When Hamza Hawsawi takes to the stage on Saturday to warm up the crowd for Justin Bieber, it will be the second-biggest moment of his life.
The biggest, of course, was winning the fourth season of The X Factor Middle East two years ago.
“This opportunity to open up for Justin Bieber is huge,” says the 26-year-old Saudi.
He does not sound nervous when he ponders the huge audience expected for the concert at the Autism Rocks Arena in Dubai – or when he reveals he is crossing his fingers he will have a chance to meet Bieber and have a chat. His cool demeanour is all the more surprising given the hectic pace during his preparations for this “gig of a lifetime”, as he describes it.
Between 12-hour days in the studio writing songs and rehearsing, and hopping between Kuwait, Jeddah and his current base in Dubai to work on collaborations, not to mention recording sessions in London and shooting music videos in Los Angeles, he has had barely a moment to sit back and relax in months.
“It’s a constant hustle, it’s stressful, it’s a lot of work,” he says. “That’s something I underestimated: just how much hard work is involved in this industry, in pursuing your dream and creating the kind of music you want to be known for.
“I think I was impatient in the beginning and not aware of how much I have to keep my chin up and just keep going, finding people who believe in me to work with.”
He is in a new apartment near Dubai’s Motor City, and says a move to the UAE had to happen because “there are more opportunities here when it comes to music, more exposure, I can perform more, which is what any artist wants”.
He adds that this is “the best time in my life”, despite the relentless schedule.
“I’m putting in 12-hour days and more in the studio, and just grabbing a few hours of sleep here and there when I can, but I completely enjoy this,” he says.
“Right now, I’m working with one of the best producers here in Dubai, Rayan Bailouni, an incredible talent. Not to mention working with a name like Max Herman, a producer, composer and songwriter with real, raw music in him. And then there’s AY The Producer, who will be joining me on stage on Saturday night.”
His ultimate goal, he says, is to release an English-language album written by him and produced by these musicians he admires. If it happens, it won't be with Sony Middle East, the label with whom he was given a recording deal as part of his X Factor prize.
“I parted from Sony on good terms,” he says. “I left the deal because I felt it’s better for me to be independent, even though a record label can speed up the process for fame. I liked the creative freedom and I wanted to take my time to create something I believe can be timeless.”
As a result, his focus has been on releasing singles and collaborating with a variety of producers. His first post-Sony single, the R&B track Love a Little, was released in January and provides a taste of what to expect. A mature, touching track, it showcases his unique, emotion-filled vocals perfectly.
It will be part of his set-list on Saturday which, he says, will feature “six or seven songs, some released over the years and a few never released before, plus a few covers”.
He adds: “It’s time to see what people think of this music we’ve been working on. My plan for now is just to release singles of different genres and ideas and try to see what people gravitate towards and then maybe focus on creating an album later on.”
Meanwhile, Hawsawi is focused on one thing and one thing only.
“I just want to keep rehearsing, keep working on this set-list and on these songs, and get to perform without worrying about anything else,” he says.
“I’ve always thought I want to make music that’s timeless. To this day, there are countless artists we listen to even though they passed away years ago.
“When I’m 70, I want to get up on stage to perform a classic song of mine from back in the day, a song that people loved and still love to groove to.”
• Hamza Hawsawi will perform on May 6 at the Autism Rocks Arena in Dubai, at the Justin Bieber concert. Tickets start at Dh335 from www.117live.com