At 32, Yasser Habeeb has grown up with the changes in Dubai. With his first album rapidly becoming a commercial success, he is helping to put away some of its past prejudice, according to Khaleej Times.
Released by EMI, Yasser’s self titled work is a rich confluence of Arab and Middle Eastern musical styles. Its arrangements come from Morocco all the way to Turkey and Iran, brought together under by melodic voice and the simple subject matter – love. It is an accomplished work, and one he is justly proud of, aware as he is that it was not always possible to produce music like this in Dubai.
Yasser’s first album was released in 1990, called Alimok (they’ve taught you). It was what might now be called Arab Electronica, one of the first examples of a local musician using synthesizers and computer software.
This was followed in 1994 by another, similar work called Al Saher (The Insomniac). “But we had our day jobs, and there was no copyright, no labels and no support from the government,” Yasser said to Khaleej Times. “We earned nothing although we got radio play.”
Now, with major labels headquartered in Dubai, all that has changed. Local artists have access to decent backing and distribution, and can take to the world stage on a par with musicians from some of the Arab world’s older musical centers.
Yasser comes from a family steeped in music. Two of his uncles were professional musicians – masters of one of the region’s most intricate and difficult musical instruments, the Kanoon. “Unfortunately, they grew up in a different time,” Yasser said. “Dubai was black and white in those days.”
“In the past musicians were looked at as people who were not on the right track. Religion was misinterpreted to make musicians look like drug dealers. There was a lack of education and a lack of information. It is much easier now. In the early 80s when I started my parents welcomed the idea as long as it didn’t effect my schooling.
“Many things have helped,” Yasser continued. “Modernization, the media plays a very important role in this country in educating people and pulling them away from that way of thinking. Although you still come across prejudice in Dubai, much of it still lies in the misinterpretation of religion. I am a religious man, it doesn’t mean you have to grow a beard. What matters is your heart, your brains, and your soul.”
Equally importantly perhaps is the newly active approach of the Dubai Government. “People get a lot of support from the local government,” Yasser added. “Anything Mahmoud composes for example gets support from Dubai TV. We recently did the Dubai Shopping Festival. I did a duet with the Moroccan singer Hayat Al Alawi, although I must admit I don’t like working with her because she is so stubborn.”
Khaleej Times continued that with the gift of a wider audience come perils too, Yasser realized that the greater the exposure, the more competition there is to shine. “With so many singers and so many musicians, unless you sound very different no one will listen,” he agreed. “I wanted to sound very different, so there is a lot of studio work in this album and a lot of money invested in getting musicians from Turkey, India, the Gulf, the Mediterranean and Iran. I have done everything possible to make it interesting for people – songs from different countries, with different octaves and different arrangements.” – Albawaba.com