BelSodfa: Finding a new Middle Eastern sound

BelSodfa is an original series from Red Bull that saw 20 regional artists embark on a series of musical blind dates. (Supplied)
Updated 25 July 2019

BelSodfa: Finding a new Middle Eastern sound

  • Each session of the project saw two regional alternative artists create a song from scratch in eight hours.

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.”

Lack of spirit leaves World War II saga hanging midway

Roland Emmerich’s just-opened “Midway” comes nowhere close to the 1950s and 1960s war adventures. (Supplied)
Updated 14 November 2019

Lack of spirit leaves World War II saga hanging midway

CHENNAI: Movies on World War II have delighted cinema audiences for years. Nobody can forget the daring Allied escape in the 1965 “Von Ryan’s Express” with Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard driving a train through Nazi-occupied territory.

There were others in that decade and earlier such as David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai” about British prisoners of war building a railway in malaria-infested Burma (now Myanmar). These were great classics, but recent efforts have not been as memorable.


Roland Emmerich’s just-opened “Midway” comes nowhere close to the 1950s and 1960s war adventures. Despite audiences still being thirsty for WWII sagas and a star-studded cast (Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Mandy Moore, Ed Skrein and Nick Jonas), the film is unmoving, mainly because of the shallow characters. If the dialogues are stiff, the dramatic potential – including the relationship among the men – appears to have been left midway.

The film begins with Japan’s December 1941 air attack on the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, which dragged America into the conflict, and the flick follows America’s revenge mission culminating in the June 1942 Battle of Midway.


For the US, it was a victory against all odds giving them control of the Pacific’s Midway atoll. It was also a major triumph of human spirit, but the film does not quite capture it.

Most of the exploits relate to real-life fighter pilot Dick Best (Skrein), whose devil-may-care attitude earns him the title “cowboy.” His wife Ann (Moore), the only female character, urges him on but seems a washed-out figure. However, there is plenty of action in the air with dog fights, bombings and pilots ejecting from burning planes high above the ground.


For fans of singer Jonas, his small but significant part may appeal. He is sailor Bruno Gaido whose spontaneous and heroic action during a Japanese raid earns him promotion.

“Midway” plays at three levels, including one about Japanese military officers, and was shot in Hawaii and Montreal with a lot of computer graphics thrown in. The camera work (Robby Baumgartner) is impressive, but somewhere the soul is missing, and the characters fail to come across as real people.

Despite this, the film opened atop the North American box office last weekend with a reported $17.5 million in ticket sales.