The UAE will always love Prince.
Sure, the diminutive legend was a road hound, not shy of travelling far and wide to perform. But his maiden trip to the UAE as part of the 2010 F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi not only marked his Middle Eastern debut, but also helped establish the country as a bona fide gigging destination with large and appreciative fans. For many veteran UAE concertgoers, Prince’s performance at both du Arena (then dubbed Yas Arena) and his now legendary surprise show at SkyBar remained the yardstick for all future gigs.
Not surprisingly, not many acts could match up to Prince sheer dynamism on stage. The man was not only a startling guitarist, he was also a versatile vocalist and commanding bandleader. The man could even dance while wearing platform heels.
Hence, when word came out that Prince was returning to the UAE last year for a special invite-only charity performance at Pacha Dubai, phones rang and messages were sent pleading for access to the gig. I felt a tad a guilty as I strolled through the entrance, pretending to ignore the pleas of those making a last-ditch attempt for tickets.
The venue was absolutely heaving and Prince’s eagle-eyed security men only raised the tension by threatening anyone thinking of snapping a quick image on their phone.
Any bad will immediately thawed when Prince took the tiny stage with his all-female backing band 3rdeyegirl. He was clad in what seemed like a silver jumpsuit complete with matching scarf, his healthy afro was perfectly spherical and pencil moustache was laser sharp.
The next 90 minutes was the stuff of dreams: he howled, he crooned and those thunderous guitar solos hit kept slamming right onto your chest.
The funniest thing was that Prince actually never thanked the crowd, many of whom who shelled out thousands of dirhams in support of the host charity Autism Rocks. Instead, he gave us that Cheshire Cat grin and kept remarking “you are welcome”.
Perhaps to make up for those spurned fans who couldn’t make it to the small gig, Prince reached out to a key regional promoter to bring his Hit and Run tour to the UAE later in the year.
The promoter, who did not want to be named, balked at the idea of hosting the show with only a month’s notice (true to the tour’s theme). The risk was too great, he explained. There was doubt if the large outdoor venue would be full with such a short lead-up time.
Either way, perhaps the promoter felt he would get another chance further down the line. Prince seemed in good health and he did remark to The Guardian in 2011 that he enjoyed touring “Islamic countries.”
Despite the dire-state of Kardashian-ruled pop-culture today, you knew things were not as bad because Prince was somewhere around — whether in that studio cooking up new funky sounds or inspiring audiences on the road.
Now The Purple One is gone, and for a lot of us UAE music lovers, we can’t help but feel blue.