On the sidelines of his performance at Burj Al Arab, Aficionado sits with the Azerbaijani crooner to discuss music, fans and hard work.
How do you feel a few hours before a big performance here in Dubai?
It’s actually my second performance in Dubai. My first performance here happened five years ago as part of Russian Radio Concert at Nasimi Beach, Atlantis The Palm. By coincidence, I was invited there to do a set and, at that time, I was only doing covers and did not have many of my own songs. And the covers I was doing were more Michael Bublé, so it was pretty interesting. People came to party and I was performing ballads (laughs). Nevertheless, it went really well.
This time, it’s my first solo performance – big, ticketed, I guess expensive too since it’s Burj Al Arab (laughs). And I’m very excited about this night. People will enjoy good food and the setting is really relaxing. But I would definitely like people not to get stuck in their seats so they can get up and dance. I’m sure it’s going to be a fun show.
You have a large fan base here and around the world. How do you usually interact with your fans?
I have few fan clubs, the biggest one is – I believe, in Azerbaijan, my home country. There are clubs in Russia, mostly in the cities that I’ve been to (Krasnodar, Moscow, Rostov, etc.). And I also have a fan club in the USA and in Europe. The reason I know about my fans is that they always come to my shows and follow me on my social media. I’m an active Instagram user, so I try to respond to my fans there. And in case someone leaves an offensive comment for me and starts getting into a fight, my fans start defending me, which I really appreciate.
I know some of my fans by face as they follow me on my tours. For instance, when I had a tour in Europe and I would perform in the UK, I would see the first row of girls and they would be the same ones I saw the day before when I was performing in Germany. The same happens with me during my tours in Russia – my fans do flash mobs, like raising hearts when I sing Amor or holding a profile image of Muslim Magomayev (legendary Russian/Azeri singer) when I sing a tribute song during my concert. These are just few examples. I find it cool. As sometimes, when I travel to unknown cities, I wouldn’t be sure about the crowd’s reaction. So, when I see such support, I know that these people are on the same wave with me. And I must say: it’s exciting.
What do you think of the Middle East music scene?
I know some of the Middle Eastern artists and I’m really good friends with some of them. For instance, Arash – he is my friend. I met him last during Eurovision where he was representing Azerbaijan with Asele.
There are some Arabic songs that I like. I wouldn’t be able to tell you the names, but they are on my iPod and I constantly listen to them. I don’t understand the words, but I definitely enjoy the music and I believe that the main reason for that would be cultural similarities. As you may know, I’m from Azerbaijan and we have so many things in common, from religion to food and music.
Have you ever used Middle Eastern instruments in your songs?
Yes, I actually did. I used “kamancha”, which is a traditional Azeri instrument, but is commonly used in other cultures as well (Iranian and others).
During the Eurovision contest that took place in Azerbaijan (2012), I was invited to perform a set where I had to show the transition of the music in my country through time – from traditional Azeri melodies to modern pop beats. The set lasted for seven minutes where, for more than three minutes, I was playing traditional instruments like drums and the kamancha.
Can you define Dubai in three words?
Incredible, futuristic and amazing.
You are successful not only in Russia but also in other parts of the world. Was it difficult to break into other markets?
It’s been only two years since I started writing songs in Russian and got bigger recognition in Russia for it. I’ve been making music for nearly ten years now and I have started writing English songs in the UK. It hasn’t been easy all the time, but I keep doing what I love and I think that, slowly but surely, I’m getting to the level I want to be at.
Have you collaborated with international artists recently? With whom and why?
My latest collaboration, as you may be aware, was with my good friend and outstanding musician Nile Rodgers and the single is called Boomerang. It is now breaking into the European top hits charts and that makes me super happy, as I did not expect this song to become that popular worldwide.
Prior to the Boomerang, I had a single called Woman, which was created in collaboration with amazing Australian musician Charlie Williams. He is also not commonly known across the world, same as me (laughs). We met by accident and decided to write a song that got an excellent reaction from European audiences in Spain, France, Germany and the UK. And I think we’ll need to head to Australia as well. I think it will do great there too.
In general, I don’t search for collaborations and I believe that they should come naturally like it happened with Nile. He is a legend and he was not looking to collaborate, but it just happened and I’m happy it did – it turned out to be super exciting for both of us.
Do you have an idol that you would love to perform with?
Yes, two. One is Elvis Presley – which is impossible at this time, unfortunately. However, Michael Bublé just did a cover of his song Fever, so you never know (laughs). As for the second one, I absolutely love Sade; she is my female idol.
If you were to sing with a regional artist, who would that be?
As I told you, I have a few Arabic songs on my iPod. My favourite is this (plays Ragheb Alama’s Nasini El Donya). So, if I would have an opportunity to sing along with a regional artist, it would be Ragheb Alama.
What are your plans for the next two to three years?
Just to stay alive and enjoy it! I’m 35 and I’ve not always been successful when it comes to my music career. Only now I started getting big proposals and have a big audience that recognises me. So, if I continue on the same path, I will be satisfied. I’m not searching for a revolution as I’m truly enjoying what I’m doing right now. I have a business on the side and my family and I have learned to maintain the balance between all of the things that I do in my life. My main objective when it comes to music is to keep it high-standard. I always perform live and it requires some level of preparation for both my band and me.