The MTV European Music Awards return on Sunday for another star-studded night full of high-voltage performances, sure-fire controversy and gongs (voted by the public) handed out to the best acts from the continent and the region.
Any one who thinks the ceremony (held early Monday morning UAE time in Amsterdam) is dwarfed by the American version should check out this year’s guest list: Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke are set to return to cause some mischief. Also on the performance side, the pop stars Katy Perry and Bruno Mars will take the stage.
When it comes to the awards, the event holds regional significance as it affords artists the chance to battle it out for a trophy of their own. After beating a longlist that included the UAE’s very own soul-man Hamdan Al Abri and the rock group Juliana Down, the Moroccan singer and songwriter Ahmed Soultan went on to win the Best Africa, Middle East and India Act category; a feat that earned him the opportunity to travel to the Amsterdam ceremony to compete for the best Worldwide Act award for the second year running.
He may be battling against a strong international contingent featuring One Direction (representing England and Ireland) and Canada’s pop wunderkind Justin Bieber, but the enthusiastic surfer is happy to ride the wave of publicity the event brings.
This is your second time being nominated. What does such an event bring to your career?
I do feel proud that I managed to get this far with music that I made in my own country, performed in my own language and to do it all as a top-selling indie artist coming from Africa. For me, to compete with the likes of Justin Bieber, One Direction and the others as an Indie artist gives me, my generation and continent a signal that if you work hard and trust yourself you can make it.
Did your nomination for the award last year help in raising your profile across Europe?
To be honest with you, that has never been my aim. I never got into this to achieve that kind of publicity. My first job is to make my music have a direct effect on my people. I wanted the people here in Morocco to take my music seriously and then the world. What this nomination does is that it helps in making that easier and proves to people in our countries that we have the skills, expertise and tools to create good-quality music. It’s time that we believe in ourselves and invest in us.
You have been at the forefront of the Moroccan urban music scene called Nayda. How would you describe the genre for us?
Basically it’s about us in Morocco taking all the international musical influence and we try to Moroccan-ise them. So in Morocco right now we have one of the biggest hip-hop scenes in Africa and we have Arabic punk rock, heavy metal and now we have this thing called Afrobian, which is basically everything mixed together from the African and Arab worlds. All the artists on the scene are proud of their African and Arab roots and at the same time we are also open to the outside world as well.
It seems you are living up to that. As well as the MTV nominations, you also collaborated with the R&B star Ne-Yo on the 2010 track Amazing You. How did that hook-up happen?
Someone contacted me on MySpace and wanted to discuss making music together and eventually he said he was a nephew of (funk legend) George Clinton and he was working with all these big names and asked did I want to work with Ne-Yo. I said sure, and while I couldn’t travel to America for the recording, I did manage to record my parts here, from Morocco, and send it over to Ne-Yo, who was happy enough to use it.
Your forthcoming third album, Music Has No Boundaries, continues that theme – you’re working with big names such as George Clinton and the Afrobeat leader Femi Kuti – does this mean you want to move away from being viewed as a Moroccan artist and instead be considered a World Music act?
I am excited to work with these great people and the album will come out sometime next year. To be honest with you, I don’t care about the labels anymore. You can call me whatever you want as long as people hear the music, that’s all I care about. There is no point wasting time on planning a strategy on how to be seen. I’d rather just go out and make the music and get it out there.
• The MTV European Music Awards will be screened live on MTV on Monday at 2am. For details, go to tv.mtvema.com
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