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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

'I wasn't planning on becoming a singer'

q&a Hamdan al Abri is the lead singer of the Dubai-based band Abri, recently nominated for best MTV Arabia New Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
Hamdan al Abri is committed to his Dubai roots.
Hamdan al Abri is committed to his Dubai roots.

Hamdan al Abri is the lead singer of the Dubai-based band Abri. They have recently been nominated for best MTV Arabia New Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards.

My father's from East Africa, so I grew up at home listening to his music, and that African sound really influenced me. Then while I was at growing up at school I was really into Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and I think that funk sound has really evolved from there.

I started singing in high school, in class, and my classmates thought I had a voice. Then I joined the music club and we did shows in high school, and then we started recording with a local producer, but I wasn't planning on becoming a singer. I never really did any voice training - I sang a lot in the shower. But I had amazing people that I looked up to and listened to, so I learnt by listening to people who had really great voices and then mimicking them, and then I'd try to put in my own individual flair to it.

I met with Julian Symes, who plays keyboards, in October 2005, through a mutual friend, and he was recording his own album at the time, but he thought that we could work together. So we started meeting up and working on songs, and we just realised that the more and more we played together there was a rapport. By the time we knew we had enough songs to make an album, we decided to start a band, so we got Rami Lakkis, the bassist, and Andre Atherley, who plays drums, and this is what makes the whole mix.

Yeah, funk wasn't really that popular for a while, but now it's getting more popular, with people like Amy Winehouse and her soul sound, and the soul that's coming out in pop. But Julian was already into jazz and soul, I'm into soul, Rami's into jazz, Andre's into French soul, so I don't think it really mattered what was going on around us; we just wanted to do what we wanted to do. We all fit together really well.

The bands in Dubai do some covers, and we just wanted to play our own things and our own songs and be ourselves. The crowd really likes our music, and although at first people always wanted us to play covers of Bob Marley or something, we stuck to what we liked and what we were good at. And it worked - we definitely won over the crowds.

Yes, I like to look good, but I'm not into labels and all that. As long as I've got my skinny jeans I'm happy. I don't know what will happen when they go out of style. I guess I'm just going to carry on wearing them whatever happens!

Yeah, we've been on a tour to Britain- that was brilliant - and other places in the Gulf, like Bahrain. And we're looking at where else we can go. Of course, we'd like to do America, but also Europe, Japan and Africa. We've also warmed up for Arrested Development, Joss Stone and loads of others.

It's mainly me and Julian writing together. I write most of the words, and Julian will come up with some good music, and then all the band add their own sounds to the songs, so I guess it's really everybody. The songs are usually about my experiences in life, whatever's happening in the world. I wouldn't call us a political band, but you can't really ignore whatever's out there.

Well Dubai's always going to be our base - that's where we it all started, it's where we're coming from, you know? And we're not about to break America or anything. Actually, I used to live in Miami - I went to college there - and I'd like to go back there some time. But even if we were living in Florida, we wouldn't abandon our roots in Dubai.

gchamp@thenational.ae