Exploring Wasla’s Past: An Arab Alternative Music Festival

On February 2nd, 2018, the second edition of Wasla took place in Dubai. This festival concentrates on giving space for bands from all over the region. This year bands like Cairokee, Autostrad, Lekhfa and local artists performed in front of a large audience. Speaking to Omar El Ayat, one of the core members of the team behind Wasla, Musiqa Mustaqilla explores the history of Wasla.


The Musical Past of Wasla

Between planning Wasla and the realization of its first edition, it took more than six months, remembers Omar El Ayat, who is a musician at Bahiyaa, a Sheikh Imam cover band, and currently the label manager at Mostakell Records. January 2017 was the month when Wasla’s first edition took place at the Dubai Media City Amphitheater (DMC). The Dubai Media City (DMC) where the Amphitheater is located was established back in January 2001 with the aim that Dubai would become the media hub of the region. Even though the name is a new one, most of the core team members behind the festival have all their history within the music business and are all from Egypt. The festival was dubbed as the „Arab Alternative Music Festival“, and one of it’s founders Amr Ramadan, found the opportunity to organize the festival in Dubai. El Ayat explains that:  „We decided to have the first editions in Dubai, because mainly one of the founders was in Dubai during that time, and the partners for the festival are based in Dubai.“

The main partner for the festival is JK58.co. It was founded back in 2011 and aims at a „creative community that transcends borders – both cultural and geographical – taking traditional agency policies and adapting them to the here and now.“ as they write on the homepage.

The Musical Present: Creating an ambitious line-up

The lineup of the second edition was as ambitious as the first one and represents one of the most famous bands and artists from the region. El Ayat explains the reasons and aims behind the aspiring lineup:

„The main purpose behind Wasla is to give exposure to these bands because they deserve it. These bands usually put a lot of work and money in the music production and it turns out that they play gigs in front of 100 or 200 persons. For me it’s important, who needs an exposure. When I think about the line-up, we should bring the popular names from the alternative scene to a first class festival and at the same time give the small bands an exposure to play with these popular bands who have a good fan base.“

Even though the festival is still in its infant years, and usually festivals need their time to establish themselves, El Ayat remembers that the first attempt suffered from being an unknown actor in Dubai. The tickets didn’t sell out as well as they could because it was a new thing and people needed to be lured into being interested in this kind of event. Having experience in the music business made him aware of the economic issues behind organizing festivals. „Most of my experiences come from my first experience. I learned a lot from this crisis. When I started to work on Wasla, I actually tried not to make the same mistakes as in Egypt. The main issue that faces all the people who work in the music industry, is the financial side. I think this is the biggest challenge.“

The Musical Future: Expanding beyond Dubai

For the second edition Wasla changed the venue from the Amphitheater to the Dubai Design District which was established back in 2013. In addition to the main acts with two acts from Egypt (Cairokee and Lekhfa), it added a second stage featuring local talents, which is an important element and should be further explored in the upcoming editions.

El Ayat hopes that upcoming editions of Wasla shouldn’t only be concentrated to take place in Dubai. He describes the festival as a „mobile festival“, meaning that it is not fixed on one location. Even though Wasla’s mission is to introduce this music to Dubai, El Ayat hopes that they bring this festival to places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Maybe even to Australia and other places as well.






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