There is a reason why Hussain Al Jassmi is the go to artist for UAE landmark concerts amid the pandemic.
Over the past 18 months, the Emirati crooner has performed high profile gigs mixing his brand of evocative Khaleeji pop with the poignancy of the occasion.
Last night, he headlined the first music concert to take place at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena on Yas Island.
This comes on the back of being the inaugural act for Sharjah’s newly built Khor Fakkan Amphitheatre on New Year’s Eve, as well as stepping on stage for Dubai Opera’s return concert last August, when the venue reopened after a four-month closure as a precaution against Covid-19.
So what is it about Al Jassmi that makes him a perfect fit for such an occasion?
“We all grew up with Hussain,” explains Yusuf Saleh, 32.
The Emirati and Abu Dhabi resident tells The National that Al Jassmi is one of those rare local acts with cross generational appeal.
“You go to any of his concerts and he will have songs that if you don’t immediately know your elders will and vice versa. It’s just a guaranteed good time.”
And that was basically the brief handed to Al Jassmi. Since the onset of the pandemic, the last major concert held in the capital was by Bruno Mars in 2019 on New Year’s Eve.
Similar to the US pop star, Al Jassmi came with a mission to please and in-turn delivered a 90-minute set of back-to-back to hits.
With the exception of breezy latest single Heta Min Alby , this was not the stage to experiment with new material.
The Abu Dhabi crowd needed to be reminded of the power and unifying spirit of a great live gig.
Al Jassmi delivered this in spades with a mix of up-tempo Khaleeji pop classics, such as Gased and Ahwak Ya Shebh Al Gomar and regal ballads like Bahebek Wahashteni.
The best part of the evening was perhaps the crowd lapping up the live show with full throated renditions for the majority of the set.
And this is the magic of an Al Jassmi concert in the UAE. In front of a local audience, his material is elevated from well-crafted pop songs to music that both inspires and comforts.
Assala Nasri brings it home after a shaky start
And sometimes, even the biggest stars need some comfort of their own.
Preceding Al Jassmi on Thursday was Nasri, in what was the Syrian singer’s first live concert in months. Taking the stage in an all-white dress by Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran, Nasri admitted at the onset.
“It’s going to take me some time,” she said.
“I am normally nervous when I am on stage, but I didn’t see you for a long time so you will have to bear with me. It will get better.”
You can’t fault her honesty.
The opening couple of tracks, including the sting-laden Khaleeji pop of Baeid Anak, sounded rather clunky with Nasri trying to find the right vocal range.
But it wasn't long before her husky voice found its groove, with Levant ballads Samehtak and Shamekh going down a treat.
Together, both performances added up to an endearing night of musical entertainment in the UAE capital.
The expectation of such a gig, both in terms of a new venue and a city deprived of live performances for so long, wouldn’t have been easy. But Al Jassmi and Nasri pulled it off with a mixture of professionalism and humility.
What’s on next at the Etihad Arena?
The second of Etihad Arena's Eid Al Adha concerts takes place on Friday with Egyptian pop star Tamer Hosny taking the stage, joined by Lebanon's Myriam Fares.
Doors will open at 4.30pm with the show starting at 6.30pm.
Guests are required to show a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours to gain access to the show, and all attendees above 16 also need to be fully vaccinated, with the last dose have been taken no less than 28 days ago. Concertgoers must also present their Al Hosn app with E or Star status to enter the venue.
Tickets are sold in pairs, and for groups of three and four guests, starting from Dh195. These are available at etihadarena.ae