It’s easy not to take TV talent shows seriously. Despite the fact that they’ve become increasingly popular in recent years; often making stars of their presenters, (think ‘American Idol’, ‘X-Factor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’), the level of talent they showcase usually leaves a lot to be desired.
So it may come as a surprise that the popular Emirati singer Hussain Al Jasmi, was first discovered on one such show. Back in 1997, Al Jasmi took part in a competition on ‘Layali Dubai’ (‘Dubai Nights’) – a popular TV show, which over the years, has showcased many Arab stars – and he took the audience by storm. Not only did he win the amateur section in the Gulf region, he went on to come second in the Arab world.
Al Jasmi has been singing since he was a little boy. In fact, as a 12-year-old he could be often found singing with his two brothers Fahed and Saleh, who are talented composers. He started playing the piano at a young age too, but always wanted to be a singer when he grew up. Despite the fact that he is naturally very shy, Al Jasmi began singing in public at the age of 17 at events around the UAE. His family always encouraged him and especially so after he won the ‘Layali Dubai’ TV talent show.
Fast forward 14 years and far from fading into oblivion like so many reality TV stars, the 32-year-old Sharjah-born singer has released no less than five albums; sold millions of records around the world and even won the coveted Murex d’Or Award three years in a row.
He hit the big time when he was signed to record label Rotana in 2001. Two years later his first album was produced. The first song to be released from it – ‘Bawada’ak’ shot him to stardom almost overnight. In fact it’s still one of the most popular tunes in the Middle East.
His popularity in the region increased even more however after the release of ‘Walla Mayeswa’ (‘It’s not worth it’) in 2004 and with ‘Bassbour Al Fourgakom’ (2006) his reputation was cemented. The latter is still one of his best-known tracks in the whole of the UAE as it’s also the haunting melody that accompanies one of the Dubai Fountain shows.
Part of the appeal of Al Jasmi’s music lies in the fact that his songs have a modern twist – often combining rumba rhythms with a latin flavour. However much of his music has a distinctly traditional Emirati sound.
“The song ‘Bassbour Al Fourgakom’ exemplifies beautiful Emirati music,” comments the singer when asked about this influence. “And from its popularity, I’m led to believe that Emirati music is reaching a large group of people these days. That, in my opinion, is really a wonderful thing.”
The soulful singer released his latest single ‘La Tuqarini Bi Ghairi’ (‘Don’t compare me with anyone’) with the arts production company Funoon Al Emirat in October of this year. The song, written by the poet Haza’ Bin Mathkar Al Hajeri, has been played on prominent radio stations around the Gulf region and is already proving to be a hit.
In recognition of his popularity and all that he has done for his country abroad, Al Jasmi was also made a UN Goodwill Ambassador to the IIMSAM (Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-Algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition) programme in 2010. His dedication to the cause was further recognised by the UN this year and the organisation named him ‘Ambassador At Large’. Al Jasmi has become the first Emirati – and Arab artist to hold the title.
Spirulina is a type of algae that can be cultivated and used as a food supplement for children suffering from malnutrition. His role as an IIMSAM Ambassador involves advocating the use of Spirulina in fighting severe nutrition around the globe, as well as spreading knowledge of the organisation throughout the Arab world.
“The Emirati people have been known down through the generations for being kind and, in my opinion this is the most important attribute a human being can possess in order to succeed. I ask God to keep this country safe,” he says.
Clearly proud of his Emirati culture and heritage, Al Jasmi welcomes the fact that his music helps to spread knowledge of the UAE in different countries around the world. “It is an honour and a joy for me as an Emirati to belong to such a beautiful and advanced country; one that has a rich heritage too,” he comments. “And as an artist I try to spread that culture – a culture which is inherent in me.”
This pride in his culture moved him to decide on a policy of including one lyric in one song on every album from the poetry of His Excellency the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. In the past, he has also sung lyrics that were written by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, as well as Shaikh Hazza Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
These days, he has five albums under his belt (having released three more in 2004, 2006 and 2010, all on the Rotana record label) and it’s not just Emiratis who are fans. Al Jasmi has performed around many parts of the region, from Kuwait to Morocco and Egypt, gaining fans all over the Middle East. He frequently travels abroad as a result and is always aware that each time he does so he represents his country. In June this year he performed at a glittering event alongside the Tunisian singer Saber Al Ribaee, the Lebanese singer Najwa Karam and the Iraqi singer Claudia Hinna in Malaysia.
“When I first started singing I made a decision to spread the culture of my Emirati music all over the world,” he tells Al Shindagah, adding: “I worked on a series of tasks that were propagated successfully with God’s help.”
It’s clear his Muslim faith is all-important to him. This is evident from the words of his songs, which frequently mention God. ‘Goodbye my child, I am leaving you. Hopefully your eyes will never see misery. All I have are God and you. God bless you. And you only have fun. And see happiness in life,’ the opening lines of ‘Bawada’ak’ read.
“I love the lyrics of this song and its melody and I felt I had to sing it. It never fails to leave a strong impact on the audience,” says the singer whose is known for the very personal nature of his songs.
In fact many have been used in TV dramas and movies and are regularly sung at both national and private events. Last December, he performed at a celebration of the UAE’s 39th National Day. His latest song ‘Zaem Al Dar’ (‘House Leader’) composed by Faiz Al Saeed and written by Ali Al Khawar, was dedicated to the President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This year he will once again be appearing to celebrate the country’s 40th birthday.
His busy schedule which includes travelling the world for performances, doing volunteer work for special needs children in the UAE and his work for the United Nations, leaves little time for himself and to date Al Jasmi is still single. “I’m not married, despite the many rumours,” he laughs. “According to them, I have in fact been married more than once.” But he’s quick to point out that he’s far from lonely. “My parents, my friends and my fans are my family,” he smiles. “And life is good – in fact it is very good.”