One of Arabic pop’s biggest stars, Amr Diab, is set to ring in the New Year in the capital with a free outdoor performance at the Al Maryah Island’s promenade on December 31.
There is no doubt that a large audience will be in attendance. The 57-year-old’s regular UAE concerts are a perennial sell-out and Diab is one of the rare Arab pop stars who commands a cross-generational support base due to his ability to fill each of his four decade-career run with a string of hits.
More than that, his appeal also lies in being both musically progressive as well providing a dose of sweet nostalgia to older audiences.
Through his early hits, such as the 1988 summer anthem Mayyal (1988), he is a reminder of a different time when the Egyptian entertainment industry – from film and television to music – reigned supreme. He also harkens back to a social media-less period in the regional entertainment industry where an artist made his name and interacted with their fans through constant live performances.
Such a distinction affords Diab - whose nickname is Al Hadaba (which means The Hill) - a level of respect and national icon status that a new generation of Egyptian pop-stars, such as fellow Egyptian pop-stars Tamer Hosny and Sherine Abdelwahab are not yet afforded. Where the latter's two have become social media fodder, the public affection afforded to Diab, coupled by his low key approach, allowed his career to progress smoothly without intense public scrutiny.
Here are five other aspects about Diab’s artistry that maintained one of the most celebrated careers in Arabic pop music.
1) He has a Mediterranean soul
Diab may got his career start in his coastal home city of Port Said, but his muse was located across the ocean. Where other Egyptian artists mined their country's rich musical history - such as Um Kulthum and Mohammed Abdel Wahab - for inspiration, Diab was more interested in the rhythmic sounds coming from Spain. Instead of lush orchestral backdrops, Diab's tracks are more upbeat folk pop and flamenco guitars. The aim was never to wow audiences with musical virtuosity, early career tracks such as 1984's Ashouf Aynayki and 1986's Hala Hala proved that getting us to dance was always on Diab's mind.
2) He had a short film career
As per industry custom, Diab's success resulted in offers in starring roles in Egyptian films. However, despite some interesting roles as up and coming singer Seif in 1992's Ice Cream in Galeam, Diab never felt comfortable on the big screen and his last film remains his turn as struggling boxer Adham - alongside the regional screen legend Omar Sharif, - in 1993's comedy Laughter, Games, Seriousness and Love.
3) He is electric on stage
One of the drawbacks of a lot of Arabic pop concerts is the lack of movement from the artist themselves. Despite their energetic tunes, stars such as the UAE’s Hussain Al Jassmi and Iraq’s Majed Al Mohandes prefer to position themselves strictly behind a mic and a stand holding their lyric sheets. Diab does away with all that, the lyrics are implanted on his memory, thus allowing him to constantly be on the move and interacting with fans. That said, Diab is also known to make the crowd wait at his gigs. It is not that he is tardy. The man is in the building, but he prefers to step on stage once the anticipation is fever pitched.
4) His stance regarding the Egyptian revolution
The 2011 uprising in Egypt was time where some artists announced where their allegiances were. Celebrities who explicitly expressed support for the former regime of Hosni Mubarak, such as Tamr Hosny, became instant pariahs (although Hosny eventually managed to claw back his star position). As a result, Diab kept his council and instead released the song Masr A'let (Egypt Said) whose video was a tribute to those who died in the protests. This was followed up by his charity campaign Masry Begad (Truly Egyptian), which aim to raise funds for people and communities in need.
5) He will play his new songs in Abu Dhabi
While Diab always aims to please, he never wants to be viewed as purely a nostalgic act. Hence the consistent release of new albums, the latest of which is Kol Hayaty (All My Life) which is another sturdy collection of flamenco styled Arab pop, romantic balladry and club centred tracks. The yearning Yetalemo and the smooth piano led ballad of Kont Fe Baly has already went on to become live favourites.
Amr Diab and Myriam Fares will perform at Al Maryah Island on December 31. Doors opens at 5pm, DJ and concerts start at 7pm, and fireworks at midnight