Illustration by Aakif Rattu

Battle of the Bands is Back.

The most anticipated NYU Abu Dhabi event has finally returned! Here’s an overview of what happened in case you missed it.

We are the music. Everything else fades away, and reality transforms into illuminations so absorbing that we cease to exist. The tremble of strings feels like the sip of a cup of coffee in the morning; the clear first note of the piano is the morning grass underneath your toes; the raspy voice of a guitar is the smell of rain in the summer; and the bass is the silence on the edge of the forest. But what if I told you these are not just poetic words, but what the NYU Abu Dhabi community felt at the most awaited event of the year: Battle of the Bands.
Battle of the Bands is an annual concert and contest that has taken place since May 2017, thanks to a massive amount of effort from Professor Matteo Marciano and the incredible organizational team. This event brings together the entire NYUAD community to experience a night full of fun and fantastic music performed by students, faculty, and staff. The contest nourishes healthy competition among participants who vie for the opportunity to record a 4-song EP at NYUAD's world-class and student-led recording studio, Gazelien Records. Participants do not even have to be in a band to partake in the competition if they truly desire to express themselves, get on stage, and share their talent. The 010 practice room in the Arts Center is open for everyone to rehearse and showcase their original music.
Who could have expected that an event initially consisting of only two bands a few years ago would explode into a thrilling performance with more than 914 attendees today? In order to accommodate the increasing interest in the event Battle of the Bands moved from its original setting in the Marketplace to the East Plaza. The immense effort put into the event's progression over the past five years has resulted in the highest number of song submissions to date for this year.
Photo by Sevinch Rakhmon-Zoda. Students and faculty gathered in the East Plaza in anticipation of the performance
That being said, we should not forget the challenges that Battle of the Bands faced between 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19 social gathering constraints. This year’s performances were all the more special after the community spent such a long waiting period for the next Battle of the Bands.
2019’s show was also shrouded by painful circumstances. Yet, such cases gave a new direction to the event's adaptability. The concert finished with a song written to celebrate the memory of Professor Godfried Toussaint, who joined the NYUAD community in 2011 and passed away that summer. As the Program Head and a Professor of Computer Science, he played a central role in shaping our Computer Science program through his teaching and distinctive research. Prof. Toussaint was also in the legendary NYUAD faculty band, Campus Cats, as a drummer and regular performer in Battle of the Bands. Here is a short excerpt from the tribute song written by Professor Goffredo Pucceti for Prof. Toussaint:
"... Years from now
out of the corner of the eye
Years from now
That smile that senior could not hide
Years from now
Who knows where will the journey end
Years from now, Habibi Yalla and little else
But then a flash of purple on a billboard along the way
A bullet in the blue sky, the sight of a bird of prey
And your heart will go back to that night before the exams
On a dune counting shooting stars ..."
Every year, Battle of the Bands creates opportunities for artists on campus to gain essential performance experience throughout the entire preparation period. In addition to the artists themselves, many people in the community work behind the scenes on production, from creating an impressive sound to creating spotlights during the show.
Photo by Sevinch Rakhmon-Zoda. The Placeholders performing Nichole Campbell’s original song, “3”
So, a big thank you goes to everyone who made this event possible. On account of these people, Sunday's concert indeed was unforgettable. The energy that the participants brought is simply outstanding. The line-up consisted of five bands and two duo acts: Jam TuSo (band), Diana Donatella & Harsh Kapoor on drums (duo), The Placeholders (band), Jiire Smith and Jaaga Mbaye (duo), Mydogisgod (band), Mud Made Saliva (band), and What The Fac(ulty) (band).
Photo by Sevinch Rakhmon-Zoda. What The Fac(ulty) performing their cover of “Sympathy for the Devil”
The first band, which opened the concert, was Jam TuSo who impressed us with their rendition of Purple Rain. Their performance of the song highlighted its deep, and even divine meaning of sorrow, love, compassion, and trust. Each note, high and low, reflected the profound meaning of all of those feelings that can be experienced in a relationship.
My favorite was Diana Donatella's performance, who blew the stage away with her original songs "Nothing is Real" and "All Night." The former made us think about the meaning of our existence; it was something fresh and exceptional. Diana says these songs will soon be released on all platforms, and I am personally looking forward to it!
I could talk about this concert endlessly; each performance was truly outstanding, as was already self-evident to all the attendees. But I should congratulate Jiire Smith & Jaaga Mbaye and the band Jam TuSo on winning the opportunity to record their songs in NYUAD's recording studio after coming in first and second place, respectively.
Photo by Sevinch Rakhmon-Zoda. Jiire Smith performing his original song, “Bus 170”
However, this is not the end, as there is always a way for musicians to come together on campus. If you are interested in engaging with NYUAD’s music community but don’t know where to find other musicians, we have created a musicians database which is constantly growing and changing, and where people can add themselves and find new musicians. So if you are interested in performing your work, start finding some band members now, and hopefully, we will see you in next year's edition of Battle of the Bands!
Sevinch Rakhmon-Zoda is a Staff Illustrator and Staff Photographer. Email them at
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