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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Exclusive: Adam Saleh on his new hip-hop single and his UAE shows in December

Saleh says the song, dedicated to his cousin, is a way of branching out from his primary career – vlogging on YouTube.
Adam Saleh, who has attracted a considerable online following with his YouTube videos, poses for a portrait in Manhattan’s Times Square on August 15, 2015. Dave Sanders for The National
Adam Saleh, who has attracted a considerable online following with his YouTube videos, poses for a portrait in Manhattan’s Times Square on August 15, 2015. Dave Sanders for The National

American-Yemeni YouTube sensation Adam Saleh’s debut solo single – hip-hop track Tears, featuring UK singer Zac Knight – will drop on iTunes Sunday, August 16.

Saleh has cultivated a loveable, funnyman persona through nearly 700 YouTube videos, ranging from daily vlogs to comedy sketches, that mostly promote Islam. But his new single, a solemn affair that finds Saleh comforting a bereaved family member, is part of his goal to branch out.

“I am only 22 and I want to try everything,” he tells me. “I don’t want to be someone in his 50s saying I wish I done this and that. I always want to try new things.”

Such as his decision to take his jokes and banter to the live stage: Saleh is set to perform a one-man show in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in December, with dates and the venue to be revealed soon.

What was the inspiration for Tears?

It is a song that’s dedicated to my cousin, whose father passed away. She got married and her father wasn’t there and she was very sad about it and she had tears. I wanted to do something about that, to write a song to say that I am there for you, so I began writing some lyrics and it really began from there. I think a lot of people can relate to this song because they would know of people who helped them and stood by there side.

You are coming to the UAE soon for a solo show. Since everyone knows you from your YouTube videos, how would you describe the Adam Saleh live experience?

The live show is much more fun because you get to interact with the people and it is all unedited. It is more like comedy sketches and I dress as different characters and I move around, I do some crowd challenges, a little bit of stand up and some inspirational talk and question and answers. It is really one big variety show.

Going back to when you first started recording YouTube videos in 2012, was the goal always to represent Islam in a positive way?

No, at the beginning I did it for fun. Then I noticed that I was gaining a big following and I thought, you know what? This is a chance for me to use the opportunity to show how peaceful and amazing Islam is.

Once you realised that, did the new responsibility take away from the fun of making videos?

I don’t think it affected things much. If you check all my videos it is not just all funny. I do talk about some more serious stuff at times or talk about certain good themes.

Can you tell us about your appearance as guest on Ellen DeGeneres’s talk show in 2012?

It was so exciting. I was picked to be on the show after I made a video of myself dancing in public as part of her Dance of Dare competition. She called me up and invited me to the show and she gave me a lot of gifts. I did have some time to chat with her before and afterwards. She is so nice and funny. She actually played this mini-prank on us where she scared us because she was hiding behind the bush and jumped out. She is really sweet.

Is your entertainment career a full-time thing at the moment?

Right now it is full-time for me. But at the same time, I am also going to university and doing online classes. I am doing a degree in criminal justice and arts. I have about a year left. I am slowing down a little but I am determined to get that degree.

Did you every think of crossing over from YouTube to getting your own show on television?

I am happy with YouTube. I will still do YouTube no matter what, even if I get on television. The reason why I love it is that I can do and say whatever I want. Now obviously, I don’t do anything that’s offensive but there is no restrictions. I mean, I can talk about my religion Islam. It is hard to find anyone talking good about Muslims on television. So when people see that different side on YouTube they relate to it and they are happy, and then when you promise them there will be a new video next week they will be excited. It is a bit more disorganised than television, but with the vlogging and stuff its more raw and natural.

You appeared on the big screen last year, in the drama American Shariah. How was that experience?

That’s right, in the film I played a guy named Jihad and I was accused of being a terrorist because of my name. It was a hard experience because on YouTube it’s easy, you just record whatever you want and wear whatever you want. With the movies everything has to be perfect and we would spend hours recording just one minute of the movie. At the same time it was a good thing to do and I am looking for more opportunities.

What do your parents think about your international fame?

At the beginning they were weird about it. They were like ‘You should focus more on school’. But they knew I love doing what I do, which is filming, making YouTube videos and making people smile. Once they knew this was my passion they supported me. Whenever I go overseas they are always worried and they call me 20 times a day to find out what I am doing. But I like that, it shows that they care about me and I care about them. It is always good to feel supported.

Finally, do you ever fear getting sucked in by the money and celebrity status that comes from fame?

Anything with fame and money, you gotta think last about that. It doesn’t matter as long as I remain humble and true to myself. I think I have always been myself ever since my first video.

• Tears by Adam Saleh (featuring Zac Knight) is out on iTunes on Sunday, August 16

sasaeed@thenational.ae