Dubai probably isn’t the first place you’d think of seeing female drummers or even a thriving music scene. That certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t any female drummers or a lack of bands. Though limited in number, female drummers are rocking in the Middle East. One band in particular has been working to bring the current music scene of that region to the forefront of people’s minds. Gill Tierney, drummer for of the band the Boxtones, started playing drums professionally over 10 years ago. The Boxtones, a band based in Dubai, work as full-time musicians. They created both a band and a corporate events company called the Boxtones FZE. They’re making waves, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. The band has received awards from Rolling Stone Magazine, endorsements from Shure, support from Sony, and a slew of recognition from numerous publications and venues.
Tom Tom chatted with Gill Tierney about her experience being one of the few (but certainly proud) female percussionists in the Middle East.
Tom Tom Mag: How did you get into drumming? Were there any female drummers you knew of based in the Middle East?
Gill Tierney: I started drumming when I was 10, and I commandeered my dad’s drum kit! My brother and I have been playing music together for 21 years now (My brother Gary is the guitarist/ vocalist for The Boxtones). I’ve never had a lesson, I am self-taught, and it’s amazing that I now get to do what I love as a full time job and career!
Growing up in Bahrain, I never knew any other female drummers when I started out. It’s only when I moved back to Edinburgh that I started to meet fellow female drummers, and now living in Dubai there are a few on the scene here and in neighbouring countries, but we still need more!
What barriers have you come across? Did you receive a lot of comments about being a female drummer in an area of the world where it is seen as such an anomaly?
Having been in a number of different lineups and formations of bands over the years it’s usually the first comment we get, “oh a girl drummer!” I choose to take it as a compliment haha!
Having spent six years in a heavily male dominated music scene in Edinburgh, I’ve had plenty of backhanded comments at gigs before we’ve even set foot on stage, but I’ve always been confident enough to ignore the ignorant and the proof is in the pudding as they say! On the other hand, I can’t count how many times I’ve been pulled aside after a show and told “wow you have a great voice”, when they are clearly mistaking me for our female singer and hadn’t noticed a woman on drums!
It’s definitely unique to have a female drummer, especially out here, but if anything it’s another attribute that helps us stick out from the rest.
What is the current music scene in Dubai like? How has it changed over the last 10 years you’ve been playing professionally?
There is a growing music scene here in Dubai, but there are also countless rules and regulations surrounding musicians which can make it a bit of a nightmare.
My brother and I started our own company ‘The Boxtones FZE’ in Dubai in February 2013, so we could work for ourselves and make a career from playing music. All 5 members of the band work for the company full time and we are now 9-5 business people as well as musicians! There is plenty of work in Dubai and the Middle East for corporate gigs and high profile events. This is what allows us to be able to live here and push our original career at the same time.
On the original music front, there is no shortage of talent out here and more and more avenues are opening over the past few years for people to showcase their talents and get themselves heard.
Dubai is our home and our basecamp, but we are really pushing to get recognized on an international level, and have plans for tours of India, UK and even South Africa. We want to help put Dubai on the music map and show that this region has a lot to offer.
Is it still pretty rare to see a female drumming in Dubai? Has there been any increase in the number of females you’ve seen drumming?
Yes it is still pretty rare. I’ve seen a few female percussionists but would love to see more drummers around! Unfortunately it seems to be a male dominated role in the majority of local bands. There are a few great initiatives going on to encourage young girls such as ‘Rock Camp for Girls UAE’ which is a great step in the right direction.
What has drumming brought to you? What do you love most about it?
I am extremely lucky to have parents that have supported me right from the start and who continue to do so to this day. Most kids that finish school in the Middle East head off to College/ Universities across the world to continue their studies, and I finished school at 18 and took on music full time with the full support of my family behind me. I’ve travelled the world, made a living from playing drums and now am Managing Partner of my own company as well as a full time musician. I am also fortunate enough to get to work alongside my brother as well as my boyfriend who is our keyboard player. It’s a very exciting time and things can only get better!
The Boxtones can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. For upcoming gigs and other info, check out their Facebook page.
Interview by Maura Filoromo.