Dubai: This expat's collection of 12,000 vinyl records, CDs is worth Dh1 million

His extensive collection spans every genre, from 80s pop to smooth jazz, with rock and heavy metal dominating the shelves

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Tamanna Sajeed

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Ali Maarrawi Dabbah, vinyl record collector at his residence in Dubai - KT Photos: Muhammad Sajjad
Ali Maarrawi Dabbah, vinyl record collector at his residence in Dubai - KT Photos: Muhammad Sajjad

Published: Tue 2 Jan 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 2 Jan 2024, 11:11 PM

The Pink Floyd-themed doormat outside Ali Maarrawi Dabbah's apartment gives you a sneak peek into the musical haven. However, the real spectacle unfolds inside, and it's almost impossible not to be overwhelmed staring at the almost 12,000 vinyl records, CDs, and music memorabilia that line every wall of his JBR apartment in Dubai.

“I did listen to all of them at some point,” said the 46-year-old Spanish national. “But it’s also about the journey of finding them, especially when it's unexpected.

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At 46, Dabbah, guarded by his cats Hannibal and Lobo, boasts a collection valued at over 271,000 euros (a little over Dh1 million). This estimation comes even after selling off a quarter of his collection in 2020, with one of the most expensive records being a George Michael album worth nearly Dh5,000.

For Dabbah, the value of his collection transcends monetary worth. "I never bought anything because I thought it would become worth a hundred times the price. I bought it just because of the music."

Crown jewels

His extensive collection spans every genre, from 80s pop to smooth jazz, with rock and heavy metal dominating the shelves. Notable pieces include a signed vinyl record of Ghost's album Impera and special edition records from legends like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

With signed vinyl record of Ghost's album Impera
With signed vinyl record of Ghost's album Impera

One of his favourites is a rare edition of the Queen album Innuendo. Beyond the vinyl record and CD, the case includes a book detailing Freddie Mercury's life, alongside a ticket stub from a Queen concert where he watched them perform with Paul Rodgers. The album holds sentimental value as it was the first song he learned to play on the guitar.

“Innuendo was the first song I learnt to play on the guitar.”

A legacy of music

“Music started almost before I was born, when I was in my mom’s tummy,” Dabbah said. He was born into a family in Syria where almost everyone played an instrument. When pregnant with him, his mother listened to everything from classical music to ABBA.

Dabbah’s family moved to Saudi Arabia when he was six. There, he began collecting CDs.

“Music was my salvation,” he said. “As a kid, I used to go to these CD stores and choose based on the cover, on the artwork of the album.”

His collection grew to thousands as he moved between Syria, Spain, and eventually Jeddah in 1999. There, besides his day job, he started teaching guitar to over 600 students. Some of his students now play for established Saudi metal bands, including Faisal Al-Alamy from 9Six6 and Ayman Alghamdi from Wasted Land.

Collecting records

Dabbah and his music collection made one final move to Dubai in 2010. It still mainly consisted of CDs, and it wasn’t until he started travelling internationally for work that he began to buy records.

“I would always take one or two days off after my business travel to go and explore record stores,” Dabbah said. “Whether in Spain or Holland, I would come up with a map and plan my route for where I would visit.”

In 2014, at Chico Records in Beirut, he was introduced to Discogs, a website where he could buy and sell records and other music-related items. According to him, the discovery both “saved and destroyed” his life. Finding rare records from some of his favourite artists was “like finding the Holy Grail.”

“You come back from work, you lay on your sofa listening to music, and oops, you open Discogs on your computer,” he laughed. “So I started ordering this and that, and it became a force of habit.” His current collection is around 3,000 records.

"On vinyl, you can hear the layers of each instrument, almost separately if you focus hard enough. It's the closest to a live experience that you could get."

Celebrating music in Dubai

Today, Dabbah is a familiar face at local record stores and fairs, known by many in the collector community. “There's a huge community of collectors, whether they're avid fans of music or musicians themselves,” he said.

Dabbah also reflected on how the melting pot of cultures in Dubai helped further his love of music.

“You get to learn about different styles of music through these different people that you meet from different backgrounds, which is something truly, truly wonderful. Dubai is a great place to celebrate music," he added.

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