Fairy lights and foliage surround the members of psychedelic band Flamingods as they perform to family and friends in Bahrain. The group, and their eclectic instruments, sourced from as far and wide as India to Indonesia and Thailand to Tanzania, blend together to fuse cultures, traditions and genres into a medley of unfamiliar sounds that permeate the cool night air. The crowd step towards the makeshift stage, moving to the strangely intriguing melodies. The musicians’ long hair, tribal outfits and otherworldly appearance only adds to the appeal – whether the band are performing here, in Dubai, at Glastonbury, or anywhere else in the world, the Flamingods are in a league of their own.
It all started in Bahrain, as friends and long-time expats Kamal Rasool, Sam Rowe, Charles Prest and Craig Doporto were finishing high school. As well as studying, the pals were laying the musical foundations of what would later be described by UK newspaper The Guardian as “out-of-this-world music”.
Later, as each of them moved off in different directions to attend university, Rasool moved to the UK and met the Flamingods fifth member Karthik Poduval who, unbeknownst to him at the time, had lived in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
Six years on plenty has changed. In 2015 the band played at the world’s greatest music festival Glastonbury, and following their stellar performance signed with Soundway Records. They released Majesty, their third album, in June this year.
“We wrote most of the songs [for the new album] while I was living in Dubai, in Satwa, at the time,” Rasool tells us over Skype from his home in the UK, where he’s enjoying a rare week off from touring Europe. “Charles and I were both living in Dubai, but we’d both been fired from our jobs [laughs], so we were just kind of at home and writing quite a lot. When Sam came to visit we spent every day working on new songs, going to a Nepalese bar in between, getting inspired, walking around the souq. It kind of all seeped its way into the record in one way or another, alongside loads of other inspirations.”
On that album, the song Rhama’s music video garnered quite a bit of media attention, as the band focused on Dubai’s kushti wrestling scene, popular with the Pakistani expat community. It was shot in Dubai and Al Ain, and directed by UAE studio Barbu. But, despite the city’s influence on the record, Majesty sounds nothing like Dubai, with its gleaming skyscrapers and shiny veneer. In fact, it sounds nothing like much we’ve heard before, as the band’s varied influences, multi-cultural backgrounds and mix of instruments create multiple layers of sounds and textures, conjuring up images of an interconnected universe.
Majesty is a concept album, which follows the story of protagonist Yuka on his journey of enlightenment. “It’s kind of open to interpretation,” says Rasool. “Inspired by movies where you have a protagonist that goes on a big enlightening journey and kind of discovers things about themselves or their surroundings as the journey goes on.
“It starts off on the first side of the record lucid and happy and day-dreamy, then drifts off into the darker notions of the adventure, while the last track of the album kind of rejoices and the character finds the meaning he’s looking for.”
It’s easy to think this kind of record is personal and emotional – the guys’ own journey of self-discovery through music and travel – and Rasool admits, in some ways, that’s true. “There’s a lot of really personal lyrics in the album. In a way there’s parts of me that are in that protagonist, but for the most part it was just a story we wanted to tell.”
But Rasool has been on quite a journey, from Bahrain to Dubai and then London, and from an indie-rock band called Elephant Race to the weird, psychedelic and indefinable Flamingods, performing here in Coral Bay, at the Music Room in Dubai and now across Italy, Austria and Portugal.
And, he assures us, they’ll all be back in the Gulf soon. “We’re discussing a Middle Eastern tour now, so hopefully we’ll be playing Bahrain and Dubai. Definitely, those are the two we’ve played before and we’d love to come back and visit next year.”
After all, this is where they all started and, undoubtedly, the region has had a profound influence on their music. “There’s definitely something very Middle Eastern in the roots of the band.” Rasool considers this for a moment. “For us, it’s the sweet spot, before 1979 there was a lot of Arabic music that was being inspired by what was going on in the West. So you had a lot of bands in Lebanon and Turkey, even Kuwait I’ve heard, which took influence from the West and mixed it with Middle Eastern traditional music and created a hybrid.
“That’s the kind of music we love a lot.”
As for Bahrain, he admits it wasn’t always the easiest place to grow a successful band, but it’s much better now. “I was in a band in Bahrain when I was 15 and there was just about nowhere for us to play. The idea that there are these music festivals that support independent music is something I never thought would happen in Bahrain and I’m so happy that people are doing it there and creating wonderful stuff.
“I think it’s down to the people, fundamentally. It involves everyone and I think that the strength of people in numbers – if you have the public that are willing to support these things and willing to go to these events and support local bands, the rest will come and it will develop from there.”
It’s clear the Flamingods, at least, already have that support if the crowd at their latest Bahrain performance, with Rasool, Prest, Rowe and Doporto, is anything to go by. On stage, they close their eyes and just get into the music, swapping instruments and looking completely at ease with themselves. Talent is one thing, but it’s the overwhelming, blatant connection these guys share, musically and spiritually, that really brings them, the sounds and the instruments together, in a cohesive and, yes, majestic way.
“Bahrain has something that Dubai doesn’t necessarily have,” adds Rasool. “A rich history with interesting things all around you.
“My sweetest memory of the place is growing up with my older brother showing me loads of different music, developing my musical taste and going out to gigs and seeing the scene develop there.
“It’s kind of hard to say whether we would come up with this music if we didn’t grow up in Bahrain. It’s definitely a part of it, it’s definitely seeped its way in and, at the end of the day, that’s where the project was born.”