Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf to record World Cup anthem in 24-hour session

The Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf will hit a Dubai studio with Michael Jackson producer Rodney Jerkins to record a World Cup anthem in one live-streamed, 24-hour session.
The Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf is teaming up with the producer Rodney Jerkins to create an anthem for the 2014 World Cup. Mohammed Al-Shaikh / AFP
The Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf is teaming up with the producer Rodney Jerkins to create an anthem for the 2014 World Cup. Mohammed Al-Shaikh / AFP

The Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf is about to hit a Dubai studio with the producer Rodney Jerkins – who has worked with Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga – to record a World Cup anthem in a single, live-streamed, 24-hour session.

The project

Called #Assaf360, the project is one of the most ambitious musical endeavours to come out of the region. At 8am on the morning of June 3, the Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf will be holed up in a Dubai studio with a large production team, lead by the American pop producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, for a 24-hour recording session.

The goal is to have a new World Cup anthem composed, produced and released digitally on iTunes and the Arab music platform Anghami by 8am the following day. All proceeds from the single will go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

A video of the song, featuring edited footage and off-screen bloopers from the recording session, will also be released on June 4, but later in the day. The project culminates with Assaf performing the song live for the first time at the opening ceremony of the 64th Fifa Congress event in Sao Paulo on June 10, the precursor to the World Cup in Brazil, which begins on June 12. Assaf’s performance will be screened live on the Fifa website and the following day on MBC.

Shaking things up

To ensure transparency, the entire studio session will be streamed live on MBC’s website and clips from the session will be broadcast live throughout the day on MBC 1. The project is the brainchild of Taymoor Marmarchi, the new head of the Dubai-based Platinum Records (Assaf’s label).

“I want to shake things up,” says Marmarchi. “We have been planning this production for the last three months and are thrilled to have an amazing hit producer, Rodney Jerkins, leading the music for this one-of-a kind fusion with our fantastic artist Assaf. It is surely going to be a very exciting 24 hours.”

The singer

The 24-year-old Assaf knows all about pressure. As well as wowing millions of Arab fans with live, pitch-perfect renditions of Arab classics during his victorious spell on Arab Idol, he has been a constant fixture on the road ever since, with back-to-back tours in the Middle East and the United States. While expressing some nerves about entering a studio to record a song from scratch, he is confident it will have a wide international appeal.

“Since it is a World Cup song it does need to have an international flavour,” he says. “The language of football is similar to music in that it encompasses all cultures and peoples.”

The hit squad

With a challenging time frame, Marmarchi is taking no chances and has assembled a high-powered musical team from East and West. Leading the hit squad is Jerkins. The 36-year-old is one of the leading producers of the pop world and responsible for many hits, including Michael Jackson’s Rock My World, Beyoncé’s Déjà Vu and Mariah Carey’s latest single, The Art of Letting Go. Tight music-industry deadlines, Jerkins says, have him prepared for the forthcoming Dubai project.

“I am never nervous. This is what I was born to do,” he says. “It’s another occasion for me to rise to. I love what I do and I love to make people sing along and dance. That’s always my goal. I’m ready.”

Also joining Jerkins are some of the leading music figures from the region, including the Lebanese producers and composers Michel Fadel and Walid Al Fayed and the famed Arab pop lyricist Nizar Francis.

Words of the people

Not all the music action will start in the studio, however. Fans have until June 3 to Facebook and tweet suggested lyrics to the hashtag #Assaf360. The majority of the lyrics for the completed song will come from this process.

“Our lyricist Francis’s job is to use his expertise to take the words and connect them toge­ther,” Marmarchi says. “I want people to feel like they are a huge part of the project so that when Assaf goes to Brazil he will be singing the words of the region.”

Middle East as music hub

Marmarchi hopes the project changes perceptions of the UAE and the wider region as a music-production hub. “My agenda as the head of Platinum Records is to change the way Arab music is produced in the Middle East and coming up with new sounds,” he says. “My second objective is to be able to transport Arab music to an international audience and this is an example of that.”

With more than 50 international and regional creatives in the studio, Marmarchi is confident he will have a hit on his hands by early morning on June 4. He says he also took extra precautions to ensure the deadline is met. “There will be lots of coffee available,” he says with a laugh. “There will also be plenty of food stocked. We’ve got it covered.”

• The #Assaf360 project runs from 8am on June 3 until 8am on June 4. For more details or to watch the live stream, visit

Published: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM


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