AFCENT band plays first-ever rock concert at Abu Dhabi university

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
  • U.S. Air Forces Central
Emirati college kids love James Brown.

Members of the U.S. Air Forces Central Band, Afterburner, discovered this firsthand Feb. 16 as they played at Zayed University here for almost 300 students on campus.

The performance marked several firsts: the first rock band to visit the school, the first time American musicians played there and the first time band Airmen played at a school in the United Arab Emirates.

"This was the gig of a lifetime," said Staff Sgt. William Harris, the band's trombone player. "When we get the opportunity to perform for an audience that's never heard or seen a group like ours, it's awesome. Everyone seemed to get into the show and enjoy themselves.

"Music really is a universal language," Harris added.

That connection was established early in the concert when the band played the James Brown classic, "I Feel Good."

"It's such a positive song," said Ghalya Abdulla, a finance student in her final year at the university. "We knew from movies that there were American military bands, but none of us had ever seen one. Everyone had fun. It was great because we knew all the songs and could clap and sing along."

More than just entertainment, the performance was coordinated as part of the continuing diplomacy mission of the U.S. Embassy. The American ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, John Corbin, attended the event, as did the Emirati Minister of Education, His Excellency Humaid Mohammad Al Qattami.

"Having a U.S. Air Force band play for the Emiratis shows them the best of what America has to offer, so it's indispensable to our mission," said Bahram Rajaee, the cultural affairs officer for the embassy. "Cultural engagement is important because we're reaching out through humanities to build friendships. I think the band showed them a more nuanced view of American culture than perhaps they were used to."

The concert was rewarding for the faculty as well. In addition to enjoying a live rock performance, it helped the instructors teach the students more about Americans.

"This definitely broke new ground for the school," said Courtney Stryker, who manages student life on campus.

Stryker, a Montana native, said teachers often answer questions about Americans and the concert did a lot to "shatter some stereotypes the students had."

"We're so glad the students got to see another side of Americans," she said. "It changed a lot of minds about the U.S. military, especially having a female lead singer. I talked to students during the show and they were just amazed."

Student Council President Muhra al Hameli called the concert a good change of pace for the campus and summed up the event with one thought:

"I really hope they come back."