‘I have all that I need here’: Lebanese singer Rima Yussef on her budding career in the UAE

The Lebanese singer mixes vintage and modern styles in elegant new ballad

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When it comes to Arabic pop music, not all roads lead to Cairo or Beirut. Where before those cities were viewed as the industry capitals of the region, the UAE has been staking its claim over the years as a music production hub with talent and venues of its own.

One of the most recent artist to benefit from this is Lebanese songstress Rima Yussef.

Her latest single, Mghayarni, was written and recorded in Dubai and its accompanying video was shot at Al Serkal Avenue, before the global pandemic took hold. The song is a follow up to her well-received Maaleish,

The social media buzz surrounding Mghayarni not only underscores her status as a future star, but highlights the opportunities the UAE offers to musicians.

“Well, I have been living here for two years, so I didn’t even consider doing this song anywhere else,” Yussef says.

“I agree that before, there was this idea that you have to go to Lebanon, for example, to make your music but that is no longer the case. When I was working on this song, I realised how much talent there was here in the UAE. I met composers and arrangers as well visited great studios. Really, I have all that I need here as an artist.”

Mghayarni is another example of Yussef's knack for blending the old with the new. It is an elegant ballad fusing the classical orchestral sounds from the golden age of Arabic pop with the modern production touches of today.

Music success is a marathon, not a sprint

Mghayarni translated to English means " he changed me" and the song is not so much a lovelorn ballad but a message of resilience in the wake of relationship hiccups.

Yussef, who wrote and composed the track, explains that tackling the song from that lyrical angle was difficult. It’s easier to sing about a break-up than capturing the nuance of a love in turmoil.

“It comes from me understanding my vulnerabilities and weaknesses,” she says. “I wrote the song and lyrics rather quickly, but that’s only because it is something that I have been thinking about all the time. I think it comes with marriage, because the more I live with my husband, the more I get to know about myself as well.”

That self-belief was also responsible for entering an already crowded regional music industry.

Born in the Ivory Coast before moving to Lebanon as a toddler, Yussef, 24, began performing as a child in school and television before enrolling in a music academy in the town of Bikfaya.

She credits that training in giving her the patience in an industry she views as more a marathon than a sprint. In a time where television talent quests routinely look for the next big thing, Yussef says winning the music game lies in maintaining your career.

She points to the enduring success of artists like Nancy Ajram and Assi El Hallani as building a solid fan base over the last three decades.

“And that only comes from working hard on their craft,” she says. “There are many people with great voices, but that’s not enough. You need to keep performing and writing new songs.”

On that score, the regional music industry lockdown has been an unexpected blessing. Yussef has used the downtime to pen a few tracks that would see the light of day later in the year.

“I have been taking advantage of the situation and I already wrote the songs that I want to release for the rest of the year,” she says. “Even more than recording them here, I can’t wait to perform them live. I hope the time will come soon.”