x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Eminem has du Arena fans 'rapped' around his little finger

The American rapper thrilled young and old during the after-race concert the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Eminem plays at the du Arena on Yas Island as part of the Formula One weekend.
Eminem plays at the du Arena on Yas Island as part of the Formula One weekend.

ABU DHABI // The American rapper Eminem rounded off three days of Formula One Grand Prix concerts and won over thousands of fans at the du Arena on Yas Island last night.

Eminem appeared on stage in a black T-shirt, baseball cap, a grey hoody and a chain around his neck to open with the song Won't Back Down.

He rapped before a screen that showed dripping blood, bullet shots, rotating skulls with Kalashnikovs and silhouettes of dancing women. The 80-minute performance included a live band onstage with a handful of hype artists and MCs.

The scene was "fantastic", said Jane Wallace, 32, a Filipina who lives in Dubai. "I think he's the greatest performer and I love him."

Anne Overell, who had been given tickets yesterday and saw her Finnish compatriot Kimi Raikkonen win the race, did not expect to enjoy the rap concert.

The show was "surprisingly good," said the 49-year-old Dubai resident. "I just sent my daughter a message that I'm seeing Eminem and she said, 'I'm very jealous, Mum.' I think he's one of the better rappers, but I can't understand what he's saying."

The loudest fans were mainly Arab teenagers raised in the UAE who identified with a rapper who hit stardom in the late 1990s, when most of them were toddlers.

"He speaks the truth. He speaks my mind and I love him," said Heba, 16, an Iraqi pupil raised in the capital.

"We can relate to him. A lot," said her Iraqi friend Laura.

For Aref Al Bannai, the concert was a chance to see the man who helped build his confidence.

Aref, 16, said he was bullied physically and verbally in school since Grade 1. Eminem's song Not Afraid inspired him to go to the gym, he said, to build strength and find his voice.

The soft-spoken Emirati is now in a hip-hop band and works out four times a week.

"When I was young I was always alone," said Aref. "Now I am one of the strongest boys in school."

His friend Jamal Ahmed, 16, an Emirati hip-hop artist, credited Eminem as a source for the genre's growing popularity among UAE youth.

"Just because you have money doesn't mean that you don't have problems," said Jamal. "Everybody has problems with their friends, with their family, with people who stab them in the back. Not all rap is about clubs and violence.

"Last year I was very disappointed. They brought a lot of old guys. Eminem always finds a way to stay relevant."

A more mature audience, many of them new to hip hop, arrived in buses from the Formula One circuit.

"We don't know anything because we are too old," said Marianne Jonsson, 61. "We are as old as Abba."

Reem Al Marzouqi, 19, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi who usually listens to Saudi Arabian love songs, said the experience was new to her mother Ibtisam, 45.

Reem walked with her mother, her aunt and her cousin between break-dancing teenagers, expatriates eating burgers and some smoking cigars, after dining at a 5-star hotel. They walked on the muddy grass in high velvet-lined heels with designer handbags on their arms.

As they and other audience members stood recording the concert on their mobile phones, younger spectators sang and danced.

Islam Mohammed Sohby and his friend Mohammed Maasha, both 17, arrived in a taxi singing their favourite songs by the artist.

"Some people like yolla [Emirati camel stick] dancing, some people like hip hop, " said Islam Mohammed. "I don't think it's fair to say it's a positive or a negative thing."

Eminem offered some of his classics for older fans, such as Forgot about Dre and Slim Shady. His final song was Not Afraid, followed by an encore performance of Lose Yourself from his 2002 film, 8 Mile.

azacharias@thenational.ae