ABU DHABI // The opening performer for Christina Aguilera's concert tonight is likely to surprise any members of the audience who last saw her perform in Abu Dhabi as a teenager. Four years later, Taleen Kalbian, 21, thinks her music is unrecognisable from the predominantly classical set she presented in 2004. Her earlier musical direction was the result of seven years of opera training. But Kalbian said she has developed a distinctive sound. "What I sang then was so different. I started in classical music - that's my background - but these are all my new songs. It's pop, soul, some of my songs have a lot of funk in them." Brought up in the US by Armenian and Palestinian parents, Kalbian says her style is heavily influenced by her roots. Tonight's 45-minute performance will include belly dancers and traditional Middle Eastern instruments. "My whole life, my parents played different types of music to me. My mum has always played me Armenian music. I've always listened to Arabic music and I've always tried to incorporate it into my songs." The singer said she felt a special connection with the Emirates, having first performed here at the age of 16 and having released her debut single, Gotta Let It Go, in the UAE before anywhere else. "I'm such a big fan of the UAE. It's such a growing place," she said. "I love the US too, obviously, but because my music has such an international sound, it just made sense to release it here. "After I performed here last time I was here for a couple of months. I didn't really live here but I felt like I did. I've come here so many times and it's just so great to be back. I think a lot of artists should come out here more and more, and I think they are beginning to." Kalbian sang for Pope John Paul II at the age of 12, an experience she described as "absolutely amazing". But she said supporting Aguilera was just as important. "The Pope was the highlight of my career but I think this is going to be right up there with that, maybe even more memorable. I can't believe I get to share the stage with her. It's really incredible." email@example.com
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