When the Fast & Furious star and R&B singer Tyrese Gibson arrived in the UAE in April to film scenes for the seventh instalment of the blockbuster film franchise, he gave a shout-out on social media to the Emirati singer Mehad Hamad and suggested a possible collaboration.
A surprised and bemused Hamad responded positively and, before you knew it, Gibson had posted a video on Facebook of him jamming along to Hamad’s oud riffs.
“We’re gonna do a song together it’s gonna be the first … Traditional Arabic music with American R&B,” Gibson posted.
While Hamad wouldn't confirm whether the track has been completed or if it will feature in Fast & Furious 7, he described the meeting with Gibson as "very enjoyable".
Hamad says he couldn’t help but respond to the invitation – it is simply the Emirati way.
“When somebody travels to your country and requests to see you, you have to show the respect and meet this gentleman,” he says. “This doesn’t matter whether he is a celebrity or not. This is why Emiratis are known for their hospitality.
“I also got to meet Vin Diesel and it was great to spend time and discuss many things with both of them. I do now consider them as friends.”
A last-minute musical collaboration with a Hollywood star isn’t the only reason Hamad has been in the studio lately.
This week, he released his latest album, La Tardini Hudud. It's another uplifting collection of traditional Emirati folk and patriotic songs, anchored by his rich tenor and rhythmic oud playing.
Hamad is commemorating the release of the album release with a special Eid concert at St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort on Sunday.
This burst of activity is big news for the local music industry – with the exception of his Gibson collaboration, Hamad had dropped off the radar in the past five years, giving very few performances and even fewer interviews.
He blames his old-school approach to fame for his silence.
“It’s not that I don’t like the media,” he says. “I have great respect for what you people do. I have just been focusing on other things away from music. I figured that as an artist, I should not be doing interviews if I really have nothing to say.”
Hamad says the new songs will be “of my style” but that his time out of the spotlight did necessitate a certain evolution.
“There will be the traditional elements such as the local rhythms,” he says. “At the same time, we are changing things up a bit. You always have to do that to keep the songs fresh.
“I mean, 25 years ago, for example, some of the local songs were mostly just acoustic, then we added some keyboards in there, but we perform them to complement the tones of the music. So when it comes to my music, I do changes like these. They are only small changes, but it is just to make the overall music sound enjoyable.”
There are, however, some songwriting approaches that remain the same.
Hamad is known for his large repertoire of patriotic songs. One of them, Dari, is a favourite during National Day celebrations, with lyrics such as: "I am proud the UAE is my land/ And my symbol is its flag/ and I swear I will never forget its blessings/ it runs deep through me like my veins."
“The words come first,” says Hamad. “These songs, I work really hard in what I want to say to the people. The music part is easy once I know what I want to say.”
• Mehad Hamad plays at St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort’s Regal Ballroom on Sunday. For more information, visit www.stregissaadiyatisland.com or call 050 789 4595