Singer Nalaya Brown goes back to basics with Dubai jazz residency

The Spanish singer and dance music star is dialing it down for her shows at Q’s Bar and Lounge

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Nalaya Brown, Spanish singer, originally from Cuba performs at the QÕs Bar & Lounge in the Palazzo Versace hotel in Dubai. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
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Whether you are rocking a festival crowd or an intimate club, the need to engage an audience is the same. It is a skill Nalaya Brown has been perfecting over the past month as the latest resident act at Q's Bar and Lounge in Dubai.

The singer has been pulling in a packed crowd five nights a week at the popular jazz club.

However, the term packed is relative. The cosy nature of Q's Bar and Lounge means a sell-out show is close to 200 people – a far cry from the 20,000 Brown regularly performs to at dance music festivals across Europe as guest vocalist for the likes of DJs Roger Sanchez and Kryder.

While she misses the kinetic excitement of a festival audience, Brown says it's on the jazz stage that she's at her most natural. "To be honest, singing dance music is easy and the money is great," she says. "The DJ would send you the beats and you write the hooks and that's it. But jazz music requires a lot of concentration. I am playing every night here with an amazing band, so I am always studying and getting myself better. But I love it, this is where I feel most at home."

Both worlds will come together on Tuesday, December 31 when Brown moves away from the club for one night only to perform her jazz set outdoors in the hotel's lush grounds as part of its lavish Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-themed New Year's Eve bash. Brown will be in her element, as she knows how to get a party started.

Born in Tenerife, Brown, 36, first found success in her homeland as the in-house singer for Ibiza club ­SuperMaxtre. Her powerful vocals and arresting stage presence caught the attention of many pop and electronic dance music stars, including Latin pop star Ricky Martin, rapper Akon and celebrity DJ and socialite Paris Hilton, all of whom she went on to perform with.

While her career has well and truly taken off in the dance music scene, it comes at the price of her love for jazz, which has taken a back seat. So the opportunity to perform the genre for a three-month stint in Dubai was irresistible.

The offer arrived after talent scouts for legendary music producer Quincy Jones, whose company is responsible for booking the artists to play at Q's Bar, were impressed by some of her recordings.

Taking a liking to her fusion of jazz with Latin styles such as samba and merengue, they deemed her a good fit for the UAE's cosmopolitan audience.

It was a rather refreshing choice, too. Where Q's Bar's previous resident acts performed a more conservative form of western jazz, Brown is shaking things up with vibrant sets. More importantly, she and her band are breaking stereotypes of what jazz is by illustrating the music's range and dynamism.

With Latin pop music, particularly reggaeton, making major inroads into the US and Europe, Brown predicts it will eventually become big in the jazz world. "I don't see why not because jazz and Latin music do go very well together," Brown says. "There is an appreciation for tempo and the rhythm. Also, in both jazz and Latin music, like samba for example, there is a lot of improvisation happening also, so it requires great musicians to really make it work."

Until that moment arrives, Brown is content to be a jobbing musician who experiences the best of both worlds. "I am blessed because I have the opportunity to sing around the world and in different places," she says. "I love playing in the big festivals because it is all about energy and making people move. But there is something very beautiful and pure about coming here and singing to an intimate audience in Dubai because the crowd here are interested in listening not to beats, but the voice."

Nalaya Brown performs Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays until Saturday, January 25. Q's Bar and Lounge, Palazzo Versace, Dubai, 04 556 8865 or