5 things to check out at Sole DXB

The intersection of sneaker culture, music and street art has been long established, going back to New York City in the mid-1970s and the birth of the hip-hop era. Cemented by Run DMC and their unashamed love of Adidas “shell-toe” Superstars – worn without laces, of course – the trio has become a colorful venn diagram of urban cool.

As one of the fastest developing cities in the planet, Dubai represents a blank canvas for kids from across Asia, North Africa and Europe inspired by US street culture. The annual Sole DXB even at Dubai Design District provides a platform for that to take shape, both as a means of showcasing local creativity but also some big-bucks corporations to fly in some of the most influential names in the game to inspire, motivate and encourage the scene.

If old-skool sneakers, graffiti and break beats are your thing, you need to keep reading.

We speak to photographer Hassan Hajjaj, the man who shot the Sole DXB 2015 campaign material is Moroccan

An ambassador of Arab swag is one way of describing Hassan Hajjaj. Moroccan born and London raised, he immersed himself in the UK capital’s reggae and later hip-hop scenes of the late 1970s and early 1980s before picking up a camera and developing his entirely self-created colourful portraiture style – incorporating elements of fashion and installation. His work has since been seen in galleries as prestigious as London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

For Sole DXB, he shot this year’s campaign material, featuring fashion designer, model and compatriot Amine Bendriouich.

So, where’s home for you right now?
For the last 20 years, I’ve been living between London and Marrakech. When you’re born in a place, as you get older you need that thing in the blood a little bit.

As an Arab, what are your thoughts on Dubai and the culture here?
When I first came in 2007, it was like a building site. Then in 2011, it felt like a city that was starting to connect together and, last year, it felt like it was taking its form, like a teenager becoming an adult. It does have a Western vibe about it and the local people are such a small percentage. Dubai feels like it was built by a computer, new technology. It feels contemporary and up-to-date

Is there a chance for us – Arabs and non-Arabs – to create a Dubai culture here?
The great thing about Dubai is that it creates platforms for it. Like Sole DXB, like the galleries that bring art, music and design. It’s definitely become like New York. It’s a modern city and it’s presenting Arabs and the Arab World in a new way.

So what are Sole and what are you going be doing here?
I’m going to be here shooting for Sole DXB, hopefully Mobb Deep. I’ll have my own space with Amine Bendriouich with a DJ, an area to hang. It’s a nice little project.

Is there anything at Sole you’re looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to all of it, because it’s what I’ve grown up with in London. It’s offering music, art, sports, trainers… I have a friend called Melody Ehsani from LA, she’s an Iranian jewellery designer and she’s coming. She’s never been to Dubai before.

What was your big break?
I left school with no qualifications and was unemployed. I got involved with underground parties and through that became an assistant stylist on fashion shows. Another friend was doing music videos and I worked with him. That was my schooling. I then bought a camera, a 35mm Pentax, in 1989. I went out and shoot for myself for years. Eventually, Rose Issa, a curator friend of mine, asked her to see my photos. She liked them, showed them and then I went out and worked really hard. My first show was in 2000.

What advice would you give to artists to make it in the long run?
I’m not really a good person to ask for advice. You have to have passion, you have to work hard, you have to be a soldier. When you’re doing something creative, that’s great, but if you want to make a living out of it, you have to think like a businessman. You have to keep working, get involved in groups, push your work …

Do you collect trainers at all?
Nah. not really, I missed that. It’s like a new generation that’s collecting all this stuff. I collected stamps when I was younger!

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Punjabi-American Alo Wala brings her tropical beats to Dubai for the first time

Shivani Ahlowalia is in a hotel room in Paris when ShortList speaks to her, preparing for a small tour of Northern France under her stage name Alo Wala. It is, she says, the result of a successful festival season that opened up her flamboyant, multi-coloured stage presence to new audiences across Europe.

“My favourite was probably Festival Músicas do Mundo in Portugal,” she says, in her soft American accent. “It was in this old castle on the coast in a town called Sines. We didn’t go on until 4.30am, but there were still 10,000 people dancing away. That was epic.”

All Wala’s music is hard to categorise, but it unapologetically fuses elements from her multi-cultural upbringing to include rap, electronica, reggaeton and bangra. Raised in Chicago to parents from Delhi, Shivani has lived in Brooklyn, Costa Rica and Guinea Bissau, and now bases herself in Copenhagen, where she started making music three years ago with music collective Copia Doble Systema. “We never set out with the intention of releasing records or going on tour,” she says, describing music in those early days as a means of preserving her sanity. “We just started hanging out and making music but our first song ‘Bend Yuh Backbone’ caught on. And things went really quickly from there.”

Very quickly. Alo Wala signed to Portuguese record label Enchufada and released a number of singles such as “City Boy” and “Timbuktu” that earned favourable comparisons to UK star MIA. She has since become a solo artist and has started to explore different sounds and new collaborations. “I just want to create good vibes, something I can dance to,” she explains. “I think the core will always be there, the beat, the heavy bass, but I’m excited about how I’m going to evolve, what I’m going to find next.”

Included in that is a first ever trip to Dubai. Not that she’ll exactly feel like a stranger. She is good friends with Iraqi DJ MoCity and Amin Bendriouich, selected as the face of the Sole DXB campaign and photographed by Hassan Hajjaj. But a weekend dedicated to urban culture, hip-hop and art, Shivani Ahlowalia will find friends everywhere.

Alo Wala live
When: Friday November 20
Where: Dubai Design District

Tarsila Schubert talks about the mural she’ll be painting at the Namshi.com stand
“I started painting when I was 12 years old and my first interaction with street art was in Brazil as a teenager. What attracted me towards it was the idea of being able to express emotion through art that is publicly available; it has a wider reach than any other form of art as is it equally accessible to all. Art to me is the best form of expression and having it displayed on the walls of the streets is my way of sharing my views with the world.

In Dubai, street art remains a segment which still has more room to develop. One of the biggest issues is having the right platform to showcase it, therefore events such as Sole DXB are a great opportunity to do so. I will be creating a unique piece that will allow people to feel like they are part of its creation. That is all I will share for now! You’ll have to visit the Namshi space to be in the middle of the action!”

Swerte is one-third of the Dubai-based rap troupe The Recipe

The trio of MCs known as The Recipe are considered one of the prime movers in the UAE hip-hop scene. Their backgrounds are a case study in the diversity modern Dubai, with Kaz Money’s Syrian, Italian and Eritrean heritage, Aaron Leung AKA Perfect Storm’s early years in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK and finally Swerte’s roots in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

As the hub for the hip-hop and street scene in Dubai, The Recipe have performed at Sole DXB event. We ask Swerte how the scene has developed.

The Recipe are considered the most important rap group here. Where did the journey begin?
Back in 2006 when I got here, this was the land of opportunity. The city was still being built, the Marina wasn’t even there yet. There was a hip-hop scene but it was so small that it was more like just a group of friends who enjoyed doing creative stuff. The Recipe started to bring everyone together and flood the streets with our music and shows – we would come home from work, burn CDs all night and then stand outside of clubs handing them out!

Who else do you consider to have played a major role in shaping “the scene” here?
Kris Balerite helped build SoleDXB, which in turn helped bring a lot of people in the creative arts together – from high-end to everyday street explorers, DIFC artsy types to Deira bombers. Sole is the thing everyone looks forward to. It’s been great to have performed at every single one since it started.

Does SoleDXB capture an authentic Dubai vibe or is it in danger of becoming a bit of a brand picnic?
I’d definitely like to see more local exhibitors and fewer bigger names. They’ve come close to finding the balance between showing what Dubai is, what its potential is, and what outside trends people can relate to. But, yeah, more local based stuff is always better.

There’s a crossover with hip-hop and street art and comic books. You into that stuff?
We just released a mixtape called Throwback to the Future and the first and last song is called “Superheroes” where we reference a whole bunch of comic books and superheroes. I loved the Teenage Ninja Turtles, and I mention Donatello, my favourite – mainly because the closest thing I could rhyme the “turtle” was “purple”!

What’s your favourite pair of shoes?
Fav are probably Air Max. They just comfy and I could wear them every day. I never buy anything fancy or “rare”, because I don’t want to add more stress to my life with smudges or scuffs! I’m wearing high-top Vans right now.

The Recipe & DJ Shero
When: November 21, 8.45pm

Puma uses Sole DXB to launch their Rihanna collaboration
Dubai will get a first taste of Rihanna’s influence on sporswear brand Puma this week as their new creative director launches her first trainer. Inspired by NYC punk rock, the Creeper is a black trainer that “remixes” the iconic Puma trainers from the late 1970s.  It features a white formstrip, platform rubber outsole and gold foil Puma Fenty “callout” on the tongue.
Price: AED620

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