driving in circles for what seems like an eternity, my friend hands over the phone to the guy running the Magazine Shop. He gives the cab driver instructions, cab driver pretends to get it, but we end up more lost than we were in the first place. Meanwhile, I have time to ponder upon the idea of asking the Magazine Shop guy to pose for imatioθiki. That would be a great idea. I might just ask him.
Two weeks later I find myself in a villa in Jumeirah, where Kamal rents a room with his girlfriend, in a place owned by a Syrian guy and his British girlfriend. Place is packed with cool things and has a very decent garden, which is rare to find in Dubai. Also there’s a dog, that jumps up and down your legs and that’s when you want to get into your time machine and chose the jeans over the shorts for the day’s outfit. There’s also a cool piano, which is older than me and Kamal and his girlfriend and the Syrian guy and his girlfriend all put together – when I say old, I mean business.
I get offered some tea, lemon ginger (note to self: I need to get me some of that) and Kamal unveils a whole lot more than I expected and presumed when stalking his fb account. I get introduced to musical instruments from around the globe, cool patterned fabrics from the markets of Bahrain, Indian girl bands and tapes from London. All that coming from a 23 year old guy, who has conquered so much already and you know there’s a lot more coming his way.
How was it growing up in Bahrain?
It was cool! Bahrain’s a very strange place and has a tiny population. It felt like growing up in a small village or something, which has its positives but also it’s drawbacks such as feeling trapped. The people there are second to none though and you can find tons of weird hang out spots, which I’ve grown to love.
Why did you choose London after Bahrain?
I really wanted to get out of Bahrain! The place is just too small and I wanted to broaden my horizons.
You started your band, Flamingods, in London. Do you think that things would be different were you not in the UK?
It’s hard to say, we create such dislocated music that steers away from settling down to one culture’s sounds. In terms of getting our sounds out there, it definitely helped, the UK is a great musical hub. Being in a band in the Middle East creating original music can be tough from personal experience.
Flamingods is inspired by traditional and contemporary music from around the globe. Which countries music are you currently obsessing over?
Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Ethiopian jazz, the classic stuff; Hailu Mergia, Girma Beyene, Mulatu Ashtatke! It’s got such a great hypnotic vibe that I’m obsessed with.
How hard is it to start your own band and have a lot of traditional elements as references in times like these? Where do you get all these amazing instruments from?
Not hard at all really! These traditions and instruments are, a lot of the time easily accessible but people often ignore them and pick up a guitar instead or seclude themselves to Western music. If you live in Dubai, just head to Karama and there are tons of shops selling the stuff, my girlfriend bought me a set of tabla drums on Dubizzle for less than 300AED! No, if someone has the drive to do it, I don’t think it would be hard at all. I get a lot of them from travelling and heading to old music shops.
This typewriter / string instrument sounds like heaven, or like the soundtrack of the Darjeling Limited. What’s it called?
Oh man I love it too much! It’s called a Taishōgoto and it’s basically a Japanese harp-like instrument. I tend to call it the typewriter sitar because that’s how it operates/sounds. It’s also got a plug-in so I can plug it into an amp and my pedals, which is great. I play it a lot live.
If you had to do an exploring music year off, which countries would you visit?
That sounds magical. Myanmar is somewhere I’ve wanted to check out for a while, I have a folk record from there and the music is quite enchanting. Witnessing live Gamelan in Bali and catching some Ghanaian Highlife would also be on the cards.
Why do you collect old vinyl records with weird covers?
Haha I think it’s more that the musicians I tend to like have covers that are a little stranger than usual. One person’s weird is another’s beauty.
What are the three (or two) things that make a vinyl record an object of adoration?
For me it’s the physical interaction of placing a record down and sitting through the whole album. Playing music off my laptop can be so fickle at times and you end up getting distracted by a million other things. That paired with the fact that you get this beautiful blown up piece of artwork makes it really desirable for me.
Your girlfriend and you have the most amazing food blog. Is it ok if bring all my friends to the places you scout and next time you go for dinner, you find it super crowded?
Haha yeah that’s all good with me! I’d love to see more people hang out in these spots.
Is there more than meets the eye in Dubai? And where is that exactly?
Yeah totally! I think it’s easy to label the place a big cash cow but in reality, there’s so much more going on beneath the surface in the older parts of town. Nigerian clubs with Cadillac seats and live afro-beat; Nepalese bars with hypnotic dancers and great food; Ethiopian cassette tape shops, they are all here and if anyone is interested, can be found easily. I tend to find out about these places from cab drivers!
You are in charge of the Magazine Shop, which would be one of the most inspiring places in Dubai. How challenging is running a magazine shop at times when you can get your hands on almost everything in just one click?
It’s definitely tough! Dubai doesn’t have a history ingrained with print culture as the UK does. It’s a growing thing and pushing it on people who might not be aware of independent print is a challenge. We have gotten so much support that makes it worth it though.
How have magazines changed the last couple of years?
There’s been an uprising of independent print, which is great! Even in the Middle East we’ve got wonderful titles like The Outpost, WTD, Brownbook & The Carton that are of such a high standard and just wouldn’t have existed out here 10 years ago (or less).
Apart from the good coffee and great vibes, why should I come to the Magazine Shop in the next couple of weeks?
We’re getting in new stocks of vinyl records & magazines!! Oh and we got some cool events coming up too.
Your shirts are so cool. You made them on your own?
Thanks! I like to collect fabrics from places I visit and then take them to one of the many tailors in old Dubai to make a shirt out of it for me. It’s great cause there’s this kind of long process of doing it all that makes you feel a greater connection to what you’re wearing. When my parents were living in Bahrain in the 80s, there were apparently no clothes shops so they did the same process! They have really great fabrics in the Bahrain Suq, designs that have been there since the 60s or earlier!
You know what else is cool? Your collages! How does a guy who runs a magazine shop and is also a musician and a vinyl collector, oh and has a food blog, decide to start experimenting with collages?
Hehe thank you! Honestly, living in Dubai can sometimes be intense for me, it’s fast paced and there’s much less going on in the art and music scene, compared to when I was living in London. Staying creative is the only way I get by and stay inspired! I started a few months back when I realized I had all this imagery in my head – linked to the music I create that I wanted to put on paper. I can’t draw or paint so it seemed like the logical answer. I scoured used bookshops in Satwa and got started putting them together, it’s really relaxing! I just put a record on and work on it for a few hours each week.
How can I get one of them for my living room?
A few of them are available on the online art shop Versus & they are also being displayed and for sale at Satellite in Al Serkal Avenue.
Your summer was spent touring around Europe (and the US?) with Flamingods. How about your winter? Can I see you perform live?
Yesss it was pretty great! We had a big van and drove around Europe and the UK meeting some great people and seeing beautiful cities along the way. Winter will be a little more quiet, we’re playing in Bahrain on the 17th of October and possibly Dubai soon too. We love travelling so hopefully our music takes us to more places soon.
A few comments on the things pictured above:
Flamingod’s latest album cover, is actually one of Kamal’s collages. / Kamal never actually studies music, rather approached it in a more trial and error way. It turned out just fine for him. / The albums he owns have some really crazy stories. Some of them were bought after much searching and walking around vinyl shops in London. Sometimes he buys albums just because the cover looks right. / The hat Kama’s wearing actually belonged to a girl his friend once hooked up with. It’s probably Peruvian. / During their concerts, Flamingods wear strange hats and traditional garments, with a modern twist to them – they actually bleach them. / His roommate is a jazz singer, and Kamal really enjoys listening to her voice. Kind of like living in a concert. / Kamal is a very cool and open guy. You should pay him a visit at the Magazine Shop and small talk, or big talk for that matter.