Refusing to be pigeonholed as a “local talent”, the Emirati hip-hop artist Illmiyah (Salim Dahman) is focused on competing on an international level and believes his music speaks for itself.
His first solo album, Stereotyped, will be officially released in the UAE on National Day.
Illmiyah is best known as the other half of the UAE hip-hop duo Desert Heat, whose 2008 album When The Desert Speaks went platinum in the Mena -region, and also sold internationally.
“I planned the album launch for National Day because it’s a time when people feel so patriotic and this is an Emirati product. So I will always remember my first album was released on National Day and that makes it special,” he says, at an event on Tuesday offering a sneak preview of a few songs during which he also gave a live performance.
Through the 15-track Stereotyped, Illmiyah reveals his personal struggles and beliefs, addresses stereotypes about being an Arab and Muslim man, about terrorism and women’s rights but is “not preachy”. Some 80 per cent of the album is in English.
“It’s important that I produced the majority of my album to [show] that, as an Arab from this part of the world, I can actually compose and produce music of the highest standard,” he says.
The album features collaborations with UAE-based artists including the Bahraini R&B artist Hassan “Tiny” Shams, Pasha Cazan, a violinist from Moldova (who also performed live), and the Emirati soul artist Hamdan Al Abri.
“We have more tour requests in Europe than we do in the Middle East,” he says. “Making an album and getting it into stores is huge and being an Emirati and getting our songs out on the radio is difficult because of stereo-types that international artists are better. We don’t value what we have here and we have to fight that.” The album was two years in the making and digs deep into Illmiyah’s personal story.
“Because it’s personal, it’s hard and I was hesitant to release it. Some of the lyrics were written years ago on scraps of paper or in my rhyme book so it was about putting all that together,” he says. “Sometimes, we worry about what people will think and say, but I only think about God. I know people will be able to relate and I hope to help others.”
He also tackles the common misconception, he says, that all Emiratis have “an oilfield in their backyard” and drive a Ferrari. “I wanted to share what my family went through and a time when I went through a depression. Go through the lyrics to get inside my head. I’m just a regular guy,” says Illmiyah, who is managed by the Dubai-based Kilma Creative Studios.
Hip-hop, he adds, is not just exclusively for the West, but is a global music culture. Tracks such as Arabish aim to highlight that, while the intro Illuminate – a “love letter to hip-hop” – talks about how he got involved with rap music, and features Tiny.
The song Brother has an acoustic touch and explores how, with the UAE being a place boasting a range of cultures, friends become family.
This month, Illmiyah released a music video to the first official track Falcon, which can be viewed on YouTube.
Illmiyah will be performing tonight at Ski Dubai at 9pm and will be giving out free signed copies of Stereotyped and signing autographs. The event is part of the Freestyle event Ski Dubai holds on the last Thursday of every month. Visit www.illmiyah.com or follow him on Twitter @DesertheatUAE