Zahed Sultan is a renowned musician and multi-media artist from Kuwait. Zahed is also a film-maker, known for his unique audio-visual performances. The founder of Kuwait Rising – an alternative music festival taking place in Kuwait City in partnership with RBMA, Zahed is helping grow Kuwait’s unique underground music scene and put the Arab city on the international alternative music scene’s map. We are delighted to have Zahed curate this unique city guide and mix of Kuwait, which is one of the most unique ones we’ve had yet.
Check out the map above and interview below for Zahed’s favourite spots, while you listen to a 100% Kuwait mix.
Favourite place to buy records?
It’s challenging to find a store that sells vinyl in Kuwait. Your best option is to find a dealer who might have an old stack at his stall in the old souk (Mubarakiya) or search instagram for a local insta-biz who sells vintage items.
What you can find is cassette tapes of past and present recordings in Hawally.
Favourite live music venue?
Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyah (it’s where I host my annual alternative music festival). They have weekly free performances for the public during the season along with workshops and talks across two locations in Kuwait.
The recently opened the Jaber Arts and Cultural Center (JACC) in the city center as an architectural spectacle. JACC has a seasonal calendar of theatre, music, workshops, and talks across multiple halls.
Best soundsystem / favourite club?
We don’t have nightclubs or bars in Kuwait as alcohol is illegal (on paper). Your next best option is a private house or beach party to have an ‘uncensored’ good time.
Best party in the city?
Make friends and find an ‘underground’ house party, that’s your best bet!
Best view of the city?
Buy a ticket and take the elevator up to the rotating viewing floor of the newly refurbished Kuwait Towers for 360 degree views of the city.
Best spot for a picnic?
It’s a 45min drive north from the city center, but Mutla’s topography is quite unique to Kuwait. You can rent dune buggies, barbeque, play volleyball, and go for hikes alongside a nature reserve.
Favourite Cafe’s and Restaurants?
Here is a somewhat extensive list of my favorite tried and tested spaces to eat at in Kuwait by cuisine:
Healthy Feast (local, organic)
OVO (local, organic)
Gia (local, healthy eats)
Shimem (Kuwaiti seafood)
Al Marsa (Kuwaiti seafood)
Dar Hamad (Kuwaiti modern)
Fireej Swaileh (Kuwaiti traditional)
Bazza Café (Kuwaiti modern breakfast)
Shawarma Shuwaikh (delivery)
Kebab Al Hijja (take away)
Solo Napolitana (local pizza)
Solo Taco (local tacos)
Eighty Six (organic burger joint)
Habra (local meat cuisine)
Bass Fool Bass Falafel (local falafel)
Q café (healthy eats, to work)
Baking Tray (healthy eats, to work)
Poele (healthy eats, work)
Greenland (Indian veg)
Oriental Cuisine (Thai)
Table Otto (Fusion)
New and interesting spaces to dine at keep opening in Kuwait, so I recommend checking out Mark’s blog (248am.com) for his reviews of the latest offerings.
Coffee culture is BIG in Kuwait, so if that’s your thing here’s an extensive list of coffee shops which Mark compiled:
What are the best local dishes or street food?
Our local dishes revolve around seafood and meats accompanied by rice (influenced by India, Persia and the Mediterranean). Street food culture is a big thing in Kuwait, during the season (Nov. – Apr.) you’ll find pop up concept food events, farm to table markets, and more. Check out Shakshooka Market, Qout Market and track the events section of 248am to see what’s on when you’re in town:
Otherwise, because of our vast expat community (63% of the population) you can find street food stalls scattered across the city (especially in Kuwait City, Hawally, Bneid Al Qar, and Salmiya amongst others)
Is there somewhere you like going to escape the hustle and bustle and take some time away for yourself?
The ‘Chalet.’ If your parents were smart enough to lease a plot of land from the government in the 70’s (very expensive today to buy a good plot) and build a small beach house overlooking the sea 45 minutes south of the city you are fortunate to have the opportunity to escape city life for a private weekend getaway. My parent’s chalet is in Bneider, a hotspot in the summer for all things beach and sun.
As a tourist, a comparable option for a getaway would be to take a day trip by boat to one of our islands (Failaka, Kubbar, Bubiyan, Umm Al Maradim, amongst others).
During the week, I like to find pseudo abandoned public parks in residential neighborhoods and take long walks with a friend(s) while engaged in deep conversation.
Another space I enjoy is this particular strip of pedestrian pathways along the ‘Gulf Road’ which twists and turns along the shoreline.
Best place to experience something unique to Kuwait?
Camel racing on the country’s outskirts, Farm to table days at Sadeer Farms and Kite flying in the desert.
First thing you miss after leaving Kuwait?
The silliness of my people.
Best place to see another medium of art other than music?
Sultan Gallery, MOMA, Maritime Museum, Creative Art Platform (CAP), Masaha13, Dar Al Funoon, Amricani Center, Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyah, Shaheed Park (galleries + cafés + restaurants), Sedu House, National Museum and Jaber Cultural Center.
What are your favourites shops for things other than music?
Kuwait’s old souks (markets).
Are there any markets in your city worth checking out?
I like to frequent the older markets of Kuwait when the weather cools:
Souk Al Juma’a (Friday Market): Expansive outdoor market to spend a Friday browsing through everything from homeware to house pets.
Souk Al Safafeer (Metal Market): A small but interesting portal into the traditional metal makers of Kuwait
Souk Al Thahab (Gold Market): A longstanding indoor community of retailers and jewelry-makers.
Souk Al Mubarikiya: A must visit large, traditional market which you can get lost in for hours exploring everything from local eats to carpets, clothing and perfume (take note of the local Graffiti).
Souk Al Qimash (Cloth Market): A unique cultural experience in wheeling and dealing for materials and accessories to make clothes in. Make sure to visit the Indian Heritage Center at the market.
Souk Al Samak (Fish Market): Try and catch a live fish auction in the afternoon, quite a rush (can also walk to the docks across from the market and chat with fisherman on their wooden boats (Dhows)
Souk Al Khudhra (Vegetable Market): Adjacent to the fish market, this souk is small but has a certain charm to it (make sure to eat at the falafel shop Bass Fool Bass Falafel).
If we had to buy one local thing from your city to take back, what would it be?
Fresh dates from the local souk or wood incense (Bukhoor). Another option would be prayer beads (Misbah) or a colorful headdress (Qitra or Chmaq)
Where will you find the friendliest, most interesting locals to have a chat with?
Any of the old souks (markets) mentioned above you will be sure to bump into a character who will be open to having a chat with you.
What’s the best and worst thing about living in Kuwait?
The best thing about life in Kuwait is having access to the sea and having the opportunity to escape city life on the weekends and be in nature for a couple of days with close friends and family.
The worst thing about living in Kuwait is increasing traffic on roads, a lack of respect for the labor community and general disregard for the environment.
Who’s doing good things for Kuwait music right now, who you’d like to shout out?
Fatima Al Qadiri : International renowned genre bending electronic music artist
Yousif Yaseen: A recent Berkley graduate, he is a carving a new niche and sound for himself
Galaxy Juice & Bloom Tribe: Bringing their blend of progressive rock and psychedelia to the Kuwaiti community
Daffy & Sons of Yusuf: Their take on Arablish R&B and Hiphop is shaping a new music culture across the Arabian Gulf
Are there any interesting organisations/charities/projects involving music based/happening in your city?
Jukebox Productions – A collective of artists who stream live acoustic performances from their studio and are helping to shape a contemporary music scene in Kuwait
Art Space Kuwait – A new venue for learning and engaging with the arts (actively hosting intimate, acoustic music performances)
We Bring the Rock – a new music series to present rock acts from Kuwait and the region
Shaheed Park Concerts – held in their outdoor amphitheater when the weather is pleasant, their program celebrates contemporary music culture from Kuwait
Kuwait Rising – an alternative music festival I launched in partnership with the Red Bull Music Academy
Could you tell us about the mix you’ve made for us? Where and how did you record it, what was the idea behind it?
In a follow up to my vinyl-only mix for The Vinyl Factory in 2015, This mix is an amalgamation of sounds and songs from Kuwait. From a technical standpoint, it was constructed using Logic software and includes re-edits, overlays, and samples of demos, live songs and recordings off the radio to form a cohesive soundtrack to my city. Thematically, I aspired to form a musical dialogue between the sound of contemporary Kuwait and ancestral Kuwait which inherently revolved around pearl diving music and its culture (the equivalent in depth and complexity to Blues music). The mix features an alternative soundscape for the opening sequence and then takes you through a journey in sound highlighting some of the local innovators in music from Kuwait.
And finally, what’s on the horizon for you in terms of live dates or releases we should look out for?
I started journeying into film recently and will be releasing my debut documentary effort which was shot in Kingston, Jamaica accompanied by a 4-track EP in the winter of 2017 entitled Vibrations. I’m also about to start work on my third album which will be my biggest undertaking in music recording to date with an extensive list of collaborators I hope to engage for the project. Lastly, I’m firming up international dates for late 2017 going into 2018 to tour several projects of mine which include a 6-piece live band performance, a 6-piece contemporary dance performance and a 16-piece multimedia performance.
Bloom Tribe – A Dissolved Souvenir x Untitled
Bloom Tribe ‘Burst Asunder’ x Sons of Yusuf ‘Failicha’ x Zahed Sultan ‘I Want Her But I Don’t Want Her’ x Zahed Sultan ‘Hakatha’ x Sons of Yusuf ‘One Time’
Galaxy Juice ‘Awaken The Sunshine’ x Untitled
Yousif Yaseen ‘ Abraha’s Fall’ x Untitled
Zahed Sultan x BASSically – Cake & Butter (Freeform Instrumental Live at Barbican Centre, London)
Zahed Sultan x Various Artists – Ghafar Il Zalla (Live at RBMA Weekender, Dubai)
Zahed Sultan – Bedoon (Extended Edit) x Zahed Sultan – Bedoon (Original version)
Basil Al Hadi – Elbent Elsamra (Demo version)
Tarek Kabbani – Cosmic Dishdasha (Demo version)
Fabrice – Mister (Zahed’s Echo Edit)
Mr Fari – Webcam Girl (Zahed’s Echo Edit)
Altersal – Black Elephant (Demo version, Zahed’s Echo Edit)
Empty Kuarter – Hodkitchue (Demo version, Zahed’s Echo Edit)
Bloom Tribe – Disappearing Spectrum x Sons of Yusuf – One Time