Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

Musicians can make capital gains by giving a shout-out to Abu Dhabi

Complimenting their home cities is often the best way for musicians to honour their fans

Lead singer Mick Jagger was as flamboyant as ever and he impressed the crowd with his knowledge of the UAE. Lee Hoagland / The National
Lead singer Mick Jagger was as flamboyant as ever and he impressed the crowd with his knowledge of the UAE. Lee Hoagland / The National

People are generally prone to flattery. A kind word or gesture can go a long way in building or strengthening a relationship.

This is as true in the workplace as it is in our personal lives, and musicians are most aware of that. From the many concerts I have attended over the last eight years in Abu Dhabi – from big arena shows to sweaty club gigs – the reaction has always been the same: whenever the artist takes a moment to praise the capital, the crowd is essentially in the palm of their hand.

Yanni performing at du Forum, Abu Dhabi on February 14, 2019. Courtesy Flash Entertainment
Yanni performing at du Forum, Abu Dhabi on February 14, 2019. Courtesy Flash Entertainment

But, like any compliment, the compliment is only accepted when it’s genuine. And the musicians that command a loyal UAE fanbase are the ones that strike that note.

They have none of that generic “it’s great to be here in [insert city name here]” business; they express their gratitude for the crowd and city that hosts them in lovely detail.

Take, for example, Yanni’s sold-out show at the du Forum last month. The UAE has treated the Greek-­American composer and pianist well over the years, with nearly 10 shows spread across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah in eight years.

It was no wonder then, when I ­interviewed him hours before his most recent Abu Dhabi show, that Yanni asked me to give him a crash course in Arabic, so he could greet the crowd in the country’s native tongue. His delivery was great, and I felt proud.

Seeing double – Grammy Award-winning Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes with a copy of The National’s Arts & Life cover feature on him. Saeed Saeed / The National
Seeing double – Grammy Award-winning Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes with a copy of The National’s Arts & Life cover feature on him. Saeed Saeed / The National

It was the same thing when Brazilian bossa nova king, Sergio Mendes, performed as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival in 2015. Chuffed that his Emirates Palace show was sold out immediately, he asked me to make him a list of a few phrases he could sprinkle into his show, with “shukran Abu Dhabi” (thank you Abu Dhabi) and “ya marhaba” (greetings) making the final cut.

Madonna performs in the UAE in 2012. Lee Hoagland / The National
Madonna performs in the UAE in 2012. Lee Hoagland / The National

Such interplay between artist and crowd is not only powerful in making a big show feel more intimate, but it can be useful in cutting any lingering tension within the audience. Madonna could have used a bit of banter at the du Arena in 2011 to dampen down some of the resentment for coming on stage nearly two hours late for both shows – an emotionless “I love you guys” from the American just didn’t cut it.

She should have taken a leaf out of fellow music royalty Mick Jagger’s book. With nearly 40,000 people crammed into the du Arena to see the Rolling Stones make their debut regional debut performance in 2014, some of whom had arrived four hours prior to show time, frontman Jagger knew what to do to settle the crowd down. Ever the consummate showman, he peppered his constant and amiable banter with Arabic phrases such as “shukran jazeelan” (thank you very much) and “kaifa halek?” (how are you?). The most memorable moment was when Jagger showed off his UAE knowledge by attempting to mention the seven emirates. Umm Al Quwain, astonishingly, got a mention despite being difficult to pronounce, but Ajman, alas, was forgotten.

More than the songs and the big effects, it is these kinds of moments that fans arguably savour the most. It also affirms the life-long principle that it is the little things that often mean the most.

Updated: February 28, 2019 05:56 PM

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