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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Soaring show by Lebanese greats Najwa Karam and Assi El Helani at Dubai Shopping Festival concert series

Najwa Karam showed why she remains at the top of her game three decades into her career, delivering a scintillating performance. While Assi El Helani proved his nickname - Knight of The Arab Song – is not mere hyperbole.
Najwa Karram in concert at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre during the 20th Dubai Shopping Festival. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Najwa Karram in concert at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre during the 20th Dubai Shopping Festival. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Friday night’s Dubai Shopping Festival concert was a treat for Lebanese music lovers, with the dream double bill of Najwa Karam and Assi El Helani.

It was a rowdier affair than the opening night, with the Lebanese expats out in force to greet their musical heroes.

Karam showed why she remains at the top of her game three decades into her career, delivering a scintillating performance.

One of the frustrating features of Arab-pop concerts is often the lack of showmanship from most stars, who are invariably content to remain static behind a microphone with an iPad displaying all the lyrics.

There was an old-school work ethic on display from 48-year-old Karam – with all the words committed to memory, she was free to stalk the stage and engage with the crowd.

Despite her diva status and glittering dresses – Friday night was no exception – Karam remains musically old-school at heart.

Her bread-and-butter material remains traditional Lebanese folk songs, but they are given an extra kick courtesy of her large backing band.

In Nour El Ain, Karam sang of a lovelorn affair under the clear night sky. Ya Yumma saw the fusion of the string section and drums, the latter performed by a dabka percussionist, that boomed powerfully across the amphitheatre.

Aeshiqa Asmarani was another punchy affair, with the ever-mercurial Karam urging the backing vocalists to show their worth. She ended the set with her evocative new single, the ballad Ya Sakhra, before leaving the stage with her already indomitable reputation enhanced.

Next up was Helani. One of the quirks of the Arab-pop industry is to give each artist a nickname. El Helani’s is the Knight of The Arab Song (while Karam is The Sun of Song) – and in his case it’s not mere hyperbole.

As well as his continued success in a two-decade career, there is a deeply masculine air surrounding his folk tales. The pleasant crooning cannot hide the grit lurking beneath.

The rolling Bill Arabiyah got the crowd involved as they sang along to the lilting melodies, while the 2012 hit Ya Teir seems to get better with age, Helani letting rip in the soaring chorus.

The only sour point in his set was the ramshackle rendition of a Khaleeji song that he launched into after a pleasant speech about his experiences in the UAE.

From the botched opening notes to backing vocalists missing their cue, it was a bit of a train wreck. Judging by the murderous glare he gave the band, the Knight may have had another battle backstage.

sasaeed@thenational.ae