R&B star Ne-Yo returns to UAE for three-night club tour

Ahead of performances in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the R&B star says the love from the UAE crowd keeps him coming back to the country and discusses his role in hit TV drama Empire.

Ne-Yo: ‘My job is to make music, to take memories and wrap them into a song that people can keep going back to.’ Paul Zimmerman / WireImage for The Recording Academy
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After months of domestic bliss, Ne-Yo is ready to return to performing, as the popular American R&B singer-songwriter is returning to the UAE for a three-date club tour. It begins with an appearance at Dubai's Toy Room on Wednesday, September 14. On Thursday, September 15 he will head to Abu Dhabi for a show at Yas Island's mammoth club Mad, before rounding off his visit by headlining the new season launch of Dubai's glitzy alfresco party spot White Dubai on Friday, September 16.

The So-Sick singer is no stranger to the region, having performed not only in the UAE, but also in Bahrain and Qatar.

He credits the enthusiasm of the crowd, not to mention the region’s famed five-star service, for repeatedly luring him back.

“Every time I come down there it has been nothing but love,” he says. “It’s one of those parts of the world where the crowd will be energetic and appreciative of the music. I get treated like royalty. I just love coming down there because I just feel extra ­appreciated.”

The latest UAE appearance by the 36-year-old – whose real name is Shaffer Smith – is part of his return to the industry after focusing for most of this year on family matters.

In February, he tied the knot with actress and model Crystal Renay, and welcomed the birth of his third child, Shaffer, the following month.

The time off, he says, was useful in giving him a chance to take stock of his career. He has sold more than eight million albums and produced chart toppers including Closer and Let Me Love You, in addition to writing hits for others, including Beyoncé (Irreplaceable in 2006) and Rihanna (Take a Bow in 2008).

“I been up in daddy world for a little while and now I am back in the studio and about to put some new music out very soon,” he says. “I am just figuring out what my voice is in 2016, in a time where sounds have changed and people have come and gone – I am just trying to figure out where I fit in.”

He says such introspection has yielded some insights into how to approach the music industry, both as an artist and songwriter.

When it comes to the former, Ne-Yo says he is no longer disappointed with the low sales of last year's sixth album, Non-Fiction. The constant scanning of the charts for validation is, at best, a distraction, he adds.

“To be honest, I kind of look at it like this: my job is to make music, to take memories and wrap them into a song that people can keep going back to,” he says. “My job is not to sell and promote records, that’s the record label’s job.

“That being said, the people that got it absolutely loved it and that’s good enough for me. I can’t sit back and dwell on what should have, and could have, been.”

He says there has also been a mental shift in his observations about songwriting. Where once he called for fellow R&B artists to abandon the song-­writing-by-committee approach and write their own tunes, he now believes the performance is equally as important as the writing credits.

“At one point, I was very judgemental of people who didn’t write their own music and I was questioning the authenticity of it and everything,” he says.

“I realised I had to stop being like that. Michael Jackson didn’t write all of his songs and that didn’t take away from how amazing he was. Who wrote the song and the passion that the song is delivered in, they go hand in hand. If that wasn’t the case, then every song that Janet Jackson ever did was null and void.”

Ne-Yo's melodic Midas touch is being used on and off-screen by the producers of the hit US TV drama Empire, the third ­season of which begins in North America on September 21.

Ne-Yo appears on the show, playing himself, as the primary songwriter for the character Jamal Lyon, an R&B singer played by Jussie Smollett.

The songwriting scenes in which Lyon explains the feelings he wants to convey in song are true to life, Ne-Yo says.

“It is about trying to find a situation that would allow the person to really converse and talk about how they are handling things,” he says.

“I would sit with the artists, if I have the luxury to do that, and we have a conversation – and from there I write the song.

“Now, if I can’t do that, then I would write a song in the realm of the good, bad and ugly of what love is – because everybody felt something within that realm. That’s normally the safest place to pull from.”

For more details about Ne-Yo’s shows this week, visit www.madonyasiland.com, www.whitedubai.com and www.toyroomdxb.com