The decision to put Gloria Estefan center stage as part of “Rhythms and Reels” at the Dubai International Film Festival in December belies the impression I got when coming here nine months ago that the organisers were going to upgrade the quality of this year’s cinematic bash.
This decidedly average US-exiled Cuban singer, whose commercial success and Miami-fuelled politics have given her a platform that talent alone would not secure, is to be the star attraction at the DIFF, according to the local English language press and TV news. Readers of a certain pedigree will recall her ersatz offerings in the ‘80s when she regaled us with half-cooked disco beats under the label The Miami Sound Machine. Now for the relatively princely sum of AED175, the Gulf News informed its readers this week, we can have the opportunity to see her live in what will be her “middle east debut”. If only this purveyor of plodding rhythms and soppy ballads could have been shipped up the road to join the sexy but talentless Justin Timberlake, local papers would be free of one more unnecessary homage to the doyens of the retirement music scene that wash up on this particular section of the Persian Gulf. Of course one should not forget that Gloria is part of a double bill that also brings us the more interesting offering of 90 Millas, a documentary movie made by her husband about the (exile) Cuban music scene. No Buena Vista Social Club, 90 Millas will give us music from across the pond, in direct opposition to the sad excuse for socialism that is the ailing dictator’s island. But who needs the pet sounds of these gun running, drug fuelled, counter revolutionaries either? The Miami Contra Machine? No thanks….
Part of the DIFF quality uplift was, I thought, to include a greater Arab, nay Emirati, component. Arab musicians could more than adequately fill Mrs Estefan's shoes. Surely the Iraqi musician and singer Ilham Madfai would come cheaper. He is known to an extent in the west and very well known throughout the Arab world, and, lest we forget the preported objective of this film and culture showcase, is actually very good. One wonders about the DIFF platform for UAE film-makers. One or two have garnered international praise and publicity, yet I heard on Dubai Eye news last night that a separate Gulf Film Festival is to be held in Dubai concentrating on Khaleeji talent (and that of Iraq and Yemen, but not that rather large Khaleeji state, Iran).
In the Tabloid! section of Gulf News this week another middle aged median propagator of muzak was bigged up. This time it was the apparently best selling female singer of all time, Celine Dion, who has been awarded the Legend award at the World Music Awards in Monte Carlo by none other than that renowned muso Prince Albert. An obviously key contributor to the development of world music, one only has to look at her sales worldwide to justify this assessment, Ms Dion is most famous for the painful emotional manipulation of that song from the Titanic. She has also inflicted a host of other aural offences upon us over the two or more decades of her illustrious career. I was however pleased to see that Patti Labelle got an (unnamed) award too, no doubt also for her services to “world music”. Patti at least can perform and excite, and hey, that recently revived song that first saw the light of day 35 years ago was a classic. What else did she do in the intervening period? Well, a bit more that the Eagles did in the 28 years since they managed to condescend to put tracks to tape. At last however they have treated us with the awesomely named Long Road Out of Eden. The last LP was, I recall, The Long Run, released way back in 1979. So the titles haven’t got too imaginative in all that time, and, by all accounts, nor has the band’s music. This hasn’t prevented the record buying cognoscenti of the Sceptered Isle putting it straight in at No1, however; no doubt eager to find something to buy gramps for Christmas. The good news is that it is keeping Britney off the top slot - for now. But with repackages primed from the likes of Queen (again), Whitney (again) and, I believe, new albums from tiresome old “legends” Phil Collins and Eric Clapton, Ms Spears will get some stiff competition from the stiffs.