It was the summer of 2003 that Nikhil Uzgare came to Dubai on a holiday. A true-blue Bombay-ite (Uzgare doesn’t use the word Mumbaikar; he conforms to the old-world charm of the city he was born in), he had already made a name for himself in Mumbai’s live music scene as the founder of one of the best alternative rock bands in the country, Split, and didn’t have plans to stay on for long without his friends and family. But then destiny had something else in store, and Uzgare ended up with a job in Dubai’s Media City. He missed home, but more importantly, he missed his kind of music.
Nikhil at Dubai’s Monkey Rock recording studios in Satwa
‘My first impression of Dubai was all about the money. I missed the feeling of warmth that was there back home. I had a pretty content life, growing up on a regular dose of Harry Belafonte, Nana Mouskouri, Nat King Cole, Abba and Jim Reeves from a very early age. I learnt the tabla for six years, but it was the guitar that inspired me since college. In Mumbai, my favourite haunt was the Raspberry Rhinoceros in Juhu. It was a place where all the underground guys came to perform. So, quite naturally, in Dubai, I wanted to find a place like that where all the gigs were happening, a place I could relate to, something that would be my world,’ says Uzgare.
The music scene in Dubai at that time was fragmented and lacked the originality that Uzgare craved. He soon discovered that if you wanted good music in Dubai, all you needed to do was go to a hotel. Most musicians and their bands were contracted by the hotels to play covers. ‘But soon I learnt from friends that there was this alternative space at the American University Dubai that organized gigs. The performers at The Assembly at AUD were mostly college kids who were heavily into punk rock, metal and alternative rock, pretty aggressive stuff that most teenagers are prone to like.’
One thing led to another and very soon Uzgare was meeting like-minded musicians. ‘I met Michael Fellon and Adham Ghanem who were behind Turbulence, the music festival held at Media City in 2003. I was also introduced to Indian musician Aldo Rock in Dubai. He performed in hotels and had a classic rock set up. We played at Harry’s Place at the Renaissance Hotel next to the Muraqabat Police Station and it was here that I met Kiran Tauro, who later joined me as my drummer,’ says Uzgare.
Point of View performing with Ron Bumblefoot Thal
Kiran and Uzgare, both passionate about doing originals, rather than covers, finally got together and started the band Point of View in 2004. ‘That was an exciting time when friends came and joined us and we played with a lot of different people. ‘Kiran and I were from Mumbai and there was Murtaza Jafar, a banker from Karachi on guitar and our first gigs were at The Assembly at the AUD. The scene was very much underground and our listeners were mostly underage children,’ says Uzgare.
With time Uzgare settled in Dubai and began to appreciate the positives of the city. ‘The infrastructure was great, I didn’t have to struggle to get to work, and didn’t have to pay bribes. I chose my friends well and people I needed to associate with and finally decided to quit my job and venture out independently as an entrepreneur with my own events and exhibitions company.’
But Uzgare was growing tired of the do-it-yourself gigs at the AUD. ‘We were madly scouting for venues that had a proper audience. Then suddenly one evening I got a call from the guy who owned Touch [originally Copas] at the Four Points by Sheraton on Bank Street. He was not ready to give me a weekend, so I finally agreed to play on a Saturday night,’ said Uzgare.
When he went to check out the venue on a Saturday night, all he saw was seven waiters and no audience. ‘But then I thought to myself that people who like live music will be by default a very loyal audience. And since live venues in Dubai in those days were so limited, I knew that if we gave them a great night of music even on a Monday, they would still come. So, I decided to tap the loyalists.’
Uzgare started approaching sponsors who would support the Saturday night gig and eventually turned it into a night when several local bands, playing good music in Dubai, came on board. ‘There were bands such as Nerve Cell, Juliana Down, Moonshine, Borrison Ivy, Ground Zero, Sandwash, as well as musicians like Gayatri Krishnamurthy who agreed to perform at Touch. So, finally, from playing in someone’s basement or garage, we found a space to perform and Yamaha came on to support us and gave us the drum kits and the backlight for free.’
At The Music Room which closed last month
Saturday Nights at Touch soon made a name as the go-to venue for metal and rock nights in Dubai and inspired Uzgare to launch his brand, Rock Nation, in 2007, to promote local talent, create gigs, attract sponsors and bring events related to music under one roof.
In 2008 Uzgare moved out of Touch to perform at The Music Room at The Majestic, which closed last month, although there are plans to reopen the concept at a new location. ‘It was a great venue, but it had its negatives. The crowd was bad, and there was no sound engineering. I went to the owner and told him to give me one night where we only invite people seriously interested in music.’ With the management agreeing to give him a chance, there was then no looking back. Uzgare created a Tribute Night and packed up the evening when from 9pm to 3am several bands, including Point of View, played at The Music Room that eventually became the best live venue in town.’
The next few years saw Point of View perform around the city, at venues such as Wafi Roof Top and Irish Village. The group sealed their way to local stardom by winning local awards, including one for their 2013 concert with Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, who at the time, was playing with Guns’N Roses.
Uzgare talks of his association with Thal fondly. ‘We had gone to see the Guns’N Roses concert in Abu Dhabi in 2011. There was no Axl Rose and no Slash, but all through the concert and even afterwards we were talking about this phenomenal guitar player who kept us mesmerized all through. The next day I dropped Thal a message on his Facebook page and to my surprise he got back and we kept in touch thereafter.’
That connection led to one of the biggest moment’s in the band’s musical journey so far: Thal joining them for their album launch gig at the Hard Rock Café (Revolutionize the Revolutionary) in 2012 – he then toured with the band to five cities in India in June 2013 (Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata). ‘It couldn’t have gotten bigger than this for a local band like ours playing with a celebrity of the stature of Bumblefoot.’ Point of View’s current line-up features Kiran Tauro on drums, Uzgare on lead vocals, Arsh Sharma and Royden Mascarenhas on guitars and Anshuman Bhattacharya on bass.
Back in Dubai, however, Uzgare admits that there’s still a lot to be done. ‘There are challenges for local bands like us. The government permissions are very stringent and expensive, so bands don’t have the motivation to set up gigs. Art and licensing do not go together. If Dubai is to become the entertainment hub in the region, then there is a need to do away with these permissions,’ he says.
Uzgare talks about the need to support local bands. ‘There is also no honest review in the music industry and that makes musicians very complacent. They want a ready audience but they are not ready to work hard to get that audience. There are other problems too, such as record labels don’t invest in local bands. Who do you bank your money on in Dubai? People leave, bands break up, there is no longevity.’ Uzgare believes that music needs to be outside the rigid confines of bricks and morter, out on the streets, reaching out to people.
Opening for Guns’N Roses
The other major event in Uzgare’s music career in the last 14 years was opening for Guns’n Roses’ reunion show in Dubai on March 3 this year. ‘This was a great marketing opportunity for us. The Not In This Lifetime tour of 2017 was a huge event. Axl Rose and Slash came together after 30 years and we were handpicked to open the act. This has been a huge milestone in our career.’
Uzgare’s favourite music spots in the city include the Music Room, Hard Rock Café, and the Mariner’s Bar at the Sea View Hotel – and maybe Blue’s Bar at the Radisson at World Trade Centre ‘when he’s in the mood for jazz.’ And what kind of music sustains him? ‘The harder the better,’ he confesses. What started as a great year for Uzgare has continued with him singing in Hindi on the title track of the Bollywood cop thriller Irada.
And then there has been his surprise acoustic re-interpretation of the Indian Independence Day classic, Vande Mataram, blessed by the legendary AR Rahman.
When Uzgare came to Dubai, there was local talent making music that mostly went unheard, while events such as the annual Dubai Desert Rock Festival had the biggest musicians in the world. The disconnect was huge, but Uzgare not only took it as a challenge to make his band be heard, but has also lend his support to others like him in the emirate. ‘People need to support the local talent. We need to be there for each other.’