Plenty of Mideastern 'voices' in the sea: Coach Assi Al Helani dishes dirt
The Voice Middle East finally made its debut last Friday night on MBC to rave reviews. And while the search for Arabia’s next hottest singer is no doubt a big draw for audiences, the show’s four coaches have also been praised by fans and TV critics for their on-screen presence.
Assi Al Helani sure has what it takes to mentor the next generation of stars in the making. In 1987, the Lebanese singer found fame through a television singing competition called Studio Al Fan when he was just 17. His debut album came about in 1991, and since then Helani has gone on to release 17 more albums, including last year’s Rouhi Ana.
Now, the 33-year-old, who is married to former Miss Lebanon Colette Boulos and has three children, is part of arguably one of the biggest talent shows to hit the region. Joining him on the Arab version of the showare Tunisian singer Saber Al Roubaie, Egyptian singer Sherine and Iraqi singer Kathem Al Saher.
Q: The Voice Middle East has just launched on MBC. How’s the experience so far?
A: It has been an amazing experience so far. The Voice is one of the most popular shows in the US and UK, and The Voice Middle East will do really well in the region. We have a great team; I couldn’t ask for a better mix of artists than Sherine, Saber and Kathem. I cannot go into a lot of detail about the show itself as I obviously do not want to spoil anything for the viewers in terms of who we meet and pick, but it is exciting to be part of this contest format. I have been in the business for many years and know it can be difficult to make it or last. You just have to work hard. I studied music at the Institute of Music in Lebanon where I learned the oud as well. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but you also have to have a passion for it.
Q: Before the show kicked off, what had you been up to?
A: I was busy performing and attending music festivals in Lebanon, before spending a break with my wife and children before The Voice was set to start. It has definitely been a busy summer.
Q: How are you finding things in Lebanon, where The Voice Middle East is being filmed?
A: Despite the difficulties Beirut goes through, we manage to overcome them. There has been a lot of talk this year about Lebanon not being safe, but this country is still open to everyone. We encourage tourism, and the Ministry of Tourism is working hard to promote our beautiful country. Plus, business is continuing — we’re seeing the launch of new venues and restaurants all the time... We’re the type of people that enjoy life and make the most of our time.
Q: Talking of business, you decided to turn entrepreneur and open a restaurant. Tell us about it.
A: It’s called Assi and based in Verdun in Lebanon. The idea came about after I witnessed the success my nephew had with his own businesses, so it is something that I decided that I could do and have fun doing. And so far I am really happy with it. Even Saber and Sherine have been to the restaurant to dine there.
Q: Did you come up with the menu?
A: No, I left that up to the head chef. I think he is the expert and more than capable of choosing the right things. But the cuisine is very traditional and Middle Eastern. Personally, I am a big fan of dishes that I used to eat growing up that my mother used to cook. Things like mesa’a, which is a traditional dish. I also like a lot of things with zait [oil] in them, like lubya bel seit or bamia bel zeit.
Q: Do you plan on expanding the business across the Arab world?
A: I would like to see it expand across Lebanon, and then would like to take it to other countries in the Arab world.
Q: What’s next for you? Do you have plans for after The Voice?
A: The show will be taking up a lot of my time, but I am also preparing my new album, but a release date has not yet been finalised.
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