IF YOU’RE FAMILIAR WITH BAHRAIN’S LOCAL MUSIC SCENE, THERE’S NO DOUBT THAT YOU’LL HAVE HEARD OF THE FOUR-PIECE ALT – POP/ROCK BAND LIKWID. NOT ONLY DO THEY PERFORM AT SOME OF THE HOTTEST VENUES IN TOWN, THEY’VE SOLD OUT REGIONAL SHOWS AND WERE RECENTLY PRAISED FOR THEIR IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE AT THE 8TH CAIRO JAZZ FESTIVAL. FACT CAUGHT UP WITH THE GUYS TO TALK HISTORY, MUSIC, INSPIRATIONS AND THEIR BRAND NEW, SELF – TITLED EP, WHICH LAUNCHED LAST MONTH…..
Hi guys! Let’s take it back… how did the band come together and what has kept it a tight unit over the years?
Khalid: The four band members first came together as a group when the Latin music band La Movida was formed back in 2004. We formed this band to play traditional styles of Latin music, which was never done before in Bahrain at that time. We had two additional members playing Latin percussion instruments, which were vital for playing this style of music. The concept was very successful in that we were able to hold a regular Monday night show for almost seven years nonstop. However, when the two percussion players had to leave the band for personal reasons, we decided that this was an opportunity to broaden our horizons by reforming and rebranding the band in order to be able to perform a wider range of musical genres and not be restricted to just Latin music.
Ahmed Alqasim: We’ve always had so many musical idols from many different genres and have continuously enjoyed playing these various styles of music. That led to the birth of Likwid and our new sound which people can hear today. The secret behind us still being together as a band and still being active is the simple fact that we are and have always been close friends before being band members. All of us consider this band as our second family. We’ve grown and become more mature together, musically and personally. And we’ve certainly built very strong chemistry between us.
How would you describe your style of music for someone listening for the first time?
Ahmed Abdulaziz: That’s actually a tough question because even if you listen to our recently released debut EP, you will immediately hear that the five tracks are very different, making it quite difficult to categorise the band under one specific genre. The best we could reach after doing much research online is Alternative Rock or Alternative Pop-Rock. But that’s what we think makes Likwid unique; we love playing and writing music from many different genres like Classic Rock, Blues, Smooth Jazz, Reggae, Funk, and Latin. In short, we love playing anything that we consider as “good” music and has a high level of musicianship and creative effort put into it.
You’ve just released your new self-titled EP, tell us more about the record…
Ahmed Alqasim: It’s our debut EP with five tracks that are all quite different in terms of sound and style of music. All tracks are the band’s original songs with all four members producing, writing, and arranging the music. However, the lyrics for one song, Love For Rent, were written by our close friend and collaborator Ala Ghawas, and the lyrics for the opening track I Want You There were written by our friend Omar Halwachi. The EP was mainly mixed by our friend, local sound engineer and studio owner Abdulla Jamal, with two songs mixed by Abdulrahman Malallah and Ahmed Alqasim. We decided to have the EP mastered by Steve Smart who is one of the senior mastering engineers at Studios 301, one of the top studios in Sydney.
Khalid: One thing that all the tracks have in common is that all instruments are played live, without the use of digital instrument samples or drum loops. Some people refer to us as “purists” because of that, and we honestly like that. We were aiming for somewhat of an old-school sound, which is mainly the kind of music that all four of us love listening to. We were quite happy when some of our friends said that one track sounds like one of the older songs by Sting, two others said you can hear influences of Steely Dan and Dire Straits, while many said that you can hear that vintage Bob Marley and The Wailers sound on our reggae song. We certainly take all those as compliments.
Likwid performed for the opening show at the 8th edition of the Cairo Jazz Festival in October – what was it like getting this international recognition?
Ahmed Abdulaziz: It was definitely a great feeling performing our original music to a completely new crowd. To be invited to participate in a festival with music groups from 12 other different countries around the world is an honor in itself. We got to be the opening show of the entire three-day festival, sharing the festival’s main stage with Bahraini singersongwriter Ala Ghawas, and our special guest on saxophone, Abdulla Haji. We were actually the first group of musicians from Bahrain and from the whole GCC to ever perform at the Cairo Jazz Festival. The festival organisers also set up a second show for us two nights later at the Cairo Jazz Club. It was a great trip since we got to perform for a large crowd at the festival, and then later in a much smaller and cosier atmosphere at the club. This participation definitely adds a lot to us as performing musicians in terms of recognition, and we hope that it will get us more opportunities to perform regionally and worldwide.
You get to perform small gigs for an intimate crowd to international sets for a diverse audience – what goes through your mind whilst on stage and how do you prepare for each show?
Abdulrahman Malalla: The size of the gig or the crowd doesn’t matter because we always work hard to prepare for any show. It’s our duty and responsibility as performing artists towards our audience to ensure that we give nothing less than 100% during our shows. Preparing for shows is always a monotonous job as you have to keep repeating the songs until everyone is comfortable and confident with his parts in order to be able to relax while putting on the show without being nervous or tense. However, when we’re on stage, we try to put on the best show we can perform while ensuring that we have a great time in the process. Having fun during a performance is crucial because it gets conveyed to the audience who in turn has fun watching us perform. It’s a very interactive process that is crucial to putting on a successful show.
Have you faced any challenges being artists in the GCC, and specifically Bahrain? How have you overcome these challenges?
Ahmed Alqasim: It’s always tough when you perform western music with English lyrics in an Arabic country, especially if it’s not mainstream like Pop, Rap, or Hip Hop. We can never get the support, recognition and exposure that other artists would get performing Arabic music in this part of the world. Yet we still fully believe in our music and think it has the potential to please the audience. In terms of Bahrain specifically, although there have been improvements in the past several years, Bahrain still falls behind compared to some of the other GCC countries when it comes to supporting their own local artists. It’s a shame that artists from Bahrain have to work even harder to get recognition from abroad in order to eventually get recognition in their own country. The UAE pushes much more aggressively to support local acts even if they’re foreigners based in the UAE and not Emirati citizens. Bahrain still needs to do more for its local talent, especially since most people in neighboring GCC countries state it as a fact;
Bahrain has some of the most talented artists in the Gulf. That being said, we are still hopeful and still believe that more support will come to local artists who truly work hard and show that they deserve the support and the opportunities. However, this support is not crucial to reach a world audience and be successful. The world is such a small place now and independent artists have so many channels to distribute their music worldwide. Thankfully we have set up our own professional studio, Likwid Studios, which allows us to comfortably write and compose music and later record it without the pressure of paying an hourly or daily rate to any local studio. That also gives us the opportunity to record our own music the way we want to without having to resort to finding a production company which may pay for the recording expenses, but will certainly have a say in the production aspect of the music.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve all learned in the music industry?
Khalid: Perseverance. It’s a huge and fierce market out there. One’s got to keep working hard no matter the odds and regardless of all the frustrations and difficulties you will face. In addition, while it’s fun playing covers and being active in the market with shows, we also learned that we have to concentrate our effort into writing and composing our own original music because that’s what gets you proper artistic recognition. Although we are not totally into this whole social media craze, we learned that it is a vital aspect of marketing yourself as a musician or a band.
Musically, who or what inspires you to keep going and performing?
Ahmed Abdulaziz: Simply put, the one thing that continues to inspire us and drive us to keep on writing, composing, and performing is our love for music. We love what we do. We also love and believe in the music that we play and present to people. That’s truly what keeps us going regardless of whatever financial rewards are involved. We continuously strive to become better and produce better sounding music. As for our musical idols, there are simply too many between the four of us to list out, but they all certainly inspire and motivate us to continue what we’re doing.
Any advice for young budding musicians?
Ahmed Alqasim: Music is not a competition; it’s a beautiful art form that was meant for sharing. There’s nothing wrong with continuously aspiring to become a better musician, yet some youngsters get dragged into this mentality of being better than this guy or that guy. You’re missing the whole point if that’s the way you think. Concentrate on improving yourselves without looking at other people’s progress. Share the music that you listen to, the knowledge that you learn, and anything else that your fellow musician may find helpful. Collaborate with one another. That’s a great way of learning from one another and also exposing yourselves to new listeners and sharing each others’ fans. And last but not least, just keep on rockin’ and don’t stop.
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