Hussain Al Jassmi has come a long way from humble beginnings in the coastal town of Khor Fakkan, to becoming the first Arab performer to take to the stage at the world’s newest opera house.
This is just the latest highlight of an illustrious career that has spanned 20 years of constant hits.
The Emirati singer and composer attributes his success – he is, perhaps, the UAE’s most popular musical exports and one of the Middle East’s top-selling artists, and has more than 500 million YouTube views – to a passing remark made to him by Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE.
“It’s my most treasured piece of advice,” says Al Jassmi. “Sheikh Zayed, God rest his soul, said to me: ‘The artist reflects the culture and civilisation of his homeland wherever he goes.’
“He said those words to me when I performed in front of him the first time, not knowing I would get to meet him. His words in that moment became symbolic of the start of my journey and, to me, still serve as a beacon to guide me wherever I go.”
Al Jassmi's voice often breaks with emotion when he speaks about Sheikh Zayed – you can also hear his voice tremble on his 2005 single Zayed in Our Heart, the first song he released after taking a year off from the stage to mourn Sheikh Zayed's death.
This inherent sensitivity has become his trademark to some extent– his voice is characterised by its emotional depth. Listeners can believe Al Jassmi is able to feel absolutely everything – no song is sung without bucketloads of feeling.
In 2008, only six years after releasing his first album, Al Jasmi won a Murex D'Or award for Best Arab Male Singer. He was popular as a judge during the third season of The X Factor Arabia, and was appointed Ambassador of Creativity and Ambassador for Arab Culture in the UAE.
He is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador, and actively promotes the benefits of a healthy lifestyle among youth, speaking publicly about his own weight-loss journey and gastric-bypass surgery.
There really was no other choice when choosing the first Emirati – and the first Arab – to perform at Dubai Opera. He is the first port of call for anyone interested in learning about contemporary music from the Gulf. He is a master of his game, thanks to an ability to fuse musical genres – elements from traditional Arab pop, 1990s R&B and even acid jazz are all present on his first three albums – and seamlessly shift from singing in his native Emirati dialect to Egyptian, Moroccan Rai and even in English.
Al Jassmi's rise to fame began when he won the reality show Layali Dubai during the Dubai Shopping Festival in 1997 and 1998. He released his first album four years later. His unique sound blended elements of bossa nova, soul and funk with traditional Khaleeji music.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Al Jasmi was chronically overweight, at his heaviest weighing in at 184kg. In a regional music industry dominated by a new generation of singers who rely more on their looks than their talent, Al Jassmi stood out, and his music did the talking.
When he took time off in 2010 for weight-loss surgery and returned 60kg lighter, Al Jassmi was already an established success – but despite this, he insists he is a simple man at heart, and regularly returns to his family home in Khor Fakkan. “I am used to simplicity, and at home, we still live it,” he says. “Khor Fakkan is my ideal vacation place. I still go back home to the simple life and simple food with my friends and family and the people I grew up with, I go back every week if I can.”
He also has clear ideas about he best way to live life.
“‘Whatever makes you sad, leave it. Whatever makes you happy or makes you smile, keep it. This is one of my favourite English sayings,” he says. “If you do work that you are honest about, from your heart, it will achieve success. Maybe the success will not come tomorrow, but it will come.”
• Hussain Al Jassmi is at Dubai Opera tomorrow at 9pm. Ticket prices start at Dh500 from www.dubaiopera.com