Expect even more celebrities to visit the UAE as part of a new venture co-founded by Steve Harvey.
The US comic, television host and author is in the UAE this week to launch Melt Middle East, an events and consulting company, with a celebrity golf tournament and star-studded gala dinner taking place on Monday.
Some of the stars walking the red carpet at Jumeirah Towers for the gala include Rush Hour star Chris Tucker, RnB singer and entrepreneur Akon and actor Anthony Anderson from Emmy Award-winning sitcom black-ish.
Speaking to The National hours before hosting the gala, Harvey said the aim of the company, which he co-founded with Oweis Zahran, an entrepreneur and chief executive of investment company OWS Capital in Dubai, is to ultimately change perceptions of the region through celebrity-driven events promoting knowledge and cultural exchange.
Harvey hints at a large Abu Dhabi event next year, but only reveals that future initiatives will encompass various fields, including entertainment and business sectors.
“There are many misconceptions about the Middle East that are unfair, while there is absolutely none about the US,” he says.
"By that I mean that we in the US are experts at propaganda and promotions. Come on man, we are Hollywood. Ain't nobody doing it better than us in that regard. But at the same time, there are so many things that we don't know or are unwilling to know.”
Harvey points to the 50th anniversary of the UAE on Thursday as an achievement that needs to be celebrated and studied.
"There is much we can learn here that UAE can get even more credit for," he says. "Do you understand what it means to create all of this in 50 years? What type of vision does one need to transform this place to what I see today?
“I don't care how far you go back in history, but what I have seen and experienced here is just unthinkable.”
Harvey has a more attuned experience of the UAE – from its customs to geography – than the average jet-setting celebrity.
Over the past decade, he has visited all seven emirates as part of the 2020 UAE tourism online campaign When Steve Meets East, went to the 2018 Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix and was a speaker at the Sharjah International Book Fair in 2019, to name a few.
It was the latter experience, involving an in-depth conversation about his career and spirituality, which partly inspired Melt Middle East.
"The room was packed and full of young people from different cultures and faiths, but it just felt united," he says.
"I remember thinking 'wow', this is something the world needs to see because you can't make the world better until you merge cultures and ideas, and to do that, we need to be open to new ideas and let young people express themselves and participate.”
The power of celebrity
Melt is an acronym for Merging, Empowerment, Leadership and Technology. It aims to be the vehicle for aspiring regional entrepreneurs and talents to not only network and create concepts through various events, but have their work globally recognised through possible celebrity partnerships and endorsements.
The A-listers also benefit by using the opportunities provided to possibly launch their own businesses in the UAE and increase their brand recognition across the region.
In that regard, the decision to invite Akon to the event is a shrewd choice, as the musician turned fintech entrepreneur recently launched his Akoin cryptocurrency card and spoke at this week's Abu Dhabi Global Market conference.
Harvey plans to tap into his extensive celebrity contacts list for future Melt Middle East events.
"They are no better than anybody else, but we need to understand what celebrity factor does. High-profile people draw attention, the media and cameras, and through that it will ultimately shine a light on what we are trying to do," he says.
"But in reality, we want to reach out to the common man with ideas and a vision and see how we can help them develop and grow.”
Spreading the word
Experiencing new cultures has become a hallmark of Harvey’s four-decade career.
He has toured the world as a stand-up comic and his bestselling 2009 self-help book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, has been translated into several languages, including Arabic. He also hosted and produced a South African and Ghanaian version of his popular US TV game show, Family Feud.
"It opened my eyes about the world and how our misconceptions about people and cultures come from a place of fear," he says.
"And I see that today in that they are, once again, trying to blame everything on Africa, whether it's now with the latest strain of Covid-19, or something else.
“Let me tell you something man, I go to Africa all the time. I shot TV shows down there. The hospitals are not full, they are safe and they wear their masks all the time and it's full of talented and hardworking people. Africa has got a grip on things more than other places, but we need to shine more light there and other parts of the world so people understand.”
While Harvey plans to expand Melt to Africa eventually, he first wants the concept to take hold in the UAE.
“The UAE story is unbelievable and I plan to be here and celebrate the 50th anniversary with all of you,” he says. “To be part of this and being able to create opportunities for others is something I want to do as part of my legacy and also what has been going on here for years.”