by Kareem Chehayeb
At the forefront of the Kuwaiti music scene, Ali Sleeq works tirelessly to try and break down the boundaries that have built up around music in Kuwait. Fittingly, his preferred genres are blues and jazz.
When did you start playing the bass?
I picked up the bass in 2000, when I was in Lebanon during my first year of university at AUB. I was inspired after I saw many local bands perform, and as you know there is a thriving music scene in Lebanon as opposed to Kuwait so it was kind of a no-brainer really.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
I was always into blues; it started since high school and only augmented and matured in university. Muddy Waters for sure; it’s just his style is so simple yet so emotional and that feel is something I always try to achieve.
On the other side, which is fairly recent (about 7 years ago), is jazz. My main influence there is John Coltrane, as he went from being an underdog to a legend is a short period of time, and was always evolving; he started with bebop and ended with avant-garde/free-jazz.
When it comes to bass, I don’t look for the flashiest (such as Victor Wooten etc) but more of “groove” bassists, the most being Donald “Duck” Dunn.
Do you play any other musical instruments?
I do have two guitars; a Telecaster and an acoustic. I taught myself, mostly so I can write music; with the bass you can make lines and riffs but you need that fullness of a guitar for harmony. I do fiddle around on the harmonica too.
Having been an active musician in Kuwait for many years, how have the circumstances changed for musicians?
It’s sort of an up and down, mood thing. One minute you think things are picking up, and then you see it’s all downhill. I might be more cynical / negative than most but I do not see any major changes that are worth talking about. You still get cancelled shows, as well as lack of venues which hinder progress.
You currently run Avant-Garde Music Projects. Tell us a little about what it’s all about and how it came to be.
I must admit it was more of a challenge to myself; I’ve been performing in Kuwait since 2005 but I was always with a band (Lounging Criminals, Mojolaters Blues Band). As much as I love being in a band situation, I also have my own personality which I wanted to bring out. So I started this initiative called Avant-Garde Music Projects. First and foremost it’s about music collaborations; bring different musicians together for one-off projects, and the second thing is making gigs. I consider it my own creative space to be in charge without referring back to anyone.
How many shows have you currently organized, and how was the overall turnout?
Two have been made so far, Blend Music Festival 1 & 2; both had around 200 people attend. It was highly covered by the media and press, and I am very happy with the turnout. Six local acts in total performed at the events to great reviews. From rock to jazz to metal.
Is it easy to organize shows in Kuwait? What has that been like for you?
It wasn’t a cakewalk I’ll tell you that! But Bayt Lothan (where both events took place) were supportive 100% to the last detail and they were very easy to work with. It’s all about how much you prepare I guess; last minute crunching will always be difficult.
Any future plans for Avante-Garde?
Due to my heavy schedule (I performed at the Bija Concert with Nawaf Ghraibah), my other recording session gigs, dayjob and marriage, it’s been slower than at first; however I am currently recording a track with local producer Fuad Murad of Household Productions on an electro-jazz experiment, and other small projects which I cannot announce at the moment. I also am planning a major concert in November, which, if it goes to plan, will be a great step forward in Kuwait’s music scene.
What advice would you give for a young musician who lives in Kuwait?
Practice till your fingers bleed; play what you like not what people want to hear, never give up. It also helps to be able to say no. It will help you out in the long run as people would otherwise take advantage of you.
For more information on Avant Garde Music Projects visit Facebook: Avant Garde Music Projects. You can also keep up to date with Ali on Twitter @AliSleeq or through his blog speaktheblues.blogspot.com.