Musical Desert

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

Abu Dhabi redefines this term, as it sets its sights on having a music scene as pulsating as the world’s many major cities, with one man its maestro. Meet Bill Bragin.

Abu Dhabi is on a mission to create an arts and cultural scene to rival the world, and its epicentre is Saadiyat Island. One man has made it his mission to bring the world’s many and varied musical styles to audiences in the capital. That man is Bill Bragin. He is the

executive artistic director of The Art Center at NYU Abu Dhabi. Bill shared with Yalla his insights into composing a musical scene in Abu Dhabi.

How would you define your role on the Abu Dhabi art scene?

I see my role as one which is designed to complement the work which is already happening here, and to bring new ideas and artists to the conversation. I’m particularly interested in artists who are balancing culturally specific influences from their own heritage with contemporary, international tendencies. I’m also interested in artists who are using their work to open conversations about important global issues.

With so many cultures represented here, how do you please/represent everyone?

It’s impossible to please/represent everyone, but I do try to present a broad range of work that reflects so many communities who make their homes here. It’s important that many different communities see themselves on our stages. I look for work that resonates broadly. For example, in a place where more than 85% of the population have come from somewhere else, and even for Emiratis, the country changes so rapidly, the question of what makes a place feel like home is a resonant idea. Our program addresses how artists ponder such unanswerable questions, as a way to inspire more people to come up with their own approaches.

What most surprised you about Abu Dhabi?

I was surprised at the incredible diversity. Even as a New Yorker used to living in an extremely international city, I was surprised by the internationalism and its street life. It’s easy to be fooled if you spend most of your time on the main avenues in a car. Abu Dhabi is a great walking city, and I like to linger in the neighbourhoods within the super blocks to appreciate the small bakeries, karak cafeterias, and gents’ saloons, as well as so many amazing non-hotel restaurants.

Learn more about The Art Center at NYU Abu Dhabi’s performances and membership programme at

Published on October 2018

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