Metal band SVENGALI has become a household name in Dubai and the entire region; Best Local Music Act (Ahlan Award) nomination, Top 2 on the UAE album charts, and opening act for Sepultura. The band’s sophomore album SAYONARA came out on March 20th 2020.
- What was your reaction when your first album “Theory of Mind” hit No 2 in Virgin Megastore’s UAE album charts in 2015? Did it remove any concerns you had about your music being too out there for the Dubai scene?
It was definitely a surprise! We were humbled and grateful to the Svengali Family and the UAE Metal scene as a whole. As you know, it’s something unprecedented in this part of the word for a local metal band to hit any sort of chart.
- You come from different countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, UAE, and India. Did this difference in origins positively affect the band dynamics as well as the music? What are some driving forces that you all share, and the difficulties of having music as a career?
As a unit, we don’t consider our backgrounds to be anything that would affect the musics.
The difference in origins did not affect the band dynamics in any way – we are just a bunch of dudes who like making music and having a good time. The common denominator is our love for metal music and that differently made it easier.
In terms of the driving force, growing up in this part of the world we have a ton to say and that is our main vessel. Seeing that a lot of people connect with the music on a much more personal level makes it worth everything we’ve put in to this band. And the difficulties of wanting to have music as a career whereas in reality, for all the bands in the region, it’s a very expensive hobby!
- Tell us more about the Svengali Family – you actually built your own studio, and you are an independent band. How important is it for you to develop that relationship with the fans? How has that been this year, given the lockdowns, border closings, and other economical difficulties in the Middle East?
JM took lead on the production, recording and mixing the album from his home studio, because since the very early stages of Sayonara we had a vision for what we wanted the album to sound like, and couldn’t translate that anywhere else. We invested in all the gear we needed to make that happen and built our own little space, which allowed us to take our time getting everything just the way we wanted it.
That relationship is very important to us. The Svengali Family has been showing love from all over the world and we cannot express how grateful we are. The dedication and support that the Svengali Family has shown throughout the years is unmatched. Which made it very difficult for us this year, to not be able to go out and see them at the shows – we had a huge plan in place to go out and play shows and tour but that was all unfortunately suddenly put on hold.
- Your 2nd album Sayonara was released on March 20th 2020 – how has it been received so far, considering it was released at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you feel your sound has matured 5 years after your first album, with the experience you got from your live gigs, having your own studio, and getting feedback from fans and media?
Sayonara blew our own expectations – it was very well received worldwide, even being featured on Metal Hammer Magazine and Metal Injection… and whole bunch of other insane magazines and site around the world.
The reviews have been very positive, so far!
We have definitely evolved and changed as people in these 5 years, and we think that this was reflected in our songwriting and process in this album. Which is something that will always be part of our process as we evolve as people and a band. We will not fight the change!
- In your interview with The National (here), Dubai was mentioned as “a healthy scene”. Can you tell us in short how it compares to scenes from Lebanon, Iraq, and India?
Here in the UAE, it’s easier for bands to put on shows in comparison to where we grew up. International acts don’t have as much trouble playing here and local bands have more opportunity to share a stage with those bigger bands. But it’s definitely not the strongest scene – it’s just as hard to break out of it as anywhere else in the Middle East.
- What are your favorite Metal albums of 2020 so far (one per member)? Any non-Metal honorable mentions?
JM: Orbit Culture – Nija
Ali: Virus by Haken
Josh: City Burials by Katatonia
Adnan: I’ve been jamming the last Lamb of God album a bunch!
- What are the highlights of your career so far? Any specific gigs or media mentions that propelled your personal drive and reputation the most?
Direct support for Sepultura is definitely up there. Headbangers Weekend Festival in Istanbul is another experience we loved… there are just way too many to list, but all of them one way or another played a part in shaping who we are today.
- I came across an online review that called your sound “too American” because it’s Metalcore. Can we consider that a positive thing, given that you do want to venture outside this part of the world? Do you actively choose not to adopt a more Middle Eastern / Oriental Metal sound?
Too American, Too Djent, Too Metalcore, Too Clean… even “Too Middle Eastern” at one point. We play and write what comes natural to us and what translates with us emotionally. We don’t actively cater to any genre in general, we just do us.
- Middle Eastern Metal usually reflects the negative emotions of experiencing war, corruption, etc. However, you use Metal to release positive energies, focusing on persevering through difficulties related to the human condition. Tell us more about that.
That’s easy… we’ve been to hell and back, and the only thing that got us through those times and struggles was having a positive mindset. Simply, that is what we chose to share through our music.
- Finally, what can we expect from you in late 2020 / 2021?
With the current global uncertainty, we only hope for more music! Just expect a whole lot more! We can’t wait until these strange times are over and we’re back on the road… but until then, more music, more positivity.