From The5 to the one: Adil Echbiy talks about his new single and life after the boy band
'Speaking for myself, it did feel a bit weird and I remembered feeling lost about the whole thing. But looking back now, it was all for the best,' says the Moroccan singer
The5 may have started with a bang, but the group ended with a whimper. After setting regional hearts aflutter after finishing second in the 2015 season of The X Factor Arabia, the Dubai-based label Sony Music Middle East signed them with hopes of creating the Arab world’s version of mega British boy band One Direction.
To be fair, all involved gave it their best shot. The boys, barely out of their teens, were well groomed and media trained. Slick photo shoots and music videos were produced and the band performed an array of high-profile gigs across the Mena region, including to more than 20,000 people as part of Abu Dhabi’s Beats on the Beach festival in 2016. Alas, it all came to an end last year. There were no fights and no one walked out mid-tour, a la Zayn Malek’s runner during One Direction’s final string of shows in 2015. Fittingly perhaps, The5 ended the way they began, in a formal and corporate manner.
“We were told by the label that they did not want to continue our contract,” says Adil Echbiy, a former member of the group. “I was in Dubai when I got the news. Speaking for myself, it did feel a bit weird and I remembered feeling lost about the whole thing. But looking back now, it was all for the best.”
Speaking to Echbiy, 33, in Casablanca, the trademark confidence he exuded during The5’s live shows has returned. Now back with Sony Music Middle East and well tanned from a recent promotional trip to Cairo, he says he is excited about kicking off his solo music career.
He has every right to be as his debut single, Sem3i, is pop-tastic. Powered by thumping beats, the song is a catchy melange of Gulf and Moroccan pop styles. The former presents itself through the syncopated percussion, hand claps and call-and-response vocals, while the Moroccan flavour is channelled through the country’s rhythmic and punchy dialect.
Augmenting the song’s genre-blending vibe is its eye-catching video. Shot in the desert on the outskirts of Marrakesh, it is a riot of colour and Moroccan pop art. That it loosely resembles fellow Moroccan pop star Saad Lamjarred’s blockbuster 2015 music video for the hit Lm3allem (it has more than 750 million views on YouTube and counting) is no coincidence, as it was created by the same director, Amir Rouani. It all helps to cement Echbiy as an artist with his own voice. Individuality is something Echibiy feels strongly about, as it contributed to the demise of The5.
“The problem we had with the band was that we had no foundation,” he says. “All of us in the group had our own distinct musical interests, from hip-hop and RnB to Arabic songs. The aim was to try to do all these styles together but in the end we had no artistic identity, which was a problem.”
Despite the group’s huge hits, such as the exuberant Moroccan pop of Le Bezzaf and the Egyptian-styled ballad Nekbar Sawa, Echbiy expresses his frustration that most of the band’s catalogue is a case of ambitions unfulfilled. “Because we had all these different styles, this meant that not everyone was at the same level. Some members, and there is no need for names, couldn’t sing a certain part of an Arabic song because they are not used to singing that way,” he says. “When that happens, a lot of compromise is needed and we had to lower the idea of the song to the lowest common denominator. I am not complaining or angry about it, that was simply the way it was with the band.”
Echbiy’s refreshing perspective comes with being the band’s elder statesman. Born in Marrakesh, he always dreamt of being a singer of the stature of his heroes, Egypt’s Amr Diab and Algeria’s Khaled. This was something Echbiy would tell his colleagues at the high-end fashion store in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates where he worked five years ago.
“I remember it was 2014 and I came from Morocco to Dubai and they asked me in the interview what my dream was,” he says. “I didn’t hesitate and told them that I wanted to be a singer. A year and a half later I joined The5. A few of my colleagues, who are now my friends, look at me as a success story.”
That affection goes both ways. Echbiy credits his experiences in the UAE for broadening his horizons. “This was something that I always wanted to do, I wanted to be in a place with different nationalities and different cultures,” he says. “I learnt a lot about myself and how to be with others. This is something that helped me throughout my career.”
With Echbiy set to release more singles and videos in the months to come, how does he now define career success? He closes his eyes and thinks about the response. “I just want to be proud of what I am doing,” he says. “I want to share my happiness with people and touch them with my music. To see people enjoying the music, singing and dancing along, is enough for me. Actually, just thinking about it is enough to nearly make me cry. It is happiness.”
Updated: July 31, 2019 09:44 AM