The 71-year-old will be joined by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Singer Bobby Kimball to perform Toto classics on top of Ras Al Khaimah’s Jebel Jais
Bobby Kimball holds none of the rancour that comes when splitting with a big selling band.
Despite Toto’s penchant for changing their front-men occasionally, the pop-rock group remain known for their enduring hits, Africa and Rosanna, both of which are sung by Kimball.
The 71-year-old, who is presently in the midst of his second split with the group – his first stint was between 1976 to 1984 before returning once again in 1998 for a decade – says the band and its members remain close to his heart. “I love the band and everyone involved in it,” he says. “They played a major part in my life and made me so happy. I have so many great memories that I will always cherish. But the thing is, I am always working on something new and I would say that at the moment I am working with nearly 10 different bands around the world.”
The US singer returns to the UAE this weekend with one of his latest projects, a solo performance tour which has his tenor croon backed by a rock band and a symphony orchestra.
This time around, however, he will be exchanging the usual arenas and amphitheatres for a venue that is truly stunning; a purpose-built stage on top of Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah, whose summit forms the UAE’s highest peak.
Backed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Kimball will take the stage on Friday and Saturday to perform the hits from his Toto days in addition to cuts from his four solo albums. Joining him on the bill - dubbed Rock vs Classics - are two of his contemporaries, Bill Champlin and Dave Bickler, both were the former frontmen of Chicago and Survivor respectively.
Intriguingly, the seeds for Kimball’s rock and symphony mash-up were laid in the UAE itself.
When Toto headlined the Dubai Jazz Festival in 2007, Kimball met German-born concert pianist Philipp Maier, who at the time was conducting the now defunct Dubai Symphony Orchestra. “We just finished playing the festival and there he was at the bottom of the stairs when I walked off the stage,” he recalls. “We spoke about we did and we became great friends very quickly.”
The relationship extended beyond the personal to the professional. Kimball introduced Maier, to a European booking agent, while Maier, was instrumental in getting Kimball’s first orchestral tour together months later and arranged the songs performed.
Kimball says the orchestral addition to his shows didn’t necessitate too many changes to the overall performance. The core of the live experience remains the tight five-piece rock band, while the orchestra expanding or emphasising on certain passages of the songs.
“At the end of the day they just make everything sound better,” he says.
“It just sounds larger and grander and you know, it’s just a privilege to be around musicians who are great at what they do.”
This is indeed high praise from Kimball, as his career had him playing with some of the best US rock musicians in the business. Say what you will about Toto’s power-ballads, but one thing that can’t be denied is the high level and painstakingly detailed musicianship involved in their best material.
If you listen to Africa on good headphones, it is hard not to be amazed at the amalgam of jazz, marimba and African percussion at play. Then, of course, there is that winning vocal arrangement which includes a hazy sounding verse that eventually explodes into a truly blissful anthemic chorus.
It was that combination of musical nerd-manship and grit that bonded Toto, Kimball explains. His own affinity for interesting chord progressions and studio perfectionism came from growing up in Louisiana to a mother with “pitch-perfect” hearing. “She would hear something on the radio and then would play it on the piano perfectly,” he recalls.
“I would just watch her and by the time I was like four and a half she taught me chords. By time I was five I learned about 300 chords on the piano and I kept practicing and playing.”
It is those moments that Kimball holds on to the most; they kept him steady during a career that reached a peak with money, fame and Grammy awards in addition to the lows of being out of work and beating a substance addiction in the early eighties.
“This is why I don’t slow down,” he says.
“When I play live and see the audience it makes me as happy as that little child. I love the idea that I am helping people make great memories and that’s why I love travelling and playing to as many people as I can. I am fairly old but I don’t feel a day over 45 because I am at my happiest when I perform.”
Rock vs Classic concert will be held at Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah, May 4 and 5. Tickets from Dhs300 at tickets.virginmegastore.me