Saudi Arabian hip hop artist Qusai talks about Arabs Got Talent, the shaabi music influences in his latest single and what it takes to make it in the industry.
By Dominika Maslikowski
Photos courtesy of Qusai
He’s considered a pioneer: one of the first Arabic hip hop artists and an inspiration for hundreds of musicians across the region. In 2007, Qusai hosted MTV Arabia’s Hip Hop Na, a talent search that was the first Arabic hip hop show. As the co-host for four seasons of Arabs Got Talent, he has managed to introduce thousands to the hip hop genre.
Qusai Kheder (known as Qusai aka Don Legend the Kamelion on stage,) brought the sounds of his native Hejaz, Saudi Arabia, to his first single “The Wedding.” Since then he’s broadened his scope in “Yalla,” (2012,) a single from his third album that references the sounds of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan.
Now Qusai says his lifelong love for Egypt has inspired his latest single “Umm El-Dunia,” in which the rapper from Jeddah teams up with MC Sadat and MC Alaa 50 Cent, two Egyptian musicians from Salam City who are considered the godfathers of electro shaabi. “They’re fans of me and my music and they respect me as an artist,” Qusai says. “I respect the fact they welcomed it and they showed me love and sincerity.”
In the video for the single, Qusai’s rhythmic beats are paired with the more chaotic shaabi sounds as the trio of musicians is seen atop a camel at the pyramids and referencing Um Kolthoum.
We talk to Qusai about blending his beats with the synth lines of electro shaabi, the role of talent shows and his work as a mentor and hip hop pioneer.
What is the role of shows like Arabs Got Talent, and how do they influence the music scene in the Arab world?
First and foremost it’s an entertainment show. In show business the most important thing is to entertain the audience, but also at the same time all these talent shows are mainly a huge major outlet for all kinds of raw talent from around the Middle East. And sometimes they have the so-called talent – the people who really believe in themselves, or who just want to act silly. That’s the entertaining part of the show. But it definitely sheds the light on so many people from all around the world to millions of viewers who never thought: oh this guy is from Morocco and he does this, and this girl is from Tunisia and she does that. It also helps people to explore their talent. And some of them might turn that from being just a talent or hobby to a career and making a living.
I loved being a part of the show for four seasons. It’s been great. I truly believe that it connects us. It connects the talent and the people more than anything. TV and media are such powerful things that they can make people love each other or hate each other. Our job as entertainers is to make them love each other.
Is it now easier for young artists to break through in the music scene in Egypt and the Arab world?
There’s nothing easy, especially when it comes to raw talent, because there are not many outlets and not much attention and support from people who are in a position to do so- from the coordinators to the booking agents to the industry itself (the labels, record companies, agencies, the media.) So that’s why the talent themselves took advantage of the Internet and social media to connect with each other.
And that’s where you might get your opportunity because someone big saw the raw talent and you capitalized on that. Otherwise, it’s different from one country to another in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is very conservative, and there are no such outlets… Egypt is a little bit more open and liberal and countries like the UAE are opening new outlets now. Morocco is considered one of the biggest. But if you want to compare the rest of the Arab world to Europe or the states, then no. Over there it’s so open that there is already competition between talent – who’s better than the other. While here, to make it? Oooh. You gotta break walls and face bumps and obstacles.
What does it mean to win a show like Arabs Got Talent? Does it guarantee success in the musical industry?
It depends on the winners themselves. It depends on that talent. If you’re in it for the wrong reasons, then great. You won the title, you won the car, you won the money. If you’re in it for the right reasons, then your hussle, your ambition and your drive is not gonna stop. Because we have witnessed that there are some talents who made it to the semi-finals who are currently doing much better on their path and their career than the winners. It’s really depends on the person and how far you want to take it and capitalize on that success you’ve reached.
Does the political atmosphere affect the release of your single?
Not at all, because when it comes to all these political views I don’t pay attention to that at all. I just go where my energy tells me to do so, and it happens to be that the song came at the time where all these things are happening in Egypt.
For me, I just like to express my love for Egypt and what I wrote. I’m speaking as an Arab person and how they view the good in Egypt, how they look at Egypt and how they love Egypt. That’s why a lot of people relate to what I say. And when the Egyptian people hear it they’ll know that’s love and that’s sincerity, and they appreciate and recognize that.
Breaking into the market in Egypt is a mission because you’re talking about the biggest market in the Middle East. I broke into the market in Egypt awhile ago but on a small scale, which is hip hop. And here comes Arabs Got Talent and opened that door and made it something huge not only for me to go in but for so many others. For whoever wants to do it right.
Read the full interview in the October issue.