Landing a job as an Emirati radio presenter in the UAE’s expat-dominated English media industry was “one of the hardest journeys” for Marwan Al Awadhi, otherwise known as DJ Bliss, who stars in the latest Netflix reality TV show Dubai Bling. It revolves around the lives of a group of millionaires living in the city.
Speaking to Frankly’s weekly podcast Behind Closed Doors, Al Awadhi says, “Trying to get into [English] radio was one of the hardest journeys I can ever remember… I would go at night just to help [radio stations] mix the music… it was just no, no, no [to hiring me] back then. There were no Arabs on the radio,” he says of the early 2000s.
“I feel like I was in an industry that was not for me. The Emirati media personalities were all in Arabic media, and I was really one of the only ones in English media. I felt out of place, honestly,” he adds.
Al Awadhi started his career as a DJ at a local radio station before hosting his own TV show on Dubai One. From there on, he set up his own holding company Bliss Inc, which includes talent and artist booking agency Selekt, club events 411 nights, Karak Inc café, Beats and Cuts barbershop and DJ Bliss management.
Last month, he dropped the single Hala Walla, featuring Jamaican artist Shaggy, Kuwaiti artist Daffy and Bahraini artist Flipperachi. The behind the scenes of the Afrobeat-reggae song’s music video are featured on the Netflix show Dubai Bling.
He also released a track called Yalla Africa, in collaboration with social media sensation, African dance group The Ghetto Kids.
But it wasn’t always easy for Al Awadhi, who says Western expats in the English media industry preferred to hire other expats instead of hiring Emiratis.
“I was trying to really fit in, and it was really, predominantly run by Western expats. To try to fit in, to try and get in with the lingo and the lifestyle, I really tried hard. It definitely wasn’t easy,” he says.
“I think they just didn’t understand us… at some point I changed my name to Marco… to get around and be able to [book gigs]… There were opportunities for sure but.. they wanted to work with people like them and not in a bad way, but that was just the way it was.
“There was the misconception [where] they thought this guy is going to clock in, drink karak [tea] and clock out an hour early…” he adds.
UAE citizens make up about 1 million of the UAE’s population, which grew to about 10 million by the end of 2021, according to government figures.