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Liberated by Failure in Abu Dhabi

November 13, 2011

Well, that makes four nights in a row where I have failed to find a place to play in Abu Dhabi. I decided to leave my guitar behind and go into “Heroes” bar in the Crowne Plaza hotel, but there is no live music there on Saturday night. I then went to the Intercontinental that someone else suggested, and there was just a very classy piano cocktail lounge thing with a jazz singer, and way too much class. Oh, and that story about the House of Oud I promised to talk about?

The House of Oud, according to Time Out, does have jam sessions, and clearly this would be a bona fide local scene. But four days is clearly not enough time in Abu Dhabi to cross the cultural divide and move from the world of expat bars in fancy hotels to a jam in a non-descript town house behind the One-to-One hotel. I called the number provided by Time Out to order up a jam session, and the person who responded only spoke Arabic. I therefore asked my hotel manager to call. It turned out no one in the hotel spoke Arabic, just Indian and English. So I then caught a cab for the second time in two days – this was yesterday, as I recounted that I already searched for this place on foot the night before – and the cab driver DID speak Arabic.

So the cab driver spoke at length to the man at the House of Oud and then hung up and told me he knew where to go. So he went and stopped just behind the One-to-One hotel and told me I was there. But I said, “Where?” I told him I had already been to this spot and saw no House of Oud. He said, “Here.” But I said, “You don’t really know where it is, do you?” He said he did, but that it was on a larger street on the other side of a field. So I asked him to take me and he drove me to the precise spot where he said was the House of Oud. The only problem was that he was dropping me off at the main gate to a military camp. I told him he really did not know where it was after all, and please take me to the race track. So he did.

At the track, I asked for the help of an Arabic speaking employee. Unfortunately, by the time the phone call finally took place, it was precisely 9 PM, which is the time that the House of Oud apparently ceases its oud lessons and starts the jam – if there is one.

So I failed.

But failure, I decided, in this case is what proves the rule. Failure, it seems to me, is exactly what I needed here in Abu Dhabi in order to give more value to all the other places where I have found open mics, open jam sessions and live music joints where anyone can play. If all the world was exactly the same, what value would there be to such an adventure. It would not be an adventure, it would be a formality. Abu Dhabi is the one place on earth where I have failed to find the kind of musical culture I have sought around the world. By the same token, this place is unique and wonderful in many, many ways, and partly for the same reasons there is not much free musical culture: Because Abu Dhabi is such a finely – if strictly – run society that it is clean, crime seems to be at a minimum, the cab drivers use their meters and do not rip you off, there is abundant housing, drinkable water and eatable food, and all the things we need to be comfortable and well off. Just not so good on the free-for-all live music scene.

But that, as I say, is precisely the story I came to find – an original tale of a place. This never-ending open mic adventure is not only about me having to mark my territory, it is about discovering the reality of the musical culture in the places I go. I found that here, and in that sense, did not fail. If the world was the same everywhere, it would be a bore…. I catch the night flight to Paris and doubt I’ll find a place to play – unless Paul McCartney wants me to join him later on in his concert tonight….

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