Mawazine 2016: Diana Haddad spreads the joy

We caught up with Lebanese-Emirati singer Diana Haddad in Morocco, where she told us about her new single and upcoming 14th album, and why she remains confident about her enduring appeal.

Diana Haddad is clear about what her present mission is as a pop star.

The Lebanese-Emirati has returned with new single Tibassam (Smile), a Khaleeji track that is an energetic call to focus on the sunny side of life.

Granted, many parts of the region are mired in conflict – but Haddad says an artist should try to provide a source of escapism.

“We are in need of some kind of happiness,” the 39-year-old says at the Mawazine Festival in Morocco, where she performed last week.

“I think it is the artist’s role to plant the seeds of that happiness in society, particularly for children and people who are indeed going through struggles. It is simple and straight to the point.”

The message of the song was important to Haddad. Too many times, she says, Arab pop tunes veer between the extremes of nonsensical subject matter to overwrought patriotism. Some sense of balance must be reached.

“Patriotic songs at the moment have lost their power,” she says. “I don’t know whether this is down to the artists or lack of support from the press, but there is a bigger move to dance and pop songs.

“I feel two ways about that. On one hand, considering the challenges facing the region, we are in need of some joy – artists are doing that through songs, and promoters through big concerts and festivals.

“On the other hand, there needs to be some songs addressing deeper issues – songs about our humanity. The thing with that, though, is that it needs to be done in a way that is not too melancholic. It needs to be positive and inspiring.”

Haddad says she attempts to explore such subject matter on her upcoming 14th album, which will be released this year.

Once again she is collaborating with celebrated Saudi producer Talal – they worked together on her 2014 album Ya Bashar.

“He is great to work with – there is a sense of chemistry and something fruitful always comes out of it,” she says.

“I have begun working on the album. Songs have been written and recorded and everything is really progressing well at the moment.”

The new album will also feature another Haddad hallmark: a big-star collaboration.

She is keeping the details under wraps for now but says it is bigger than previous collaborations – in 2006 she teamed up with Algerian rai singer Cheb Khaled for the hit Mas w Louli, and in 2010 released the Arabic-English single Enta Ma'ai Kol Hayati with Lebanese-Canadian rapper Karl Wolf.

“Now I am not going to say the star that I am working with is famous around the world because a lot of artists say that,” she says.

“But I do hope this song will be a hit on the international stage and all I can say about the artist I am singing with is that it is a legend from Europe.”

Such pairings are easier to arrange by when you are established in the industry.

Haddad first found fame in 1992 as a 16-year-old performer on the Lebanese television talent showcase Studio El Fan. Her popularity on the show led to her 1996 debut recording, the Lebanese folk-inspired album Saken.

Since then she has expanded her repertoire to include Gulf, Egyptian and Moroccan styles.

The Gulf influence became more apparent in the late-1990s, particularly when she moved to the UAE as part of her former marriage to an Emirati businessman. The video for one of her biggest hits, the 1999 Khaleeji track Shater, was shot in Dubai.

Haddad says the hustle involved in constantly writing and recording albums and singles and shooting videos to remain relevant does not fully apply to the current crop of young pop stars.

“They have more opportunities,” she says. “We didn’t have social media and things like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Back then it was us who would work hard to promote ourselves.

“We played more shows and did everything that we could to get our names out there. Now you don’t have to do all of that and you just keep focusing on interacting with your followers.”

One thing, however, that millions of social media fans cannot provide is the deep self-confidence that comes with being a veteran performer.

While she acknowledges that her fame has had a few highs and lows over the years, Haddad says she has never feared becoming irrelevant.

“I do feel confident in where I stand,” she says. “When an artist has been around for 20 years or more they have a large archive of work and [their] own legion of fans.

“Also, because an artist seems quiet for a bit that doesn’t mean they are finished. It is just that they are taking a break.

“Like everybody, I went through some personal issues and that break gave me a chance to recalculate certain things in life and allowed me to re-emerge with more success.”

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