x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Douzi takes a Bollywood track for a spin

The Moroccan rai star opens up about his latest song - inspired by Salman Khan’s film Tubelight - and his upcoming, so-far untitled, album

Douzi recently released an Arabic version of the hit song Radio from the film Tubelight. Courtesy Kader Douzi
Douzi recently released an Arabic version of the hit song Radio from the film Tubelight. Courtesy Kader Douzi

Salman Khan’s latest film Tubelight may have been a rare misfire at the box office, but for Moroccan rai star Douzi the success of its soundtrack has only led to further interest in his Arabic remake of the title track.

Released last month for Eid Al Fitr, the Bollywood comedy-drama performed so poorly in cinemas that Khan – actor/producer on this one – is said to be in negotiations to compensate the film’s financial backers.

But, while the movie was gratingly melodramatic and syrupy, there is no denying the soundtrack produced by Bollywood music veteran Pritam was right on the money. Tubelight’s signature track Radio, with its range of influences from Hindustani folk and Bhangra to modern R&B is a highlight, in fact the accompanying video, featuring an expansive and colourful dance sequence from the film, has already attracted more than 30 million views on YouTube since its release.

So it is little wonder that the version performed by Douzi has piqued interest across the region and beyond.

Recently released and making its impression on Arabic pop radio stations, his track – also called Radio – is a carbon copy of the original in terms of composition. The main difference is that the husky tones of the original singers, Kamaal Khan and Amit Mishra, have been replaced with Douzi’s high-pitched, gliding vocals.

“I genuinely liked the film, and I am not just saying that because I did the song,” says the Belgium-based singer, whose real name is Abdelhafid Douzi, from a tour stop in Morocco. “The film discusses some deep and important issues about love and family in a sensitive time in India’s history. That gave me an important base when I went to record the song.”

Tubelight follows the lives of families residing in the picturesque north Indian mountain town of Jagatpur. The community’s peaceful and multicultural existence is put to the test with the outbreak of the 1962 Sino-Indian war. With the important subject matter, Douzi says he tried to keep the Arabic translation close to the original.

“The way it works was the record label (Sony Music) sent the translation over to me from Hindi to English, and we then translated that to Arabic,” he says. “But it’s not that simple. From the Arabic translation we then focused on choosing the best words. Our focus was not to create a separate Arabic spin-off; we chose the right Arabic words
to convey the meaning of the original.”

At first glance, a Khan film teaming up with one of the rising stars of the Arab world seems like a slick piece of business. But Douzi states he was approached for more than commercial appeal.

At 32 years of age and one his generation’s leading purveyors of rai music – a form of North African folk music with touches of rock and blues – Douzi says the genre has always embraced other styles.

READ MORE: LISTEN: Five Bollywood tracks riffing on Arabic tunes

“Rai has got to a stage now where it should be considered world music,” he says. “A lot of that has to do with us artists branching out, expanding some of the ways we talk about rai’s main themes of love and life. I have always been trying to do that with my music. Yes, at its heart it is rai, but I keep adding different elements and styles ranging from classical Arabic music to Turkish folk and now Hindi.”

That open- mindedness has served Douzi well. A child star, he introduced himself to the Moroccan public with Goulou Imumti Tijini (Mum, come back to me). That gentle ballad, delivered in the angelic tenor of an 8-year-old, was an immediate hit in his homeland and it has sold 70,000 copies.

Douzi never looked back and recorded more than five albums with Pan-Arab hits including Yalli Nassini, Ana Maghrabi and Laayoune Ainiya. He is now set to release a new album, led by the single Mina, which blends his now trademark energetic rai approach with electronic dance music.

“It’s something to dance to in the summer,” Douzi says of the track, which he dropped last week. “It is a song about a classy woman named Mina who puts men in a trance. It’s a fun song that people seem to be responding to.”

And is the song inspired by a real-life Mina? To this, Douzi laughs and says: “To be honest, we chose that name because it rolls off the tongue easier”.

As for the as-yet untitled album, Douzi is confident about the strength of the new collection thanks to a rigorous selection process. He told his fans to expect plenty of accompanying visuals for the new songs.

“The aim is really to keep coming up with something fresh,” he says. “The songs were chosen over a space of a year so that allowed us time to get it right.”

With European, North American and Canadian tours lined up, Douzi hopes an opportunity presents itself that would allow him to perform in the Gulf. “Sadly, there are no plans to come anytime soon,” he says. “I really want to meet the beautiful people and my fan base there and I hope
that situation can change in the future.”

Radio and Mina by Douzi are out now.