Little has changed for winners of UAE labourer singing contest

Winners of the Camp Ka Champ labourers’ singing contest have spoken of the effects their triumphs have had on their lives.

Asim Khan from Pakistan won Camp Ka Champ in 2008. He enjoyed the experience but did not expect it to change his life, although he has enjoyed hero status at work since the contest. Pawan Singh / The National
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ABU DHABI // Winners of the Camp Ka Champ labourers’ singing contest have spoken about how their triumphs have affected their lives.

In the UAE-wide event, thousands of vocally gifted blue-collar workers compete for a large cash prize – and the dream that victory will lead to a singing career.

While the cash can be a game changer, most of the winners are still working at the same jobs they did before the competition.

Asim Khan, who won in 2008, is still working as a baggage handler at Dubai International Airport.

“I never took my singing award so seriously,” said the 30-year-old Pakistani.

“That’s why I have no regrets nor sense of achievement.”

He said he participated in the competition for fun because his friends in Pakistan used to praise his singing abilities.

“In my case, I think it was just sheer luck” I won, he said. “But I have enjoyed heroic status in my company since then.

“If I had some serious expectations from the competition then I would surely be disappointed.

“We must realise that it was not the World Music Awards. The fact remains we are here not for singing. This is not our job. Such an event gives you a feel-good factor and some level of fame in a routine, monotonous life in a labour camp.”

Mukesh Patel, 39, the 2009 winner, hoped to pursue singing as full-time career after winning the competition.

The Indian national, however, is still working as a carpenter in Dubai, where he earns Dh1,400 a month.

“I always wanted to pursue singing as a career and hoped that after winning one of the most popular singing awards in the UAE, someone would give me a break but nothing has worked out so far,” he said.

He now believes his dream of becoming a professional singer will “never become a reality”.

“My life is still the same,” he said. “It seems like poor people have no right to dream, even if they work hard and shows their capabilities.”

However, he said it was not missed dreams that made his heart ache, but missed family.

“When you are living away from your loved ones for years the only thing that keeps aching your heart is homesickness,” he said.

“Today, I can provide so many things to them because of this job but I am paying the price. I am not there with them to enjoy these things. It makes me sad.”

Zulfiqar Ali, 35, the winner from 2013, was the first entrant from his company to win the competition and he is still enjoying rewards from that success.

“My company still treats me like a star,” he said. “I am always invited in social functions and represent the company in other camp activities.

“I came to the UAE to earn money for the family but never thought this place would provide me an opportunity to pursue my passion,” said the Pakistani machine operator who is now lead singer with a band he set up in his camp after the competition. “Perhaps I am among the few fortunate ones.”

The Western Union Camp Ka Champ started in 2007. In that first year, there were entrants from three companies and four labour camps. This year, 24 companies entered from more than 150 camps.