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MDX Redbeat

Concord of Rock: In Conversation with Black Sand

By Jarvis D’Souza and Desiree Barreto

Witnessing a Black Sand live performance elicits a profound connection with the musicians on stage. An electrifying charge resounds in the arena, echoing the band’s genuine passion and dedication to their craft. This is not a flowery portrayal but a recount true to reality of the cosmic capacities of the alternative rock band, Black Sand.

As the opening chords resonate from Lance Capio, the band’s rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist, the infectious energy that defines their stage presence is inescapable, drawing you into the heart of their music. Behind him, Nathan Bobby, the drummer and backing vocalist, lays down the rhythmic foundation with precision and unbridled enthusiasm. Reardon Arcega, on bass, anchors their sound with a steady pulse that provides the foundation for the others to build upon. Meanwhile, Paul Manabat, the lead guitarist, elevates the performance with electrifying riffs that fuel their sound and spur excitement from the crowd. And of course, Simon D’Mello, proclaimed as the “nervous system of the band”, seamlessly weaves melodies and harmonies on the keyboard, complimenting the other members by developing layers of emotion. Their amalgam of versatile styles uniquely contorts into what can only be defined as a dynamic of “controlled chaos.”

Lance immersed in the tune

Possessing the skills to match their immense passion, anyone who has seen them perform live will observe the relentless hours spent descrying their sound through mastering their instruments and playing together. Each member of Black Sand is intrinsically unique and whole on their own, and their coming together results in a sound that delicately balances their individual tastes and collective inspiration, all while impressively remaining in sync with each other.

Lance and Paul (left to right) lock into the groove

The band describes their sound as leaning towards “alternative rock at varying degrees”. Some bands they cited as influences were Alice in Chains, Yellowcard, Blink-182, All Time Low, Breaking Benjamin, and Foo Fighters. However, their personal tastes range from progressive metal to electronic dance music (EDM)— the EDM is all Simon. Interestingly, Simon was introduced to the intricacies of the rock genre after becoming a part of Black Sand, and now, he effortlessly blends his newfound rock appreciation with his innate EDM flair, adding an entirely new dimension to the band’s distinctive sound.

Naturally, one might wonder how such a varied group of individuals came together to form Black Sand.  We have Middlesex University Dubai’s music room to thank for that. Lance was already well acquainted with Reardon, endearingly referred to as “Don”. As fate would have it, Reardon happened to be studying at Middlesex as well. They both had a performance on the horizon, but with Reardon under the weather, Lance needed a drummer (Reardon also happens to be a fervent drummer).  In his pursuit for a drummer, Lance met Nathan, who instantly impressed him with his drumming skills in the music club. Similarly, it was in the music room where Lance and Simon hit it off immediately. And to top it all off, Paul had been Lance’s childhood friend, but as he was not in Middlesex, they could not play at many of the university-related performances together just yet.

Nathan passionately laying out the rhythmic foundation

The name “Black Sand”, as Lance narrates, was established at the dawn of Watt Fest 2023. They decided on the name with help from a friend, and although it didn’t hit off with them initially, they admit that it has grown on them. Watt Fest’s Battle of the Bands was their first time performing live together— sans Paul— with a friend stepping in as the lead guitarist. It was monumental in boosting their confidence. As Lance describes, performing in a live band competition required and channelled a different sort of energy, bringing in the nerves. But it’s safe to say what unfolded on that stage could best be described as an exuberant display of unwavering confidence. It was after this performance that Lance had the chance to introduce Paul to the remainder of Black Sand, and the rest is history.

Since their maiden performance at Watt Fest, Black Sand has garnered quite a reputation among university musicians in the UAE. They are often recognised as formidable competitors and perceived as more than just a traditional university band— a sentiment affirmed in conversations with other local bands.

“At the core of Black Sand, it’s evident that it’s all about their love for music and the joy of playing together while combining their vast array of influences, styles, and inspirations.”

The toughest battle Black Sand must fight right now is with time. Managing work and university along with the demands of their music can be more of an arduous task than it may seem. However, their tight schedules do not deter their dedication to preparing for gigs. Although, it is what is holding up the production of original songs, which the band confirms is something to look out for in the future. As Lance enthusiastically points out, they have a lot planned out for originals, and with Simon and Paul’s experience in music production, they can’t wait to combine their talents. Amid these time constraints, they often find themselves practising and learning songs individually while rehearsing the final arrangement together. When they do manage to gather for jam sessions and rehearsals, it’s a precious and coveted opportunity.

When asked about their approach to playing cover songs, Paul says it’s become a habit to dive headfirst into the original track, stay true to its essence, and then just let the magic happen. Spontaneity and improvisation are a part of their creative process, both during practice and while performing live. Constructive criticism is also vital for them.

Reardon on the bass, ecstatically holding down the rhythm

When it comes to navigating the opportunities within Dubai’s music scene, Nathan points out that Black Sand is continually learning and evolving. Their ability to adapt to the specific demands of different gigs not only highlights their versatility but also opens exciting new opportunities for the band. Their recent gig on November 15th at PizzaExpress Live demonstrated exactly that, featuring “She Wants to Be Loved” by Maroon 5, “Lips of an Angel” by Hinder, and one of the band’s favourite songs to perform (and a must-play at every practice session as Simon says), “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters.

At the core of Black Sand, it’s evident that it’s all about their love for music and the joy of playing together while combining their vast array of influences, styles, and inspirations. As Paul puts it, “My mantra has always been: if you really want to make it work, you will make it work, no matter how diverse the space is. And so, yeah, I think the reason we’re still standing today is because we all wanted this. Like sometimes, you almost have that ‘I’ve got nothing to lose’ attitude. So, I think a significant portion of our confidence comes from that as well. It’s almost— at least for me— a quick way to hype yourself up, to remove all the fear, nervous energy and all.”

There is something extraordinary about witnessing a band that wholeheartedly loves what they are doing, and that is precisely the magic of Black Sand.

Pictured left to right, Nathan, Reardon, Lance, Paul and Simon

Photography by Joshua Das (@hey.dasme)

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