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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Catching up with Palestinian superstar Mohammed Assaf ahead of his Canadian concerts

Learn how the former Arab Idol winner spends his mornings, his feelings on the Palestinian occupation and whether he reads social media comments about himself

Mohammed Assaf. Courtesy Flash Entertainment
Mohammed Assaf. Courtesy Flash Entertainment

Pop sensation Mohammed Assaf will be touring Canada to perform at a number of charity concerts across the country. We caught up with Gazan superstar after his October concert in in Aarhus, Denmark.

Your spontaneous interaction with your fans and the exchange of warm greetings with the older generation in the crowd made the audience feel like it was a family gathering. What is the secret to your success and natural connection with people?

People love a hard working person who has succeeded after a struggle. This is the source of people's affection and I cherish it. I like to make people happy and give them something to smile about. I use my art and music not only to give them joy, but also to relieve their sorrow and retain their faith in the future. People have seen a shred of hope in me, as Mohammed, who came out of the womb of suffering in Palestine and lived under the occupation and wars, but still made it. It is important to cultivate hope in Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general, given the political situation they live under. Music reaches out to everybody, despite differences in dialects, language and race. It unites people. Like sport, music is a universal language."

You’ve experienced several wars and your evolution from a poor teenager, who sang at local weddings, to a superstar is sensational. How do you think the world has perceived your success?

The West likes to hear positive stories, and not only talk about negative issues, like wars and political differences that I myself don’t really like to talk about. They love my autobiographical film The Idol, and what it represents. I am trying to show that art and excellence can be found in our region. There is great potential in our world and in many fields like science and art, just like in other parts of the world like the USA and Europe.”

What is your plan to become more well-known globally?

It is not easy to become internationally famous and it needs extensive media coverage. I have won international awards from MTV and The Big Apple Music Award, and I am nominated again for the latter this year. That is a great honour for me, and I always look forward to be renewing my art and becoming better. I have worked with well-known musicians like Gente de Zona. I am young and still have many years ahead of me. I am content with what I have already achieved in the past four years.”

How do you measure the success of your songs?

By looking at the reactions of the audience and seeing how many are listening on YouTube, Anghami and so on.

Do you read the comments on YouTube and the social media?

Of course.

How do you handle negative comments?

I try to learn from them. I am not perfect and always looking to improve myself. I am a believer. Success is a blessing from God and failure is human.

Is it a difficult to balance a music career and deal with the Palestinian cause?

Listen, if I am in a kind of a war, then it is a war of the roses. I don’t hold my feelings back about the Palestinian cause. I have personal goals like any artist, like to have an arsenal of hits, and I say it honestly, but every normal person should be able to feel the suffering of the needy and help them. My work for the last four years with the United Nations as a goodwill ambassador is my duty. I stand with the oppressed, and use fame to defend the helpless and bring in aid.

What is the source of your faith in peace and prosperity while Palestine is been under Israeli occupation for decades? Are you frustrated?

At the same time, and according to the United Nation's statistics, the illiteracy rate in Gaza is almost zero. Struggle makes you stronger. The occupation always tries to distort everything that is beautiful. Last year, the best school teacher in the world was Hanan Al-Haroub, a Palestinian woman. This is also a reality I like to talk about. I tell you frankly, when it comes to the issues of my country and the rest of Arab nations, I do not stand neutral."

How do you spend your mornings?

I eat breakfast, drink tea, I don’t like coffee, and see what tasks lie ahead of me. I do a lot of ordinary things like making food, paying bills and buying groceries. I like to feel responsible.

What are your ambitions?

To continue to deliver art which has a meaningful story. I don't want my future kids to hear trivialities. I also want to become more well-known on a global level. I will keep on looking for opportunities to help and do humanitarian work.

Mohammed Assaf will be performing at charity concert in aid of The Children of Gaza in Canada. He will be performing in Calgary on October 5, Edmonton on October 6, Toronto on October 7, Ontario on October 8, and Montreal on October 9. Click here for ticket information

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