Massari, one of the big names at Fiesta de los Muertos tomorrow, talks to Saeed Saeed about his eclectic new tracks and keeping his faith at the centre of his career
Ahead of Dubai show: Massari on performing with purpose
It took Massari more than a decade to find his sound. Ahead of tomorrow’s headline appearance at the Fiesta de los Muertos music festival, the Lebanese Canadian rapper (real name Sari Abboud) says that he is deeply satisfied at the reception afforded to his new songs So Long and Done Da Da.
He describes both tracks, which trail his upcoming third album, Beirut, as the direction he was aiming for since first arriving on the scene with the standout single Smile for Me, taken from his 2005 eponymous debut album.
“I wanted to stay true to my sound,” he explains. “But that insight comes with time and the general evolution of who you are as an artist and person. I got to the point where I felt like I wasn’t as happy with the type of music I was having to do simply because it was what the record labels were asking for. So this time around, I personally did what I wanted to do. I felt like I wanted to make music that I loved listening to.”
Massari fans shouldn’t fret, however. The same upbeat hip-hop vibe and relatively introspective lyrics are still there. The only difference is the Oriental touches now feel fully integrated within the new songs, as opposed to past material where it often felt like it was shoehorned in.
Club favourite Done Da Da is a gumbo of styles; the dancehall inspired hook is delivered in Jamaican patois, while Massari’s smooth, sing-song rap is laced with eastern melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place on a standard Arabic pop track.
Born in Beirut before escaping to multicultural Montreal as an 11-year-old in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war, Massari describes the fluid eclecticism in the new tracks as the result of a cosmopolitan upbringing.
“I think it is just something that happens out of your experiences,” he says. “Even when I immigrated to Canada at a young age, Arabic music and culture have been present in home. I think that is where it comes from. You really can’t break it down as a formula. Because I was listening to both Middle Eastern and North American music at the same time, I think I was subconsciously able to fuse both eastern and western styles together. It wouldn’t have worked with that approach.”
On So Long, Massari’s croon is not the only thing rooted in the region. The track’s melancholy sunset vibe is powered by the powerful percussion of Moroccan cast-iron castanets called krakebs.
In a smooth piece of marketing, Massari enlisted the services of none other than 2015’s Miss Universe, the Filipino German model and actress Pia Wurtzbach, to appear as his love interest in So Long’s accompanying video. Acknowledging that it was huge coup to land Wurtzbach, Massari used the experience to observe someone at the peak of
“It was a beautiful experience to be able to meet someone at that level of success, yet be the most approachable and such a human in every way possible,” he recalls. “And she really brought so much blessing to our video and our set when we were working so long. She’s just a beautiful person and I learnt a lot from working with her.”
Massari hopes that he can receive the same high esteem from his fans when it comes to how he publicly presents himself. Citing his continuing preference for non-salacious videos and cuss-free lyricism, Massari says that he always aims to write about his day-to-day realities as opposed to offering the escapism that marks so much popular contemporary hip-hop.
“I am all about keeping a positive vibe, man” he says. “Myself and my team have always been keen to have my sounds to be uplifting and inspiring. There is absolutely no profanity in any way shape or form to my songs. I mean, I do understand that there could be people out there who view me as a role model.”
It is a viewpoint that is also grounded in Massari’s Muslim faith. Along with fellow Canadian duo Deen Squad, they are among the biggest Muslim artists in North America. Considering the racial and religious tension plaguing that part of the world, Massari says that a musician’s work needs to be as much about building bridges as providing entertainment.
“Unfortunately, we as mankind built walls in between each other, using religion, money and fame to keep people divided” he says. “So I think it’s very important for entertainers to be able to bring people together, to be able to spread a positive message and to be able to lead by example. As entertainers we need to always be focused on that mission. That’s what I try to always do and I will be doing the same when I see you in Dubai.”
Massari performs at Fiesta De Los Muertoes at Dubai Autism Rocks Arena on October 27. Tickets are on sale from Dh350 from www.117live.com