Mawazine sessions: Akon on working with Tamer Hosny and his love for the UAE

RnB star Akon talks about bringing light to Africa, working with Tamer Hosny and whether his love for the UAE.

US singer Akon performs during the 14th edition of the music festival Mawazine on June 3, 2015 in Rabat. AFP
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After numerous cases where Akon had to cancel shows in Africa due to the city’s lack of dependable electricity, the 42-year-old had a bright idea.

He founded the Akon Light Africa project, a for-profit initiative to install solar street lamps and solar panels in streets and households across 14 countries. The second phase was launched last month in collaboration with the Solar Academy in the Malian capital of Bamako, where aspiring African engineers and entrepreneurs learn about the benefits of solar power and the panel installation process.

Akon, who was born in a Senegalese village where electricity was scarce, says his work was a way of giving back.

“Solar energy, I feel, is the solution to Africa’s energy crisis because we are blessed with so much of it – it is one of our main resources. Also, by focusing on solar energy, we get to avoid any of the politics of the energy business,” says the singer, who performed at the recent Mawazine festival in Morocco.

“I just feel that anyone who achieved some success should help in their own way. Not many of us are in that position to influence others, and if you are, then you are touched by God. Everybody has choices and I decided that if I was going to make money, then I would do it by helping other ­people.”

Indeed, Akon's success is a case of everyone wins. He is credited for discovering Lady Gaga and promptly signed her up to a joint deal with his record label Kon Live Entertainment – a lucrative move he reportedly described as securing an early retirement. Present pop hitmaker RedOne (the Moroccan-born Nadir Khayat) can also credit Akon for taking his career to the next level after he was enlisted by the singer to work on Gaga's 2008 smash debut The Fame.

Akon says he is proud of discovering a big musical talent such as RedOne from the Arab world.

“I built my career based on helping others build their career, so I always felt blessed either way,” he says. “RedOne is simply the most talented producer that I know. I always knew that he was going to be huge. He is working with me now on my new album.”

Does he mean the album that was supposed to be released in 2010 but has been chronically ­delayed?

Akon explains, saying that the album was pushed back due to the uncertain times facing the record industry five years ago. He is adamant the new tunes will be out later this year.

“It has been a while,” he admits with a laugh. “The album was supposed to come in 2010 with the World Cup but there was a lot of merging going on in the record business and a lot of people lost their jobs. I didn’t want to put out an album with no one to promote it or market it. So I decided to wait until things got better.”

The delay didn't stop Akon working on other artists's songs. A prolific collaborator, his velvety croon can be heard on plenty of international chart hits ranging from French dance king David Guetta (Sexy Chick) and South Korean pop group The Wonder Girls (Like Money) to 2011's Bollywood hit Chammak Challo with Vishal & Shekhar, which featured in the Shah Rukh Khan sci-fi drama Ra.One. Arab pop stars also had a chance to shine alongside him: Lebanese singer Melissa collaborated with Akon on the 2009 track Yalli Naseeni, while Egyptian star Tamer Hosny featured him on last year's dance hit Welcome To The Life.

Akon says to expect more material with Hosny. “We connected in Atlanta where he was in town shooting a video and from the moment we met we felt like we knew each other for years,” he says. “Our collaboration was amazing and we have a new record coming out soon for Tamer’s next movie. I also plan to produce more records with him for sure.”

Another enduring partnership in Akon’s career happens to be with his UAE fans. The singer has been in the country four times over the space of 12 months for all sorts of events, ranging from club performances to his VIP appearance alongside the Kardashians at the opening of the Clé Dubai ­restaurant.

All of which begs the question: does he own a home in the UAE?

“Oh man, I love the UAE,” he beams. “I love going back there and will keep going back until they give me a free pad. I am still waiting for one.”

• Next week, we chat to world music’s next big thing: Brazilian songstress Flavia Coelho