One of the standout performances at the Beats on the Beach Festival in Abu Dhabi in recent years has to be a set by Omar Al Marzooqi.
Back in 2015 and still in the early stages of his musical career, the Emirati singer’s agile tenor made smooth work of covers by the likes of Arab pop greats including the UAE’s very own Hussein Al Jasmi and that of Iraqi crooner Majid Al Muhandis, and the crowd loved it.
Two years on, the now 36-year-old is back in the spotlight thanks to the release of his debut album, and Al Marzooqi is both joyous and relieved about what he has achieved. Indeed, the title, Naweeha, references all the hard work it took to get the 10-track album completed.
“In English it can be translated to ‘it’s finished’ or ‘it’s done’,” he says. “So when you say naweeha, you are saying I am getting this thing done, no matter what.”
That steely determination he mentions was exactly what was required for him to realise his ambitions. The dexterous singer’s diversity is reflected in almost all the tracks, in the various music styles that range from Emirati and Kuwaiti, to Moroccan and Turkish.
As well as self-financing the album, recording all the orchestration in Turkey and collaborating with notable Jordanian composer Hatim Mansour, Al Marzooqi has also released two well-produced music videos for Jan Jonouni and more recently, the album's title track.
The singer says such sacrifices by artists are necessary today to enable them to make a dent in the crowded Arabic music market.
“You have to look at it as an investment and that it can be challenging,” says Al Marzooqi. “It is not easy to stand out amongst all these celebrities in the UAE, and that’s not just the local personalities but also those from the Middle East. The whole thing takes time.”
Al Marzooqi's long-game approach is already bearing fruit. Released last December, the lead single Jan Jonouni has been picking up steam online – to date it has impressively clocked up more than 400,000 views on YouTube.
Shot in the mountainous landscape of his home emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, the track is built over propulsive Emirati percussion as well as call and response vocals – it is a song tailormade for a good singalong.
"Jan Jonouni is a saying you use when someone is driving you crazy; in the case of this song it is about a man who is in love with this girl, and that is really affecting him," he says. "The song has an easy feeling. It is also part of the approach for the album which is really to make it fun, catchy and really simple."
The popularity of Jan Jonouni saw Al Marzooqi's vocal services enlisted not only for private gigs, but also for a Dubai gala performance at Arab Fashion Week in May. Most satisfyingly for the singer, the online chatter resulted in Dubai-based record label Universal Music Mena recently signing him.
All this has prompted him to look to the future and further success. “I am very pleased of course, but I have to look at the first step,” he says.
“I am still working hard and I am looking to perform more shows and generally give people more music. I am working on a few exciting things at the moment.”
As well as working on a new video featuring some of the region's leading social media personalities, what is even more intriguing is his upcoming remix of Jan Jonouni by Oohdem Beatz.
Al Marzooqi met the two hip-hop producers last weekend while they were in Dubai performing alongside fellow American rapper RSK. It is hoped that the collaboration will produce the first trap music remix of an Emirati pop song.
And while the leading names in Emirati music for the best part of a decade haven’t changed, Al Marzooqi refutes any suggestion there is a dearth of musical talent across the region.
He says there are plenty of young and innovative Emirati singers out there who simply need a platform to showcase their talents.
“With all due respect to all the companies out there, I find it strange that we don’t have even one channel dedicated for Emirati music, whether it is private or public,” he says.
“For example there are more than three channels dedicated to drama, but why can’t we work together to have one for our music?
“If we do that then you will see some of the great talent that is out here in the UAE.”
Naweeha by Omar Al Marzooqi is out now