ABU DHABI // The Abu Dhabi Formula One party began on Thursday night with concerts on Yas Island and the Corniche.
The first of four after-race concerts kicked off at the du Arena and it featured the cream of the Arab pop world, with performances by the UAE’s Hussain Al Jasmi, Egyptian pop king Amr Diab and Lebanese songstress Elissa.
Each artist performed separate sets containing hits and crowd favourites.
Elissa kicked off the evening at 8pm with a glamorous performance spanning her two-decade career.
With differing self-portraits displayed in the background, the 41-year-old performed her signature lush ballads aided by a mini-orchestra.
Unlike her peers, Elissa doesn’t dabble with dance-beats or pop-orientated production.
Her tracks adopt an old-school approach, the lilting Fi Ayounok dripped with heavy strings and the luscious, romantic ode Khoudni Ma’ak Ala Darb was truly majestic, with her quavering voice.
Following Elissa was her fellow X Factor Arabia judge Hussain Al Jasimi. The Khor Fakkan singer illustrated why he is arguably the UAE’s biggest pop export.
Donned in a sparkling white kandura and backed by a near 20-piece band, Al Jasmi regularly interacted with the crowd, urging them to sing along in what was a rollicking hour-long set.
Beginning with the Baher Al Shouq, with its syncopated Khaleeji rhythms, he played a greatest hits set including the playful Mata Mata and the joyful Sita Al Sobh.
His performance also made room to showcase his warm, husky tenor with the Qanun-led Bahebek Mote.
Before performing a stirring rendition of Ya Hawa, by Lebanese chanteuse Fairuz, Al Jasmi also took the time to acknowledge the region-wide crowd in attendance.
“We have the Arab world in the audience tonight,” he beamed.
“Welcome to Abu Dhabi and let’s celebrate together.”
Not to be outmatched, Amr Diab stormed on stage to conclude the evening with another crowd-pleasing set.
Launching his 30 Years of Success tour, the 51-year-old stuck to the theme with an expansive set illustrating why he crossed over to become a fully fledged world music star.
Diab often fuses Arabic pop with Mediterranean flourishes. This was underscored in Habibi, where the song broke down to a flamenco middle section with the crowd urged to provide extra percussions with handclaps.
While the new single Al Leila is somewhat pedestrian, the live performance benefited courtesy of the muscular nine-piece percussion group, which gave the track the extra oomph missing in the production.
The romantic An’dee Soual was another high point as Diab’s yearning vocals effortlessly intertwined with the lead violin.
Not averse to western sounds, Diab used his 2009 eurodance-flavoured hit Wayah to round off the set, his synchronised exercise moves perhaps a subtle suggestion to fans to use the track for future Zumba routines.
Thursday night also saw the beginning of Beats of the Beach.
Headlining the first of three free concerts on the Corniche were Filipino singers Gary Valenciano and Vina Morales.
With nearly 50 albums released between them, the duo entertained the largely Filipino audience with their respective hits, including Valenciano’s Reach Out and Morales’ Forbidden.
The music continues on Friday with American rapper Jay Z taking the stage at the du Arena.
Meanwhile, the Corniche will find the Palestinian singer and Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf making his Abu Dhabi debut alongside American rapper Ludacris and rhythm-and-blues siren Ciara.
For details on all the concert action go to www.yasalam.ae.