How Expo 2020 Dubai put Emirati TikTok singer Abdullah Mohammad Al Shamsi on the map

The musician, who's known for singing covers in English, plans to release original music next

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You may not know the name Abdullah Mohammad Al Shamsi yet, but with more than 115,000 TikTok followers, the Emirati singer is certainly one to watch.

He's captivated the world with his talent and the songwriter, 21, says Expo 2020 Dubai is to thank.

Al Shamsi, who hails from Abu Dhabi, cites his performance there as one of the key moments in his burgeoning career.

“A lot of people found me through that video I posted at Expo,” he tells The National.

TikTok star Emirati Abdullah Mohammad Al Shamsi at his home in Abu Dhabi. Antonie Robertson / The National

“I would see a lot of support, a lot of views, a lot of people coming in telling me that I have helped them. They felt a connection, they felt inspired. Especially my people, people from the Khaleej, people in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.”

Al Shamsi, who has also performed for high-ranking officials in New Delhi, is known for posting cover songs from world-renowned stars such as Bruno Mars and Adele.

@nots0human Unstoppable by sia something about her songs screams POWER, so I did just that 💪 #sia #unstoppable #fy ♬ original sound - NotSOHuman

His social handle is NotS0Human, which he chose because he felt different from the people around him.

“I had different ideas," he says. "I believed a lot of people did the same things I did, but then I realised not everybody is really into singing. So I felt a little bit out of this world.”

One of his favourite comments from a fan is: “I can see the human in not so human.”

The self-taught musician, who learned to play instruments such as the guitar and piano from YouTube, loves all music, but has a particular interest in pop, R&B and jazz.

One of his first covers was of Bruno Mars’s Talking to the Moon in 2019. His melodic, heartfelt version kick-started his rise to social media stardom.

He says singing came naturally to him, but this type of career wasn't something he'd planned for.

“I was living a pretty normal life. I wasn’t looking for anything," he says. "I was just kind of doing my business, getting through life like everybody else and then suddenly I became super obsessed.”

“The talent found me. Especially when I picked up an instrument in my hand to fully express myself.”

His first instrument wasn't a guitar or a piano, however, it was his voice.

“I used to do really funny beatboxing as a kid. And people used to come up to me and say how you did that," he says.

“I used to hum songs, I used to add those beats with my voice.”

When he realised he couldn't both sing and create a melody at the same time, he "grabbed the guitar".

His mother just thought it was a hobby at first, one he'd grow out of, but when she saw his dedication and passion, she changed her mind.

“At first my mum was like: 'This is all new and crazy'. And then she slowly was like: 'You know what, I am by your side'. When that happened, I was extremely happy.”

Al Shamsi, for the most part, sings in English, but says fans can expect Arabic covers from him soon, too.

Next time you hear about me will be an original song and hit
Abdullah Al Shamsi

“I really love my language and Arabic musicians here. Obviously their skills and techniques are very different," he says. "But my main platform is more to the West because that is the main impact around social media nowadays and that is one language everybody gets."

That said, one of his main musical influences is Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi.

“The reason why I love him is he looks and sounds powerful but he is also humble. It is the perfect balance," he adds. “He is super cultural too.”

Al Shamsi says the secret recipe to his success is covering songs his own way and adding his own spice.

“If you sing it your own way that means you mastered it," he says.

“The hardest song to master would be Talking to the Moon, or most Bruno Mars songs, because what he does is he goes really high and stays there.

"Then maybe Adele songs, especially for a guy like me, singing Adele's songs is really hard.”

It takes him between one hour to 90 minutes to master a song. He says: “It is just dedication, really. If you really focus on one thing you can finish in a very short amount of time.”

Next on the agenda is his own music. “Hopefully, next time you hear about me will be an original song and hit,” he says.

For anyone else wanting to embark on a journey similar to his, he offers up this advice: "Stick to your passion and accept criticism and then grow," he adds.

“One thing I will never forget that my mum told me is to never give up on your dream. Always keep your passion with you and let it grow."

His biggest tip? "Use social media, please. This generation, you have to use social media,” he says.

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Updated: June 21, 2022, 6:50 AM