Bahrain’s music scene is poised to make waves around the region. We meet a rising star
Time Out Bahrain staff
Late at night with the humidity rising off the dusty summer streets above the honeycomb skyline of Riffa, you may hear the warm comforting vocal tones of emerging 18-year-old R&B singer May Alqasim, engaging with the evening hues. As most artists seek out their creative time, May writes in the still of the night when the house sleeps. Her passion is R&B and she enjoys both the modern singers like Keisha Cole and the R&B legends that her mother listened to when May was a child. However, Arabic doesn’t lend itself well to the chords and tones of Rhythm and Blues, so although May is proud of her culture, her artistic path is expressed using English.
May began writing poetry as a young girl and remembers her teacher from the 3rd grade taking her mother aside and commenting on the emotive words in her poetry, May says, ‘My mother had tears in her eyes; I was clearly of a deeper nature and in touch with my feelings, even back then’. May grew up in Bahrain attending St. Christopher’s School in Isa Town, and comes from a mixed cultural heritage with a Bahraini father and Tunisian mother. With a good ear for music, May took up the piano at 13 and began putting lyrics to her music. Through her friends and local community the word spread of her musical abilities.
May’s talent has not gone unnoticed, and Bahraini super-producer DJ Outlaw is currently her manager and mentor. Outlaw has been connected with US Hip Hop artists Hot Rod, who is under 50 cent’s G-unit label, and the Outlawz, founded by Tupac Shakur. With a recording studio and local label in Isa Town, he is currently involved with Urfilez, a company set up to orchestrate the digital distribution of music in the Middle East.
May explains, ‘DJ Outlaw recognised that I had talent, even though I was young and had no experience. I was intimidated by the initial introduction but it opened up a world to me that I didn’t know existed, and through this collaboration I have developed musically.’ It was not long before May’s voice began to penetrate the region being featured on mixes by DJ Outlaw and others and performing live across the Gulf region as the support act to DJ Outlaw.
‘Performing is a bitter sweet thing; you juggle adrenalin with anxiety which becomes a euphoric experience, once it’s over.’
May is working on an album that she expects to be released in the next few months on the Outlaw Productions Label. ‘My album will be about a change of seasons: the seasons allude to the moods and emotions I experienced as a teenage girl on my path of self discovery. As a teenager, I’m always trying to navigate my way around situations and influences, experiencing a wide range of emotions. The lyrics in my song called ‘Holdin’ On’ just poured onto the page and are quite juvenile really. Being a teenager, it’s probably the hormones talking but also the confusion and pressure that is characteristic of my age. The songs will reflect this with a mixture of soothing soul as well as more up beat club style rhythms. When I listen to songs I recorded a few years ago, I almost don’t recognise my voice as it’s developing and strengthening dramatically. There will be a number of producers providing different vibes to each song, offering diversity that I hope will appeal to a wide range of listeners.’
Bahrain has a growing musical community, with a new breed of songwriters and musicians emerging in different genres. Breaking away from traditional Arabic music comes with its challenges and May is expecting skeptics from the local community. ‘I have traditional Muslim values and I am proud to be who I am. I always reflect this in my life. But the biggest obstacle is how people perceive me and their understanding and awareness of my type of music.’
May will be in the studio over the next few months working on her first album, which will be launched early next year. In the meantime, she will be a guest artist on DJ Outlaw’s latest offering, entitled History In The Making. Visit www.mayalqasim.com.