x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Skybar returns to Abu Dhabi – for four nights only

For those keen on great music in an intimate, al fresco, late-night setting, this year's Skybar is the place to go.

The original Skybar in Beirut.
The original Skybar in Beirut.

Arguably one of the most memorable moments of last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was not confined to the winner's podium. Instead, it occurred in the wee hours of the morning after a race day when R&B legend Prince performed a surprise two-hour performance to an intimate crowd at Yas Island's Flash Forum.

The event in question was the inaugural Skybar late-night parties, kicking off at midnight on each race day, and the crowning glory of a four-night music extravaganza, which, apart from The Purple One, saw performances from Sean Paul, Kelis and Basement Jaxx last year. The nocturnal music carnival returns this year when the team from Beirut's Skybar make a pit stop during the grand prix to once again transform the Flash Forum into the rooftop venue that has become the toast of the Middle East's entertainment scene. Similar to last year, an impressive array of performers will entertain, ranging from music heavyweights such as the hip-hop star Wyclef Jean and the reggae hit-maker Shaggy to artists to watch, including the British pop singer Yasmin.

The Sky Management chief executive Chafic El Khazen says despite repeated offers to set up Skybar franchises at different points on the globe, the grand prix in Abu Dhabi was chosen as the first international venue due to its clientele being similar to those walking through its Beirut doors.

"Abu Dhabi is a natural choice because it's very similar. You have people from all over the world, locals and also Lebanese expats who have the opportunity to go to Skybar in Abu Dhabi," he says.

"Also, we're only doing it for four days during an outstanding event, which caters to a certain elite clientele and the clientele that we have in Beirut."

Skybar's temporary stay in the UAE is nothing new, El Khazen says; the past decade has seen many premier clubs setting up special events as part of global festivals.

"VIP in Paris moves to Cannes during the [Cannes] film festival, for example, and St Tropez during the summer," he says.

However, El Khazen dismisses the notion the event would be Skybar in name only.

Speaking from Abu Dhabi, where he flew in last week to oversee the stage design and set up at the Flash Forum, he promises to retain the glamour and sophistication of the Beirut venue.

"I am a fan of what is called micromanagement and we are involved in each and every tiny detail," he says.

"This is from choosing the furniture, making sure the bar stools are the right height and colour, the displays and of course the line-up of artists."

One performer who should feel right at home amid the glitzy club surroundings is the Scottish artist Yasmin Shamir.

Headlining Saturday night's bill alongside Fatboy Slim, the 21-year-old - who performs under the name Yasmin - says her high-profile slot is part of a great year, which saw her release two singles to critical acclaim as well as being chosen by the hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg as the support act for his UK tour.

Yasmin recently returned from Cuba where she shot the video for her forthcoming single Light Up the World, a collaboration with the British rapper Ms Dynamite.

"The year has been incredible and quite a whirlwind," she admits.

"It's all been about introducing myself musically to everyone, building on that and just growing."

After building a steady following as an in-demand hip-hop and R&B DJ in Scotland, 2011 saw Yasmin make the transition into a full-blown pop-star with the lead single, the trip-hoppy On My Own, landing in the top 50 of the UK Charts.

On My Own is what all lead singles aim to be: calling cards for listeners and the industry indicating new, burgeoning talent.

Her follow-up effort, the elegant break-up ballad Finish Line, cemented her stature as someone to watch.

Born in Manchester and raised in Scotland to an Iranian father and English mother, Yasmin says she was aware of her mixed background at an early age.

"Growing up in a little place in Scotland and being half Iranian, I was different," she says.

"My name was different than a lot of the kids in my class. I was the only cousin from my mother's family who had dark hair ... you can either get swirled by it or embrace it, be proud of it, and that confidence helped me in all aspects of what I do."

An example of this was making her name as one of Glasgow's rare female DJs. Her blend of old-school hip-hop and R&B made her the spinner of choice for club nights and special events. In one after-party, her skills were spotted by none other than Pharrell Williams, who invited her as guest DJ on N.E.R.D's world-tour. That association also led her to become female rapper Eve's tour DJ; an opportunity that allowed her to visit the UAE in 2009.

While Yasmin is keen to turn unsuspecting heads, Shaggy is on the other end of the career spectrum.

Having already sold more than 15 million records, the 43-year-old artist has already established himself as one of the most successful artists in reggae. Shaggy - who is headlining Friday night's bill with the UK R&B artist Jay Sean - says that during his nearly 20-year career, the record industry has changed so much that albums have now become merely a source of promotion.

"It's pretty obvious right now that records are not going to be sold the way they used to. You go online and get it for free, that's just the way it is," he says.

"The way you are going to make money these days is through your side deals, the endorsements, tours and merchandise. These are the new avenues where people can tap into if they are smart enough. Albums are just there now to promote the brand."

A frequent visitor to the UAE, Shaggy says his trips to Abu Dhabi have become a chance to meet old friends.

But as well as watching the Formula One, he plans to venture out and return to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque; the sight where he suffered a rare miss.

"Now that is an amazing piece of structure, I must say," he says.

"I actually went out there and did the whole tourist thing, but my pictures didn't come out too good because there was too much sand blowing. Now I have another chance."