Izzy Abidi, The Freshly Ground Sounds founder and creative director
Izzy Abidi, founder of music collective Freshly Ground Sounds, has lived all her 29 years between England in the UAE, giving her a global perspective that informs her work in Dubai. We chat to the young music-loving lawyer about Freshly Ground Sounds and her favourite local haunts.
What inspired you to start Freshly Ground Sounds?
One of the many things I missed about living in London was the local music scene and the community associated with it, where pop-up gigs in local coffee houses or community spaces were a regular fixture. As an amateur musician myself, I also enjoyed taking along my guitar and jamming with other musicians in the area.
When I returned to the UAE in 2013, the gap in the market for independent, local music was apparent to me, as was the lack of a community to bring these individuals together. There was an abundance of cover bands in hotel bars and increasing number of international pop or dance acts filling the latest outdoor venues, but nothing to encompass original, local music. So I got a few musicians together in a coffee shop, did a bit of branding, and set up an email account… And that has turned into what we know as Freshly Ground Sounds today. It started at the right time, in the right place and, as a musician and music-lover, I am so glad it did.
Could you describe the purpose and community of Freshly Ground Sounds in your own words?
Freshly Ground Sounds is an independent music initiative that aims to unite a community of local musicians, music-lovers and creatives through the power of music. My ultimate goal is to create a sustainable creative platform in the UAE – not only for the local residents, but also to put Dubai on the map as a city with a thriving art and cultural hub, full of original talent. There is so much more soul to the Emirates than meets the eye on first glance. I want people beyond our borders to recognise the UAE for the art and culture, just as much as the skyscrapers and five-star hotels.
How would you describe the live music scene in Dubai?
With an influx of short-term expatriates being brought together in a new city, and Dubai building itself as a tourist destination, the music industry was initially built on commercial imports – whether it be cover bands in hotel bars, or touring international pop stars. Originality wasn’t the focus.
Today, however, it’s a different story. Dubai is already on the map as one of the world’s most popular places to live, and is no longer a city full of imports. People have established roots here, and the proof is in the hundreds of local independent brands, stores and food outlets around us.
Similarly, there is an increasing demand for originality and variety in the music scene and since FGS began, we’ve seen the same thing happen in the electronic, jazz and DJ scenes. Other collectives like Analog Room and DUST DXB are having a huge impact on the music scene in Dubai, both by promoting independent music and bringing different artists from around the world. It’s definitely the most exciting time to be part of the music scene!
What has been Freshly Ground Sounds’ greatest achievement so far?
I can’t name just one achievement that sticks out, but we have had several milestones that have been mini-wins for myself and Team Freshly. Our third gig saw us skip from 70 attendees to more than 200. By our second month, we were getting such an overwhelming response.
We’ve also won some awards, including Good Magazine’s UAE Home Grown Hero 2014, been recognised by the Dubai Tourism Board and have one more award nomination coming up this month [September], which will hopefully be a win for the wider UAE creative community. It really is amazing that within the space of 18 months, a simple idea has grown into 14 events, a database of just under 200 local musicians, events reaching a top attendance of just over 1000 people, and a brand name that has gained international and regional recognition.
What’s next for you and your team?
We’re running Freshly Ground Sounds for the love of music. It’s currently not-for-profit, and we’ll be spending the summer looking into various models of how to make FGS self-sustaining without having to change its fundamental principles.
We’ve had some inquiries from outside the UAE about promoting original talent this country has to offer. An independent documentary on the Freshly Ground Sounds story, called Different Tones, will also be released internationally in 2015, which we hope will shine a spotlight on the UAE’s music scene for the rest of world. It’s such a satisfying feeling to be able to give back to the place where I grew up, and to provide a platform that showcases the talent in our local creative scene. My rule is that as long as it’s fun to run, I’ll keep going.
When friends are in town I take them to…
A Freshly gig, the Dubai coast for some wakeboarding and surfing, the fish market, a day trip to Abu Dhabi, Alserkal Avenue for the galleries, a rooftop venue with a great view, a day in Bab Al Shams, and some of my other regular weekend haunts.
The restaurant that best shows off local cuisine
Bu Qtair is the best spot for fresh local seafood. As for Emirati cuisine, Bur Dubai has some great small restaurants closer to the main city, and Boxpark in Jumeriah recently opened Logma, which has a substantial Emirati-infused menu with plenty of traditional dishes.
What’s least known about Dubai?
The independent music, art and culture that flows in the city. It can be difficult to find – though you might stumble on it accidentally – so social media, particularly Instagram, is the most useful tool to find the best locations and events that the guide books won’t tell you.
Dubai is a place that is commercially and culturally full of opportunities and inspiration. My weekends are full of camping, water sports, cooking large meals with good friends and playing music. There is not a week that goes by without a pop-up cinema or a local art exhibition. If you are naturally interested in something or want to learn a new skill, the UAE is the type of place where these things are possible, regardless of background or experience.
For local designer creations
Local designers are usually the most accessible via pop-ups at local creative events or markets (like Freshly Ground Sounds, Art Nights, Alserkal Avenue, urban markets or weekend street food fairs). More recently, department store Harvey Nichols also had a concession for local independent designers. My personal favourite local designer is Faissal El Malak.
The most romantic spot in Dubai
The desert or a quiet coastal spot away from the city lights, where you can see the stars.
My favourite hotel in Dubai
There are so many hotels that cater to different moods and activities that it’s hard to keep up. However, if I have to choose I’d say a contemporary classic like Madinat Jumeirah. It’s got such a wide range of excellent food, shopping, leisure and entertainment options contained in a great location.
To see the best art in Dubai
I’d start at Alserkal Avenue and explore the surrounding area.
If I had a free day I would
Spend it out at sea, off the coast of Dubai, return to shore and enjoy some local seafood at Bu Qtair then enjoy a nice view on a rooftop somewhere.