Global star an unknown at home

Maher Zain, who played in Singapore in 2011, returns for another concert on Saturday.
Maher Zain, who played in Singapore in 2011, returns for another concert on Saturday.PHOTO: WARNER MUSIC SINGAPORE

While he is popular in the Islamic music world, Maher Zain relishes the quiet time back in Sweden as it lets him take it easy and reflect

Swedish R&B-pop singer Maher Zain is a superstar in the global Islamic music world, with a dedicated following in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America.

But in his home country of Sweden, he is relatively unknown, which suits him just fine.

"When I come back to Sweden, I'm just a regular guy. And I love it. It's really nice for me to chill, take it easy and reflect, come back to my own reality. I think it humbles me," the Lebanon-born singer says in a telephone interview from Sweden.

"Once I go to work, I travel to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Morocco - places where I experience real fame. But otherwise, I come home... I drop my daughter off at school."

The 35-year-old, whose music videos online draw more than 1.8 billion views, was speaking ahead of his return concert here at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Saturday.

  • BOOK IT /MAHER ZAIN “ONE” CONCERT TOUR 2016

  • WHERE: Singapore Indoor Stadium, 2 Stadium Walk

    WHEN: Saturday,8pm

    ADMISSION: $78 to $198 from SportsHubTix (go to www.sportshub.com.sg/sportshubtix)

He is looking forward to singing for his fans here again as he has fond memories of his gig at the Singapore Expo in 2011, which drew a 5,000-strong crowd.

"The first time I went to Singapore, it was one of the earlier concerts that I've done," he says. "And now I've grown as an artist, I've grown as a performer, and the whole show is different."

For one thing, the set will include new songs found in his recently released third album, One.

The album took four years to complete and while some parts were recorded in his home studio, he also travelled to work with collaborators in various countries including Britain, India, Turkey and South Africa.

Some of the international artists whom he worked with are singer Mustafa Ceceli from Turkey, singer- actor Atif Aslam from Pakistan as well as African choir Amakhono We Sintu.

Like in his previous albums, One features Islamic-themed songs done in contemporary pop styles, covering genres from soul to R&B.

He moved to Sweden with his family when he was eight years old.

He graduated from university with a degree in aeronautical engineering, but he also had a keen interest in music and worked with a fellow Arab singer-songwriter raised in Sweden, Nadir Khayat.

While Khayat, better known as RedOne, would eventually produce music for global pop stars such as Lady Gaga, Zain went on to release his debut album, Thank You Allah, in 2009. The songs became a hit throughout the Islamic world.

In Malaysia, Zain re-recorded some of the songs in Malay and the move helped the album become one of the country's top-selling releases in the last 10 years.

His second album, Forgive Me, was released in 2012 and was also enthusiastically received worldwide.

Zain is aware of the responsibilities that come with being a pop star who made his name through spiritual tunes and maintains a clean-living, scandal-free lifestyle.

"What I say in interviews, everything I do, I have to be, as much as possible, careful in what I say.

"I don't get involved too much in politics, I just try to be the guy who gives people what they want to hear, keep inspiring them and, at the same time, entertain them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline 'Global star an unknown at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe