An Interview with Nurai Fest

Taking place on the private Zaya Nurai island near Abu Dhabi from November 22 – 23, the inaugural Nurai Fest will host performances from Tiga, Audiofly, Serge Devant, and Steve Lawler. The festival hopes to develop and promote the region’s fledgling nightlife scene, and provide an affordable weekend getaway for its residents.

Insights spoke with Nurai Fest co-founder, Ayan Alieva, about her history as a promoter, Abu Dhabi’s musical heritage, and Nurai Fest’s support of regional talent.

Festival Insights: Tell us about how Nurai Fest came to be, and what people should expect from it.

Ayan Alieva: The idea behind Nurai Fest was to create something very unique and for it to become an annual international boutique island festival. Thanks to this vision we have gained support from the government, the media, and various private entities in both Abu Dhabi and across the country.

The island has been hailed as the Maldives of the Middle East ever since the Zaya Nurai Island resort opened five years ago. The beaches of Nurai are incomparable to anywhere else in the UAE, and the close proximity of the island to the mainland allows for large-scale events.

Nurai Fest offers an opportunity to residents of the region for a fun weekend getaway without having to spend a lot of time and money travelling to destinations such as Mykonos, Ibiza, or Tulum. From the very first moment as you step on a boat until you are back on the mainland, you will feel the spirit of island life, accompanied by the beats of world-renowned DJs.

There are three stages across the island. Attendees will also have the opportunity to experience the luxury of the island’s villas, all of which grant access to the beach and come equipped with their own private pool. Along with this comes ‘seven-star’ customer service.

FI: What was your first foray into event planning?

AA: I’ve always specialised in PR & marketing in the hospitality sector, but that involved organising numerous events to promote properties. One of my first events was at the JW Marriott Absheron Baku hotel in Azerbaijan. Electronic music is still not very popular in that region, but there is a niche community there and by collaborating with local talent on the very first event we managed to get the new bar packed.

FI: What are the key things you have learned about promoting over the years, particularly in the Middle East?

AA: The market trend here is very ‘last-minute’ by all means. People tend to do everything last minute so it’s challenging to predict the turnout of your events in advance.

I would say the only difference between event organisation here and the West is the talent booking process; promoters in the UAE end up having to pay three times the regular rate for the artists.

FI: Do you think the Fyre festival debacle has helped or hindered the public perception of boutique music festivals in ‘exotic’ locations?

AA: Funny enough – both. I personally think having Fyre go this viral has helped people get an idea of what the festival will be like (not the reality unfortunately) and the feel of it very quick. On the other hand, of course, people still feel kind of scared to travel after the scam with Fyre, but that’s where Nurai Fest has a privilege, provided that the venue – Zaya Nurai Island resort – has been successfully operating for over five years now and is known as one of the best resorts in the region. Apart from the venue being known and legit, the event is co-sponsored by the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi.

FI: What is the balance like between international and local artists for this first edition?

AA: We have nine international artists and 12 local artists on the line-up. It is certainly important to involve any talents we have locally, however I feel like the market is not yet ready for festivals without headliners. They are driving the crowd, but ultimately, we want our talents to grow.

Nurai Fest