When DJ Bliss steps up to the booth at Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena on Sunday, it will hopefully be a giant leap for the UAE music industry.
Nearly four years after the City Walk venue launched with a sold-out concert by Maroon 5, the hip-hop spinner and star of Netflix reality series Dubai Bling is set to be the first Emirati act to headline the venue who isn't a pop act.
The concert is also set to be a celebration of the region’s hip-hop scene. Guest artists include Egypt’s DJ Kaboo, who has fashioned his own sound blending Arabic pop with trap hip-hop beats, as well as Kuwaiti and Bahraini rappers Daffy and Flipperachi.
Speaking to The National ahead of "the biggest show" of his life, Bliss, real name Marwan Al Awadhi, stresses that while the Netflix series certainly boosted his profile, the Coca-Cola Arena show will fulfil a long-held career goal.
“I have been DJing for nearly 20 years and that aspect of my life never stopped. Whether Dubai Bling came or not, I would have always found a way to do this show," he says.
"I still have notes on my phone from seven years ago which have my goals and one of them was to do a big show."
Making it happen
Also on that list was to cover a car in stickers, which he also ticked off this month by transforming a van into a mobile billboard emblazoned with his image and concert details.
He describes the experience of driving around Dubai plugging his concert as reminiscent of his early career days.
"I wish I had CDs and flyers to pass around to make it even more super-old school," he chuckles. "But this is something not new to me. I am so used to planning and organising my own shows from A to Z."
While Bliss welcomes the grind, is it disconcerting to still be a one-man promotion team despite the career success?
"That's a good question and that's something we should talk about,” he says. "Throughout my career, I did have people shut doors on me and locally based artists like myself because they want us to feel like we are only good enough to be at a certain level.
“They do that by making you believe that no matter how hard you work, you can only be a support act for other artists, or only be the warm-up DJ, sometimes not even getting paid.
“So for me, and I say this honestly, the arena show is bigger than just me. It's about doing something really big and breaking some of these boundaries and showing other kids who have these dreams that they can also make it happen."
Not everyone was initially sold on that grand vision.
"Some did not immediately jump on board for this show, starting with the venue,” Bliss says. “But once we had some great discussions, they came back even more supportive than I expected.
"It was the same with radio stations who eventually sponsored the show and then we had brands, friends and just regular people who wanted to show support.”
A new way of doing things
DJ Bliss, whose concert will feature a selection of original tracks including Hala Walla and Yalla Africa, says such an organic and community-focused approach could open new options for major event promoters.
He believes there is demand for large-scale events featuring UAE artists provided the promotion and execution are right.
“As someone involved in running events, I understand the situation. The fact is clubs, for example, need to get a big artist to play or they may struggle to fill the venue,” he says.
“For example, they may spend Dh1 million and end up making a Dh200,000 profit from that night. But perhaps these organisers can also make that same profit without spending all that money on booking big artists and go with local DJs instead, if you create the right kind of event.
“What I am trying to show, I hope, is a new way of doing things that people haven't really thought about yet.”
Bliss also confirms reports that shooting is under way for the second season of Dubai Bling, although he did not reveal if his concert will feature in the new episodes.
He does add, however, that the show’s international success is the ideal platform for ticking off another goal mentioned in those fateful phone notes.
"I do believe I can get to that stage where I can tour internationally and it is something I want to explore post-Ramadan," he says.
"I have this great memory of going to the US last year to run the New York Marathon when the show just came out on Netflix.
“I was running somewhere near the Bronx when this lady looked at me and said: 'Are you that guy from Dubai Bling?' That's when I knew this show was going to be something big.”
DJ Bliss performs at Coca-Cola Arena on Sunday at 7pm. Tickets, priced from Dh125, are available at www.coca-cola-arena.com