x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Jay Sean loves Nancy Ajram

Jay Sean talks to The National about how much he appreciates his UAE fans and his desire for a more mature sound.

Jay Sean. Manjunath Kiran / AFP
Jay Sean. Manjunath Kiran / AFP

Your UAE fans often say they caught on to you long before the world did. Is this true?

That is true. The country gave me one of the first global fan bases and they really took to the music. I remember coming to Dubai about nine years ago and that was very early in my career. But it’s also the other way around, too. I love this part of the world, I love the Arabic scale and it is something that musically fascinates me. It is emotional and I just love Arab singers and wonderful artists such as Nancy Ajram.

Your new album Neon has a more diverse sound than the dance-heavy All or Nothing. Is there a bit of old-school Jay Sean in there with the ballads?

This album for me is a very important step for my career. First, it marks 10 years for me in the industry and that is important because a lot of my earlier fans have grown up and got married and some might have kids. So I wanted the music to mature and not at the same time alienate the younger audience. I think I accomplished that in the album very well.

Were some of your old-school fans put off by the poppier direction of All or Nothing?

Well, some of the fans were calling out for some of the slow jams and heartfelt ballads. So I went back and tried to really understand some of the older songs and I really feel they have some more substance than what is going around nowadays. So in a way, this album is made for these fans and also to be timeless. It’s not about what’s on the radio now because who cares about that? In 10 or 15 years’ time, I still want this album to sound amazing.

But surely this is a big risk, as radio propelled you to fame?

I can understand that, but if you listen to the radio now you will find a lot of our great R&B artists are not around anymore because everybody wants to hear dance music all day long. But I feel I made a stance by saying that I don’t care if radio doesn’t play my kind of music anymore because I can’t afford to upset my fans. They are the ones who made me and as long as I keep them I happy I know I am going to be good.

With you being signed up to the big American hip-hop label Cash Money, you got to work with people such as the superstars Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Drake. How was that experience?

It’s strange to say that but now I feel these people are peers of mine. I see them all the time at studios and parties and I feel like I am surrounded by some of the world’s best talent. Whenever I see them I try to make sure that I can learn something from them, whether it is the way they deal with fame or deal with the workload. This helped me grow as an artist because just when you think you have seen it all, you go and experience something else.

Lil Wayne is also rumoured to have a tough work ethic. Is that true?

He has a great work ethic. He would go and perform at the Grammys and then, instead of partying after, he would just go to the studio because he’s got six other songs he wants to work on. When I saw that I was like “wow” and I had to respect and realise how people such as him got to where he is.

Jay Sean performs at Chi Garden at The Lodge on Wednesday. Doors open at 9pm and tickets start at Dh150. Visit www.platinumlist.net