By Thomas Shambler
Anthony Younes, CEO of ChillOut Productions, talks ahead of the start of the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival 2017
How has the Jazz Festival changed over the past 15 years?
It all started with the vision of establishing a multi-day festival featuring more than one artist. It was in 2002 when Chillout Productions was established. I still remember how difficult it was to sell a concept with no history or proven track record. It was only on the first night of the first edition that top management from Philips asked to seal a deal with us for the next three years.
Since then, the Dubai Jazz Festival has become more than a music festival, but a concept based on two elements: corporate sponsorship, and programming that combines all genres of music. The festival has evolved over the past 15 years, and it's no longer limited to the commonly-known concerts. We've expanded by offering creative and innovative activities to its bill; this year we are proud to have Anghami Sessions – which features regional jazz and soul music from rising talent – for example.
Since it began in 2003, the Dubai Jazz Festival has drawn over 465,000 music fans from across the UAE, GCC and the rest of the world. And I think the festival has huge potential still. We may have done well in previous years, but we are aware that we still have a long way to go. We are up for that challenge, and hope to continuously evolve and cater to the ever-growing and changing needs of Dubai's music scene.
The UAE now has loads of concerts and events. What makes the Jazz Festival unique?
There's nothing like this event in the UAE, at least in the festival category. A few of the things that make us unique is the diversity of music genre from year to year, as well as the big network of corporate sponsors who believe in what we're trying to bring to the region.
Because of the reputation it has created over the years, we have also built a loyal following of fans who buy tickets for the festival itself, and not necessarily the artists. In a way, this feels like an indication that we have succeeded in providing a memorable experience and not just a music concert.
Is it a challenge to book performers? Or are they lining up to sing in the region?
International artists have definitely demonstrated a growing interest to perform in the UAE. However, our region is not always on their touring circuit, and bringing them here specifically for once concert tends to be costly for us.
We also face challenges with some local companies that inflate artist fees, while we work hard to negotiate the best prices that make events like this more accessible and affordable to the general public.
We hope that through Dubai Jazz Festival, we are able to contribute in making the UAE an important destination for outstanding music festivals therefore strengthening our reputation in the global entertainment industry.
What's been your favourite memory from the festival?
Our favourite one would have to be the Chris Botti and Sting show last year because this exceeded everybody’s expectation, even my own. The show was also sold out and I’m glad that I had the chance to watch it as a guest and a fan because it was absolutely breath-taking.
What is the biggest challenge facing something like the Jazz Festival?
We have faced a lot of challenges including market instability. We are fortunate to have developed a strong relationship and a loyal following. The last 15 years have made us resilient and taught us to overcome obstacles on all levels leading to such a successful history and a very exciting future.
Do you believe social networking has impacted your organisation?
Social networking has definitely changed the game. It has allowed us to share our news quicker and reach fans beyond the region more easily. It has also become a listening tool to understand what our audience want, to see areas where we can improve on and at the same time to get a better awareness of elements that are positively affecting guests experiences. This year, we’ve received a lot of excitement and we can’t wait to see this energy at the festival.