#RBMA: Ah! Kosmos, Boom Beats and Essa Hashemi
Written by: Ashley Alleluya
Photography by: Mohammad Bastaki
Thump, thump, thump. Beneath the sounds of daily traffic, the weekly grind of work and back, the frantic conversations placating colleagues, friends and family, exists another layer of sound heard around Kuwait. It’s a heartbeat that has perhaps always been beating around the country, but has only recently found its rhythm and can no longer be ignored. This is the sound of music, the sound of Kuwait’s new identity, one that is far removed from social constraints. If you listen with your ears, it may sound like a cacophony of electronic music. Listen closely, though, with your eyes and your mind, and you’ll begin to recognise new notes – those of confidence, those of a set of people who are finding their artistic voice, those who are ready to merge the notes of their culture with the beats of the outside world. It is heady, exciting and immersive. It is an experience Kingdome got to participate in; Red Bull Kuwait’s ‘RBMA presents Ah! Kosmos, Boom Beats and Essa Hashemi‘ event on a warm, breezy Friday evening.
I walked in to the Sky Lounge at the Radisson Blu hotel surprised at the turnout. Over a hundred of Kuwait’s young and beautiful had turned up, mingling on the deck outdoors, waiting to be serenaded by a night of “electronic music with an R&B vibe” as the ticket had promised us. The anticipation was palpable, and when the show began, the rush towards the main stage only confirmed the excitement that had electrified that salty summer air.
We began with a set by Boom Beats and Essa Hashemi, and they started loud and strong. This was Kuwaiti talent proud to represent all this coastal state stands for – an indigenous sound that resonates through the global influences that seep into its everyday lifestyle. From the get-go, this trio had the audience hooked, cheering and clapping at tracks that were at once familiar yet new. They transitioned from what I can only describe as seaside Kuwaiti electronica to a suddenly deep, almost jazzy, R&B melody with vocals that were husky perfection. And just in case those present would lose their energy levels at the abrupt shift in sound, they were joined by lyricist and performer Mohammed Al Mazidi, who was welcomed and backed with the most delighted whooping I’ve heard from a crowd in a while. When they were done, it was hard to tell whether the applause around the room was for the music or the popularity of these guys who are obviously well-loved.
“The set you heard comprised of tracks that Essa, Ali and I have been collaborating on, and this is hopefully the first of many joint efforts from us,” Boom Beats informed me. “Ali and Essa have been professionally working in music composition in advertising and soundtrack development for years now, and only recently began making music for themselves – Mohammed and I just recently jumped on board and have been loving each moment of the collaborative process,” he continues. “I enjoyed working with them because our energies are very completely in-sync,” Ali elaborates, “and we also felt this energy from the audience while we played for them tonight.” That is an accurate assessment – I definitely saw how well-received their set and combined presence was, and could barely spare a few minutes to talk to them as they were constantly approached by people eager to congratulate the group.
After the quick few minutes out on the deck, we headed back into the blue glow of the Sky Lounge for the main act – Ah! Kosmos, also known as Basak Gunak. Having had no prior experience with the Turkish artist’s music, I went in a little unprepared, and for that I was glad. In a set that was an hour long but felt like it should’ve been longer, she took the room on a trip inside her curly blond head – tracks that melded seamlessly from bluesy, trip-hop sounds to a twisted ambient nature, with bursts of forest trance thrown in for good measure. At times reminding me of Massive Attack, at other times bringing John Digweed’s music to mind. What stood out during her set was a voice that was completely and uniquely her own. Ah! Kosmos’ music seemed to speak not one particular style, but a medley of influences that she’s spontaneously inspired by. Yet, instead of feeling like a bystander on her musical journey, we as the audience were passengers, along with her for the ride as her set floated from dark to ethereal, all the while binding us to her with a steady bass-line that just wouldn’t quit.
Ah! Kosmos confesses to me later that it is a plethora of experience that her music draws its soul from. “For me, each song represents a story that I am living. I am constantly influenced by what I am surrounded in daily life, and so my music can shift from aggressive and dark, to happy and light – kind of like a panorama of what I am living. From my life in Istanbul, to politics, to my relationships, to even my Grandma, all of it pours into what I do.” Isn’t that exactly how the life of a twenty or thirty something in Kuwait is today, drawing and deriving from their everyday encounters, and tapping into those connections when they need an artistic outlet?
Boom Beats echoes her sentiment, not just of the personal nature of their work, but also the way in which it resonates with people. “We were happy to see everyone here, supporting our music and our efforts.It is inspiring to be a part of a movement in which everyone is encouraging of this new wave of sound that’s slowly taking over the country. We hope that collectively we will all push each other to make such music for ourselves, and bring about a change that pushes Kuwait musically onto a larger platform,” Boom Beats concludes. I get what he means. By the time the event wound down and we were ready to leave, a quick scan of the room showed me people who were not just satisfied with what they heard, but now restless. Like they couldn’t get enough. Like they still had some dance left in them. Like they were ready for more of this musical representation of Kuwait’s young, shifting soul. I definitely know I am, and this novel thump, thump, thump is something I’ll be keeping an open ear for in the future.