Q&A: Amr Diab

The Egyptian superstar explains how he retains his worldwide appeal

By Matt Ross
Jan 01, 2011

You don’t earn the title of the best-selling Arab artist of all time without putting in the hours. For Egyptian singer Amr Diab, it’s taken a quarter of a century and more than 25 albums to be heralded as the father of Mediterranean music, granting a place in the region’s pantheon alongside the likes of Fayrouz and Umm Kulthum. While his name is tossed around casually nowadays as an example of the fusion between Eastern and Western music. Diab’s breakthrough album – 1996’s Nour El Ain – brought regional music to a previously inaccessible international audience for the first time.

Since then, Diab has continued to command an almost fanatical following with each and every album. When 2009’s Wayah was leaked online, Diab fans reportedly initiated a monumental boycott of sites offering the material online, fiercely guarding the integrity of their idol rather than snapping up a free copy. New album, Eid Kebeer, will be released in 2011, and it seems rather pointless to speculate on whether or not it will be a raging success. When you’ve reached the height of an industry that already idolizes its stars, it’s almost a given.

You seem unable to make an album that Arab audiences don’t go crazy for.
Before working on my next album, I always focus on listening to different types of music from around the world – including my previous albums – to make sure I introduce something new and don’t repeat myself. I’m also very keen to be directly connected with my fans to get their feedback and their criticism. All these channels of communication with my fans make me much closer to them and make it much easier for them to be in direct contact with me, which is a very important factor in the success of an artist.

What keeps you recording?
Although I have been doing this for the past 25 years, I still feel that I haven’t reached all my goals, and I still feel that I have much more to introduce to the music industry, and that’s what keeps me always motivated to introduce something new.

You’re regarded by many as the father of ‘Mediterranean music.’
I agree that I am one of those who introduced this blend of music. I thought of it as a means of communication between the East and the West and a way to introduce our music to the West. We were already familiar and influenced by Western music back then, and I was sure that if they listened to our Eastern music, they would be amazed as well.

How come nobody thought of it first?
Most Eastern artists focused on following the style of Western music because of the success it brought with it. They were influenced by Western music and wanted to generate the same type of music on their albums. But I thought that Western music should be influenced by the East just as much as we were influenced by theirs.

Does the language barrier make it hard for you to attract fans who don’t speak Arabic?
Language is never a barrier. I have fans around the world that memorize all my songs, I’ve watched their videos on YouTube. They’re singing without understanding a word; they are just in love with the music. Music in itself is a language understood by all.

You get involved with every part of your work, from marketing to press and so on. Why are you so hands-on?
I like being involved in every detail of any product carrying my name. At the end of the day, people credit the artist himself for his success or failure.

After a brief foray into movies, you returned to music. Why did you decide not to take acting further?
Music is what I was born to do, but acting was something I wanted to experience. But who knows? You might see me in films in the future.

What can we expect from Eid Kebeer? Another new direction?
A different style of music, like I always introduce to my fans. I can’t get away with being repetitive in my work, I have to be creative and introduce a different style of music.

What do you make of the current generation of younger Arab performers?
They are innovative and hard working, and I predict big things for them. I always follow the new generation’s work, as their enthusiasm is highly appreciated. That’s why I make sure that I present new talent in my albums – a lyricist, a composer, a music arranger or something – as they add a new taste to the album. I started the Amr Diab Academy to discover hidden talent, and make it easier for them to get in direct contact with me and work with me.

There seems to have been a lot of collaborations in recent months between Arab artists and Western acts. Why do you think that is?
It’s another way of introducing our music to the West. And to make sure that the outcome of this collaboration reaches the entire world.