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INTERVIEW: The Cat Empire in Dubai

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The Cat Empire, the ska-meets-jazz-meets-a-whole-bunch-of-trumpets band first made waves in 2003 with their sleeper hit ‘Hello’, before becoming a fixture at Australia’s best music festivals and beyond. Vocalist, Felix Riebl chats to ShortList ahead of the group’s first ever Dubai gig to launch Zero Gravity winter’s season, on the nightspot’s newly renovated outdoors stage. We can’t wait.

The Cat Empire is a regular fixture on the European and Australian festival circuit; what is it about outdoor gigs that work so well for you?
It sounds a bit like a cliché, but The Cat Empire suits that kind of thing. Being outdoors and able to really open up to the audience make for a good introduction to our music. I’m really excited about playing in Dubai with all eight of us on stage.

It’s your first time performing in Dubai right?
Yeah, it’s our first time here beyond the airport. I’ve never actually headed into the city, so am looking forward to that. But I reckon performing for the crowd will be our first real taste. Which, in my experience, is one of the better ways to get a real feel for a place.

Would you ever write a song in Arabic?
The latest song I wrote for The Cat Empire (as yet untitled) must have about 20 different languages in it. I listened to a lot of Arabic words I’m interested in for that song. It’s about the great difficulties facing asylum seekers coming to Australia at the moment and I wanted to write a song to show our support for those needing our help.

The last album came out in 2013, what are you working on at the moment?
We’ve got a collection of songs we’re working on. We’ve had a year of thinking and writing. They’re really strong, so we hope they’re going to transform into an album.

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What’s the best bit about performing live?
I love playing live when the conditions are perfect, when everyone is reading each other well, when that connection between the musicians is there and we’re all really responsive. It just uplifts the audience and it’s the most magnificent feeling. When you’re on-stage, it’s visually beautiful to look out and see all these people. Once you’ve started, you can’t stop. You’re responsible for keeping everyone in that moment of euphoria.

Have you been trying anything new to get us going in Dubai?
One of my new favourite things to do at the moment is to sing in other languages. I’m sure I’m pronouncing everything badly, but it’s about being less connected to the meaning of the word, and more about the emotion behind it.

Are you going to learn a bit of Arabic to use onstage here?
It demands a lot of your mouth, which I kind of love, so I’m going to give it a shot. I’ll learn some before I get there – can you give me a tip?

Definitely ‘yalla’. And habibi for when you’re air-kissing.
So ‘Yalla, habibi, yalla?’
Perfect.

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