x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Joe Ashkar's latest tracks are club-tested and fan-approved

The Lebanese singer's latest album 015 has ballads, Arabic pop songs and his first track in the Khaleeji dialect.

While some pop artists write songs for the club, the Lebanese singer Joe Ashkar writes them in the club, literally. This is the benefit of owning and performing in Cassino, one of Beirut's hottest night spots.

"It definitely helps," he says. "It allows me to play every week and get immediate feedback from my fans. It's also a place where I can test the new songs, so by the time it comes out I know that it will be good."

Ashkar has just released his "fan-tested" album 015 (named after the number of songs).

As well as his signature blend of ballads and up-tempo Arabic pop, the album finds Ashkar trying new tricks. The track Yes'ad Ayamek is the singer's first time singing in the Khaleeji dialect.

While the move is a way to expand his audience across the Gulf, Ashkar took his time picking the song in order to render his performance sincere.

"That was very important because sometimes other singers just pick the song that is in front of them," he says.

"I wanted to make sure that I could do it honestly and that it matches my singing style and as soon as I heard this song, particularly the melody, I knew it was it."

Beginning his career in the 1990s as a popular Beirut club singer, Ashkar tasted success with his 2001 debut album Shu Biemmna.

The title track's dance-friendly beat coupled with Ashkar's sweet delivery saw him labelled as Lebanon's next rising star.

"Yes, that song did change everything," he says. "It did bring me the attention of the audience but also made me work even harder than I ever did."

Ashkar's fame continued to rise with the release of a slew of successful albums and regular tours of the UAE. In 2009, he picked up an MTV Europe Music Award for Best Arabian Act.

While recent performances in the Gulf have been for private functions, Ashkar hopes to return later in the year for shows in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

"I love the people there," he beams. "They are warm and they enjoy what I do."

If you can't wait that long, you can always find Ashkar performing each weekend at Cassino.

Joe Ashkar's 015 (Platinum Records) is out now.

sasaeed@thenational.ae