Sharjah: Man with a million tapes
Sharjah resident Abdullah Mohammed Khalili gets nostalgic about his vintage collection of music.
So, when was the last time you played a tape to listen to your favourite music? It may be a tough recall for most of us but not for Abdullah Mohammed Khalili.
The Sharjah resident runs a music shop that has a collection of over a million tapes with tracks of almost every popular genre — ranging from Arabic artists of yore to Rasta king Bob Marley. Yes, a million tapes. You read that right, and with a few Bollywood tracks thrown in too! And what’s more, he listens to as many of them as possible every single day for his favourite choice of music. “Nowadays most of us listen to music on our phones, and can simply download songs over the internet, but I do it all on my tape recorder because I have no idea about using a computer and USB,” says the 56-year-old man whose passion for music would put a die-hard Ariana Grande or an Ed Sheeran fan to shame.
Khalili’s passion for music took shape way back in 1984 when he opened Shabab Al Wadi Recording, his dream music shop in the Dubai Gold Souq area. Almost four decades later, it stands tall as a one-of-its-kind shop today in Sharjah’s Butina area where the huge collection of cassettes are plastered across the walls. “A few of these are rare ones and they are part of my personal collection. They will never be for sale,” he says pointing to a section that looks more closely guarded than his shop’s entrance while gesturing at his vast collection of other tapes that command a price tag as low as Dh15.
What’s most intriguing about his passion is his razor-sharp memory. Ask him about any single track from any album and he will locate it for you in a second, as fast as a search bot. “These cassettes run in my blood. I have lived with them far too long now to know exactly in which corner of the shop they reside,” says the father of three, knowing fully well that the legacy he has built over the decades will probably die with him after he’s gone. “Two of my daughters are already well settled and busy in their professional lives. The other child is an aspiring doctor. None of them have the will or desire to take this shop forward after I am gone. In fact, they continue to coax me to switch over to other businesses,” explains Khalili who once harboured dreams of running a restaurant business, long before he deep-dived into the world of music on tape. “I am glad I followed my heart and not my mind for once.
“The happiness I have derived over the last four decades or so, has been a proof of that. But things are slowly changing now with a genuine lack of interest in my trade amongst the current generation largely raised on Spotify and iTunes. It’s sad and heartbreaking,” adds the man originally from Iran, with an air of resignation, while gesticulating towards the section of his collection that houses vinyl records too.
“They are few but well chosen,” he says, talking about his music collection that is sure to take you on a journey back to a sepia tinted era when people jived to vinyl records and cassettes.
“Those were the days when my shop used to be brimming with customers. At present, the numbers have reduced dramatically with only 3-5 people coming in daily. Sometimes there’s just one customer walking in but if he buys from us, it still helps us cover our expenses,” Khalili says, reflecting on how times and trends in music have changed to render shops like his a truly hidden gem today.
But what has pleasantly surprised the 56-year-old is how his shop premises has become a shooting spot for Instagram divas and TikTok stars.
“They (social media influencers) come and take videos and go. Yet the most heartening bit about my business today remains the fact that some of the artists on the covers of my collection are still alive, hale and hearty (Alhamdullilah) and that they continue to swing by my shop for a cup of tea and lot of meaningful conversation. That is my biggest payout in this job,” adds Khalili with a smile that lights up his face.
Times may have vastly changed yet Khalili continues his daily regime of opening the shutter of his shop sharp at 9am, so that he can spend the rest of his day there, taking small breaks only for a quick lunch and a nap, all at the shop. “That’s my passion and dedication. None of it has changed over the last 39 years,” he adds with a chuckle.
“These cassettes are everything to me. These cassettes are my life,” Khalili sums up, saying that despite listening to millions of tracks over the years, he has never felt like writing his own lyrics or cutting an album, for a reason. “Let that reason be love. Love for listening to music on the tape.” email@example.com
(With inputs from Hiba Khurram)