Usher says he’s gone back out on the road to remind the world of the essence of R&B. Speaking from the Mawazine world-music festival in the Moroccan capital of Rabat at the weekend, the 36-year-old laments the lack of live showmanship among the current crop of artists and sheds light on his upcoming eighth album, out later this year. When asked if his big-budget tour, The UR Experience, could come to the UAE, the 36-year-old singer coyly remarks: “There is a possibility.”
Your new live show is huge – it comes with a band, horn section and half-a-dozen dancers. Do you feel the live experience is not taken as seriously by today’s crop of R&B artists?
R&B in general has obviously evolved for the good while other things took away from the authentic experience. I think the live experience has slowly been taking away from R&B. The genre has developed with instruments at hand and the crooner or performer is the most important part for me because that speaks to the authenticity of what it means to be an R&B artist. I try my best to keep the live experience of the entertainment at the forefront and I think that development is equally important as the studio.
Your upcoming album UR has been delayed because you wanted to put more work into it. Can you tell us a little bit about the new sounds and feature artists you are collaborating with for the album?
It is going to be awesome. The past year has really been dedicated to telling the story of the past three to four years of my life in the music that I am singing and performing. In terms of feature artists, I can’t tell you right now exactly who the features will be. But when it comes to the body of work, this will be my eighth studio album and the music is somewhat of a diary and it gives me the opportunity to talk about some of the emotional things I had to deal with – from the hard times to the great and fun times – as I am getting a little older. This album will definitely be something for all of my fans to appreciate from my earlier years to the more recent days because it is a collective of all the different genres of music I have been doing.
Can you describe your songwriting process?
It differs every time: it all depends on the producer and the person I am collaborating with. I am more melodically driven, so if I hear the music and it compels me to go on a specific direction then I will start with that. Once I have an idea of the melody, I then begin to place the words or the idea of what the song is saying. Other times it works vice versa: I would have a drum loop in my head going over and over and I would sit down and right something to it.
What a lot of people don’t know about you is that you are a big fan of contemporary art, particularly the work of Moroccan artist and UAE favourite Hassan Hajjaj. What drew you to his work?
What attracted me is the way women are depicted in his pieces. They not only represent a culture, but a movement and new idea on the way how women are viewed and celebrated. I also love the colour and vibrancy of his work. I own four pieces and look to add a few more. I also like other Moroccan artists, one of whom is Mustapha Akrim; I am very pleased with his work. I love art and contemporary art specifically. While it is great to collect art from different generations or from incredible artists from the past, I always think it is great to invest in up-and-coming talent and new discoveries.
It has been 21 years since your debut album. What keeps things fresh for you creatively?
What drives me to still write the songs that I do and have these conversations is my expression as an artist. I try to create a story that is significant to the whole world through my music. I mean, music should bring us together. Some of the most incredible experiences you had in life has a song that goes with it, so I am just trying to assist with that.