ABU DHABI // Yasalam's Beats on The Beach concerts at the Corniche may whet the appetite for the After Race Concerts on Yas Island - beginning tonight with Kylie Minogue - but the free event can hold its own musically.
Kicking off last night, thousands were entertained - and in some cases introduced - to global and regional stars including Egypt's Tamer Hosny, Senegalese rapper Akon, the UK's Melanie Chisholm and the UAE's very own Mansour Zayed.
It is these moments of cultural exchanges defining Beats on The Beach; revellers get a chance to see their favourite artists as well sample some of the latest tunes emerging from other parts of the world.
The roar may come from those facing the stage, but the thrill is shared backstage as artist themselves spoke of relishing the chance to playing to new audiences.
For Mansour Zayed, his stellar set at Beats on The Beach capped off a year which saw him release his debut album Talaa' Ashiq and performing in more global settings.
Last night's performance was a victory lap and chance to savour the success of Talaa' Ashiq.
Backed by a large band including three backing singers, Zayed was a great example of Khaleeji pop's deft blend of the traditional and modern.
In Khallouny the band use a traditional beat and rhythmic claps as the foundation for what is a glossy pop song.
In the swelling La A'Hess Wala Khaber the Emirati pushes himself vocally, casting aside his pleasant croon for something more yearning.
The album's title track received the biggest response, eliciting hand waves and a few air-tambourines from the crowd.
"To be on the only Emirati here on the bill is an honour," Zayed said, cooling off after the performance.
"I am still new and I view myself as still taking the first steps. Today is just so encouraging."
Melanic Chisholm was slightly jittery backstage in her dressing room.
"I am a little nervous," she laughed.
"I didn't do a sound-check earlier today but I have faith in my great sound guys. Also when you are playing in an outdoor venue there is this fear that you may over perform."
Chisholm had nothing to worry about.
As well her technical crew earning their salary, Chisholm's performance should put to the rest debates on which Spice Girl had the finest voice.
Coming from a theatre background, Chisholm knew when to go full throttle such as in the stomping Rock Me and to rein it back as in the touching Weak.
Never Gonna Be The Same Again and Northern Star inspired singalongs and her backing guitarist done a fine job with Bryan Adam's vocals in the driving When You Are Gone.
Mel C told the crowd she plans to come back to Abu Dhabi for another performance, backstage she states she may return with another band member. "I think my daughter will like it here."
Better Late than Never
One imagines hefty negotiations were needed to convince superstar rapper Akon to join the Beats on The Beach bill with less than 24 hours to spare.
Not really, as it turns out.
"I was around the area," he said enigmatically.
"I also love Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I come here a lot and to me it does feel like a second home."
The crowd certainly made him feel as he drew by far the biggest audience reaction of the night.
He may be a pop-star but in reality Akon is truly a world music artist.
His collaborations with K-Pop, African and Arabic artists may seem calculated on paper, but when performed live it allows him to connect with almost every one.
Akon's Abu Dhabi performance catered for all. He kept the hip-hop heads happy with the gritty Locked Up and I'm So Paid, the casual listener could relate with the pop hits Right Now (Na Na Na) and Lonely and the Indian partygoers were overjoyed with a smashing rendition of Chammak Challo from the Ra. One soundtrack.
Akon ended the set with will what surely be the defining image of this year's Beats on the Beach.
The rapper thanked the crowd personally by stepping in a Zorb Ball before bouncing off the crowd like a beach volley ball.
"That has always been the goal for me," he said backstage.
"I like to play with different styles, play to as many people as I can and see what happens. It has been great so far."
Hosny Brings it Home
After Akon's last minute addition, Egypt's Tamer Hosny had his work cut for him.
Stepping on stage after 1am the pop-star maintained the energy with the hits and oodles of charms.
He played all the favourites including Matwashesh, Kol Mara, Ba'eesh and Enayah Bithibak - all eliciting massive singalongs and in one case a stage invasion by teary teenager.
Hosny concluded the evening by debuting his new single Habibi Ya Rasoul Allah, a stirring ode to the Prophet Mohammed sung in both Arabic and English.
"I done it in response to the controversy and all the negative things people say about our beloved prophet," he said post-performance.
"I wanted to do it here in front of an international audience because we are all have a lot in common."