DUBAI: “Music is all about energy and coming into contact with another artist’s vibe can only make you evolve,” says Swerte, one third of hip-hop trio The Recipe. “It’s great to have control and do things on your own, but if you’re ever stuck and need a jolt to get you going, working with another artist usually gets you inspired again.”
Swerte is discussing collaboration and, in particular, BelSodfa, an original series from Red Bull that saw 20 regional artists embark on a series of musical blind dates. That meant two artists who didn’t know each other creating and recording a track in just eight hours.
“Each collaboration had its standout moment,” says Reiner Erlings, the Dutch producer and composer who helmed the series’ nine tracks. “Usually it’s the moment where, seemingly out of nowhere, the foundation of a new song is created. That moment where both the artists and myself knew we had something we could develop into a finished song. It’s a magical moment in the songwriting process, where the melody and lyrics begin to come together.”
Erlings says Shaun Warner — Red Bull’s marketing manager for music and content across the GCC — paired artists together to create “the most unexpected collaborations.” For example, the Syrian-Armenian English-language singer-songwriter Ibby VK was paired with Nubian folk singer Abayazied on the track “Who I Am,” while the Tunisian neo hip-hop advocate Aeli collaborated with Dubai-based US rapper Zenden Lavon on “Gemini.”
“One of the best examples, in my opinion, is the track with Molham and Hasan Malik (“Find My Way”), where a rapper from Saudi collaborated with a UAE-based English-language pianist and singer,” says Erlings. “The result is a modern pop track with Arabic and English lyrics. It kind of sums up the musical culture of this region.”
For Aeli, whose musical style is centered on beats and trap, his collaboration with Lavon provided an opportunity to not only explore new creative ideas, but to change the way he approaches composition and writing. “It’s like a gulp of fresh air,” he says. “Like cleaning the surface of your reflexes by bringing in something new.”
“We started jamming with a framed vision in mind,” he says of the session. “We were just bouncing ideas off each other; he would add his signature and I would add mine. I would guide him with the flow, and he would direct me with his ideas for the track. This is why we have such different parts in the track. It’s a representation of Zenden’s and my different backgrounds and the common ground we played in. It was very smooth and natural. It wasn’t forced in any way.”
The collaboration also provided an opportunity for Aeli to learn more about himself as an artist. “I learned that I tend to overthink a lot when creating music,” he says. “And sometimes a spontaneous approach helps you create and gives you better results. I am used to expressing myself in certain ways musically. It’s a way that represents me only — something that I have to say. When you work with somebody else you have to find that middle ground — that one thing that makes both of us speak, makes both of us express ourselves, and both of us proud of the results.”
Finding a workable middle ground was initially a worry for The Recipe, who found themselves collaborating with the Lebanese pop singer Anthony Touma to create a track called “Always Want More.”
“We decided to break the ice by showing each others’ music videos so that we could really see and hear what our creative directions were,” says Swerte, who represented The Recipe with P. Storm. “I think everyone in the room was thinking the same thing when that happened, which was ‘These two couldn’t be more different than each other and how in the world is this going to work?’”
Then the three began to jam. Anthony on piano, Swerte on drums, P.Storm on lyrics. Within 10 minutes they had clicked.
“That jam was really special,” says Swerte. “It was a lot of fun and when we kind of locked into this groove and melody I think everyone in the room got excited and felt that we had something. I think it was a bit of a relief as well because of how different we were as artists and there was an unspoken feeling that this might not work at all.”
“This was the first time The Recipe made a commercial ‘pop’ record and I think it really opened our creative horizons,” adds Swerte. “Since its release we’ve been getting a lot of positive comments from our fans — that they didn’t expect this from us — and that’s really given us confidence to explore other lanes. It goes to show that no matter how long you’ve been doing this and how much you think you know yourself, you may still have a few surprises within you that have yet to come to fruition.”
Importantly, BelSodfa has highlighted the diversity of musical talent operating in the Gulf and the wider region. It has also proved that collaboration can yield amazing results, despite the apparent disparity between artists. The end results have now been released by Universal Music.
“We have amazing talent here in this region,” says Swerte. “I think it’s time for the powers that be to realize that, and to help create a thriving industry that’s self-sustaining by implementing publishing laws so that these great artists can get their royalties and create more for the region. That one thing could change things in such a big way and propel the talent that we have into a whole other level. Look at what we’re doing now as it is. It’s amazing.”
Erlings agrees. He also believes that the BelSodfa project was “an important milestone towards finding the ‘sound’ of this region,” with collaboration an important form of cultural exchange — an exchange that he says is vital for the development of the region’s music scene.
“Musicians in this region are not only at a world-class level, they are also firmly rooted in their own style and pushing the envelope when it comes to developing a regional sound,” says Erlings. “No longer are artists trying to emulate the music coming from the West, instead the scene has matured and artists are now making music that is relevant to this region and this music is now being exported to the rest of the world.”