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Exclusive Interview with Anthony Younes- Dubai Jazz Festival’s CEO

Interview conducted by: Marie-Christine Tayah


What do you do in your free time?

Either I’m working or thinking about what to do next. Or walking, riding my bicycle, taking my son for a ride, or having an activity with my wife and my son.


How did it all start?

I was based in Dubai. I have already been living in Dubai for 5, 6 years, and I was working as a producer for many events and I decided that I wanted to start something. The idea was always at the back of my head for ten whole years before I started to jump in. I wanted to start something like the Jazz Festival, similar to the ones around the world in Montreal and Montreux, which would grow and become iconic. The first year was the toughest year on me because I didn’t have anything. It was very difficult to translate the ideas into reality. It took me at least one year to convince sponsors to come on board. I didn’t have any material to show them and I couldn’t show them anything from abroad as I wanted to cater something especially for Dubai. The idea was perfectly right with all the sponsors. After the first night, the sponsors came to me and started negotiating for the next year as they have seen what was going on in my mind.



So would you consider yourself a creative person?

Yes, I am a creative person.



What was your motivation to keep moving forward with this cultural buriness line?

To me, it’s business, just like any kind of business. If I had to think with two brains, it would never work. The only brain that is working now is the one that is looking at the numbers. To me, it’s a business. It’s not a hobby. I don’t do it just to enjoy myself.



What is the Jazz Festival’s added value?

On a personal level, it created lots of values. We created something very unique. We set some standards in the market. We created an iconic event. From the outside, the government needs to realize its real value, as it is not just another event in Dubai. It is important for Dubai itself. The Jazz festival is important to the people in Dubai and to the artists and music lovers abroad. I receive everyday hundreds of emails from hundreds of artists who would like to be present or associated with the Dubai Jazz Festival. Thus, Dubai is now a hub for another jazz festival around the world.



Would you say you’re a pioneer in this field?

My company is a pioneer in this field, yes. We started something that no one dared to start before. We have been the only music festival in Dubai for about 10 years, as we started in 2003. No one knew at that time how to do a multiday music event and a multiday music festival.



Who helps you in the artists’ selection and what are the criteria that you use to base your selection on?

We’re a small committee of friends. It’s not an official committee; we sit together and we start putting down names together for the upcoming year. Then, the criteria are based on who would sell more tickets and cost less.



As you mentioned Sting as your favorite artist, is it also an opportunity to meet your favorite artists?

I don’t consider it as an opportunity to meet the artists. I only have met two or three artists out of hundreds of artists we hosted. I try to stay away as much as I can from artists; it’s better technically. I might say hello to the artists, but if you check my office, there is no pictures of me taking poses with the artists. Most of the pictures I had with artists were taken on the spot by photographers.



Are you positive about this year’s selection?

I am very positive about this year’s festival. What backs my optimism is the numbers, as we have had a 51% increase in sales as compared to last year at this stage. It’s going to be a big sell out this year. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.



Would you consider shifting this platform to another counry?

We thought about it. Still, Dubai is unique and there is no other place similar to it. From a business side, if you consider any other place in the Middle East, there is nothing like Dubai. It’s a cosmopolitan city and people still have some money to spend. You can cater for multiple communities. We tried to do it in Abu Dhabi, it didn’t work really well. It might work in Beirut, but again, the situation is not really stable there. In order to start the Jazz Festival in Beirut and keep it going year after year, we need stability. First and foremost, the idea to start a jazz festival was actually in Beirut, not in Dubai. Unfortunately, it didn’t work and I don’t think it would ever work, if the situation remains the same in Lebanon.



Do you have any message for Jazz lovers?

This year we’re not doing the jazz garden, which was the biggest support of the jazz festival for the jazz lovers. Unfortunately, because it was pure jazz, we couldn’t find enough support to keep it going on. We would need support from the government and the sponsors to reactivate it –as we were having a huge number of crowd; 3000 to 4000 people every day, because it was free. If we wanted to make it payable, we would lose 80% of this crowd. Thus, we have put it on hold for now, hoping that we get the support needed to keep it going on for the upcoming years, as the production, organization, etc. costs a lot to put it all together –about 700,000 USD.



Any messages to young CEOs or young Entrepreneurs who decide to follow their dream or idea?

I would say that it’s not an easy road and they’d have to focus. If you want to do something, stick to it even if you fail the first and the second time, try the third, fourth, and fifth time, and it will work. And always stay focused. I see many young people who want to start out on their own. They come up with two hundred ideas and want to want to implement each of them, and I always tell them, choose ten out of those two hundred. Do your research and see which one will mostly probably work and start with it.



Any message to our Lifestyle readers?

Create your own Lifestyle. Don’t follow. I usually hate people following the trends… They can create their own trends.