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Bahrain Day I – Or Just a Musical Nibble

March 10, 2010

I couldn’t believe it. Today, just minutes after I posted those two first items on this blog I decided to chase up a couple of leads I found for live music venues in Manama, Bahrain. This capital city of the dry, hot and colorless Gulf city was never going to be an easy one to find a place to play – I thought.

In fact, it was one of only three race venues I did not attend of the 17 last year. So as far as my musical adventure goes, it’s virgin territory. And I must say that I was not feeling very much like it would be another Istanbul or Melbourne or London or Oxford in terms of open mics and music.

I’ll fill in a little more as I got, but right to the point: I had spotted something in Time Out Bahrain while on my flight. Two or three or four possibilities over the race weekend. And unfortunately, arriving late today I had very little time and it seemed that Wednesday night was the hot night for the likelihood of finding a place to play.

Indeed, as I said, I posted those first two posts, then I followed up a lead on the Internet for a room called Aqua Fuego where there was supposed to be an evening called LIVE! And that was supposed to have all the best musicians in Bahrain. I looked it up on the Internet and found through the Aqua Fuego Facebook page that it was actually an open mic session every Wednesday. And then I found out that in this sort of sprawling, disconnected city of Bahrain, that the Aqua Fuego was located in a hotel called “Day’s Hotel.” And that, I remembered jumped out at me as I took the taxi to my own hotel. In fact, it was only 30 seconds walk down the street!!!

So I packed up my guitar and ran off there as fast as possible and went up to the bar on the third floor…to find it desperately lifeless, very 1970s kitschy, crummy and with about six bartenders and two clients. And some kind of garbage disco music coming out of the sound system.

“I read in Time Out Bahrain and on the Internet, that there is a kind of musical evening here tonight,” I said to the bartender.

He gave me a very blank look. He was some kind of Asian, more Indian than Bahraini.

“Ask this guy,” he said, referring me to a man who looked almost identical to him, and who had just come up behind me at the bar. (After all, what excitement – a client!) “He’s our DJ.”

So I asked the DJ the same question.

“No, no,” he said with a smile. “The open mic ended LAST Wednesday. We had the finals last Wednesday. Anyway, we were emphasizing more comedy than music.”

He said that while looking at my guitar on my back.

“Oh,” I said. “So Time Out is wrong, and so is the Internet. How long was it going on for?”

“Ten weeks,” he said. So I missed an open mic at the hotel beside mine, and it had been going on for 10 weeks and suddenly had to end the week before I arrived.

No self pity.

“Do you have any ideas where there might be any such thing in Bahrain?” I asked. “Live music where anyone can play?”

“There’s a Karaoke at JJs in Juffair, I think,” he said.

This was the biggest insult possible. Karaoke. But I was outnumbered, so I said nothing except that was not what I was looking for.

I pointed out there was an “Irish Music” night at Maguires Pub at the Mansouri Mansions Hotel, according to Time Out, and he said that was a great idea. That I should try that.

So I took a cab across town. This was, I realized, one of the problems of Bahrain. You had to take a cab across town every time you wanted a change in the nightlife scene. It was not like downtown Istanbul where I could get lost in the central area and find 500 live music joints.

I arrived at Maguires, where Time Out had advertised the Irish Music night and I was thinking I might have a chance because Time Out had called it, “An informal night of Irish Music, everyone welcome.”

Okay. So guess what? No music visible – or audible, rather. It’s your typical Irish pub, crowded, nice, cosy, but no music. So then I see there is a “sports room” upstairs. I go up to find the upper floor has a snooker table – which qualifies it as a sports room – and nothing else. No people. Dead. No music. But a bartender woman of what appeared to be Filipino origin.

“I understand there is an Irish music night tonight?”

A shake of the head in embarrassment. She said she knew nothing of what I spoke. I got out fast. Went back downstairs. Went to the main bar.

“Hi,” I said to the bartender woman, who was also Filipino. “I understand there is supposed to be an informal Irish music night?”

“Yeah, there’s supposed to be,” she said. “But the musicians didn’t come tonight.”

“Oh, they just didn’t come?”

“Yeah, in fact, they didn’t show up last week either.”

“Oh, but it is official?”

“Yes,” she said. “There is an Irish music night on Wednesday.”

I thanked her and then in desperation spoke to a couple of clients at the bar who looked Irish and in their 30s. I’ll cut this short, as it is getting way too long. But the these two who I think were Irish, directed me to another bar, one called Dublin Club.

“There’s an Australian band there now,” they said. “You speak to the band, and they’ll tell you about the music scene in Bahrain, no doubt.”

So I took another cab over to the Dublin Club in Juffair, which like the other two places, was in the ground floor of a hotel. It was now after 10 PM and I had decided I’d dine whatever happened, and call it quits if I found no place to play my songs.

Turned out the Dublin Club was a very cool and lively bar with a restaurant in a side room. The security guards almost did not let me in with my guitar. But I insisted, and they were nice. So I got in with it.

Dublin Club

A band from Australia playing the Dublin Club in Bahrain. (Photo Credit: Brad Spurgeon)

Inside, I found as I said, this amazingly lively and large pub restaurant with a crowd of what seemed to be partly American military personnel – there’s a base there – and the band was huge. From Australia, indeed, and there were 6 band members, including two women. It was mostly pretty much electro and disco kind of stuff – except for the Pink Floyd song they played from The Wall (“Hey, Teacher, Leave those kids alone.”) I ate a half decent meal and listened to the band: Two guitar players, a keyboard player, a drummer, a guy on an electric drum and the woman singer and the bass player. I enjoyed it. It was a very together band, and very flashy and showbiz like. And for once, it was a cover band that didn’t play “Cocaine”….

At the break after the second set I spoke to the bass player. (He plays a five string bass.)

“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you know the music scene much in Bahrain? I’m looking for a place to play, like in an open mic….”

“No,” he said. “We’ve only been here for two weeks.”

My heart falls.

“Oh,” I said, “Ok. I was just looking for anything, you know, since I’m here for a few days for the race.”

“Well, we have a jam session once a week,” he said.

My optimism returned.

“What day?” I asked.


“What time?”

“9:00 PM.”

“Wow, so I can come and play a song or two with the band?”

“Come ’round, we make a list. We’ll fit you in.”

And so I feel like I have a date. But stick around and let’s see if it works out on Saturday at the Dublin Club – and if I haven’t found some cool more Bahraini local music type place or something in the meantime. But I’m actually feeling very liberated and realizing once again how if you just push, push and push you sometimes get what you’re looking for.

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