Moroccan singer Yann’Sine Jebli – the village voice that is going global
Plucked from the obscurity of a fishing village in Morocco, Yann’Sine Jebli became a household name in his homeland after a series of acclaimed performances on the influential reality-TV contest, Studio 2M.
Encouraged to take part by his father, the teenage singer was an instant hit on the 2013 series, only losing out in the final round. Now 22, he won over European viewers last year on The Voice France, impressing judge and coach Mika with his vocals and charisma.
Now making a name for himself away from the bright lights of TV, Yann’Sine performs a mix of classic covers and original material in Arabic, French and English, and promises to unveil some new material during his UAE debut in Abu Dhabi and Dubai this weekend.
How much has your life changed since finding fame on reality TV?
Studio 2M was an amazing experience. I was very young and I did not realise what was happening. Within weeks, I was known and recognised – and not only in Morocco. As I was the youngest, I became the mascot of the show. The atmosphere between all of us was very relaxed – I took it as a game, without investing too much in my voice or musical work.
How was your experience in Europe?
The Voice France was much more demanding, a very high level. It was the first time a candidate from Maghreb had participated in it, and the effect has been very important both in France and Morocco. I realised I was very popular in France, as I was in my country, and even in North Africa. Of course, it made me happy and I wanted to continue to answer my fans on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – but sometimes I had thousands of messages. The difficulty is to stay focused and manage priorities.
Do you miss your old life in Morocco?
I grew up in Tan-Tan Plage, a small fishing village 400km south of Agadir. My parents, my sister and brother still live there. Of course, I go back regularly even though I live for months in France or in other countries. Tan-Tan is my roots, where I found my childhood friends, and I spent long days fishing with my father. I do not always know where I’m going, but I know very well where I come from.
Your father was a sea merchant. How did this shape your life and your music?
For my 15th birthday, my father gave me a small, used phone. On this phone there was a recording of the song Bared Skoun Are Hawa by Abdel Hadi Belkheyat. Every day I walked 5km to college and I listened to this song, and even when I came back home. I ended up knowing the song by heart. One day my father heard me singing while I was drawing – because I loved drawing manga [Japanese comic-book art] – and he told me I had a beautiful voice. That’s how it all started.
Who are your greatest musical inspirations?
I love all kinds of music – Arab or western. As a singer, Mika taught me a lot because he sings and celebrates life at the same time. He sings in high tones, jokes and has fun performing his songs. But I also like the deep Arab vibrations that lift up your soul and touch your heart.
What is the greatest misconception about Arabic music?
I think Arabic music is not always understood or appreciated because it’s beyond understanding – it sometimes appears very repetitive. However, very long poetic songs, such as the songs of Umm Kulthum, find an attentive audience beyond the comprehension of words. Because there is a power in the voice and interpretation.
If you had not found music or your talent had not been spotted, where do you think you would be today?
Maybe I’d be drawing manga – or I’d have opened a small hostel on the sea shore.
• Yann’Sine performs as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival on Thursday, 8.30pm, at Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi – tickets cost Dh110 (Dh90 for Alliance Française Abu Dhabi members) from timeoutickets.com – and on Friday at Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort, JBR, 8pm, hosted by Alliance Française Dubai, free entry (registration compulsory at www.afdubai.org)