Backstreet Boys set to celebrate 25 years together at Blended

Backstreet Boys set to take over Blended Dubai. (Supplied)
Updated 19 April 2018

Backstreet Boys set to celebrate 25 years together at Blended

  • On April 20, the Backstreet Boys return to Dubai to perform in front of a sold-out crowd
  • The Dubai show will doubtless see the Backstreet Boys bring out the big guns

DUBAI: On April 20, the Backstreet Boys — the top-selling boy-band in history — return to Dubai to perform in front of a sold-out crowd at the Blended festival. For fans and the band alike, the date is more than just another concert — it’s their silver anniversary. The group officially formed on April 20, 1993.

“Yes, it’s our twenty-fifth anniversary,” group member AJ McLean confirmed to Arab News.
McLean still remembers that day in 1993 vividly. That morning, 18 year-old Brian Littrell flew from his home in Lexington, Kentucky to join his cousin Kevin Richardson, McLean, Howie D., and Nick Carter in Orlando, Florida. While the group has changed a lot in the years since, the chemistry that was there from day one remains.
““We would not be the group we are today if it was not us five. The first time we sang together as a group was in a garage in Orlando and it was an immediate connection,” McLean said. “We all gelled personality-wise, we all gelled vocally, we just gelled as a group.”
The band came together because of an ad in the local newspaper seeking a group with a “New Kids on the Block look with a Boyz II Men sound.” It was that focus on vocal harmony and songcraft that drove the group forward, guiding them to 130 million worldwide record sales, including 24 million for their 1999 album “Millennium” — which featured their biggest hit, “I Want It That Way” — alone. Not to mention collaborations with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Sting, Elton John and Aretha Franklin.
Aside from the band’s chemistry, McLean is quick to credit others for their longevity. Specifically their passionate followers. “I would attribute a lot of it to our amazing core fan base, driving us to continue to do something that we love to do,” he said.
The band’s relationships haven’t always been as strong as they are now, however. The age difference between members is, in some cases, as much as eight years. Richardson, the eldest member, left the band in 2006 before permanently rejoining in 2012. But things are more settled these days.
“We’re all married. We have children. The dynamic is much closer now,” McLean said. “We all have one common factor, which is being parents, being husbands.
Before, when two of us were married, or one of us had a kid, and the rest of us didn’t, it was hard to empathize with wanting to have more time off or wanting to have your family with you on the road. Now it is pretty much Daddy Day Care, and we love it. We have a newfound respect for each other.”
As they grow closer to one another, they have also grown closer to their music, involving themselves much more in the process than they did in the early days, when they were guided by Lou Pearlman.
“The whole music industry has changed so drastically; we’ve gotten better as writers, we’ve gotten better as producers,” McLean said. “We’re definitely a lot more hands on now with the creative process. (Earlier), everything was handed to us: ‘Here’s the song you’re going to do. Here’s your producer. Cut it.’ It’s more fun now.”
And McLean has seen a newfound respect for the band come from the broader musical community — something he sees as a career highlight on its own.
“We’re seeing artists of today singing our songs. Nick Jonas did a cover of ‘I Want It That Way’ on tour in Japan, for example. It’s pretty cool to see this resurgence happening now.”
Performing live is something that has always fueled the band’s passion.
“It will always be something fresh and new,” McLean said. “Every audience is different. But the one thing that has been a constant is the love of music, and the fact that we have fans in countries that don’t even speak English that are singing every single line to every song. We always try to one-up ourselves live, change the performance to make it fresh and enjoyable.”
While McLean certainly enjoys singing some of the band’s biggest hits, he said the group have a more personal relationship with deeper cuts.
“It’s nice to do some songs that weren’t singles. It’s more for us personally as well as for our core fans. Songs like ‘Don’t Want to Lose You Now,’ ‘Get Another Boyfriend.’”
The Dubai show will doubtless see the Backstreet Boys bring out the big guns, though. “We’re going to put on an amazing show. It’ll cover 25 years of great music.
"You’ll hear all our biggest hits as well as a few personal favorites and some surprises,” McLean said. “We’re going to take you down memory lane. We can’t wait.”

Musical truth: Palestinian singer Maysa Daw blends the personal with the political

Updated 18 September 2018

Musical truth: Palestinian singer Maysa Daw blends the personal with the political

  • Maysa Daw is a young Palestinian singer
  • A guitar-driven singer-songwriter, Daw is a bundle of indie energy

DUBAI: Maysa Daw is a hard person to pin down. The young Palestinian singer has been busy dashing from gig to gig, completing an album and preparing to participate in a musical collaboration called the Basel-Ramallah Project, which is due to take place in Switzerland on Oct. 6. When we meet, she is in Chicago, about to go on stage at Palipalooza.

“We’ve been working on our solo show and I’m trying to write a few new songs but time isn’t exactly on my side at the moment,” she said with a laugh. “But writing always comes in-between things, you know. I’m always having these new ideas and I write them down, or new melodies and I write them down. At some point I’ll just gather them together and a lot of things will come from there.”

A guitar-driven singer-songwriter, Daw is a bundle of indie energy. Her live performances are raw and honest, her music a primarily personal reaction to the world around her. As a Palestinian living inside the Green Line, this can sometimes mean a world of conflict and complication.

“I always write about what I’m experiencing, what I’m feeling, or the anger that I’m feeling,” said Daw, whose debut album “Between City Walls” was written while she was living in Jaffa.

“It was a very different world for me. I grew up in Haifa, which is a lot more chill, a lot more relaxed, and suddenly I move to Jaffa and study in Tel Aviv, and everything was so intense. Everything was so new. It produced a lot of stuff. Love songs, break-up songs — political songs, too.

“There’s also one of my favorite songs, “Crazy.” I was so frustrated when I started writing this song. I was thinking of so many things at the time and I just wrote everything down. It’s exactly the way I was feeling, the things that I was asking myself. It talks about religion, it talks about death, it talks about politics — it talks about a lot of things.”

“Between City Walls,” which was released in June last year, may be indie in its sensibilities but its eight songs embrace a variety of sounds, not all of which are musical. Alongside samples of classical Arabic songs and Spanish guitar there are bursts of radio static and live voice recordings of people in the West Bank. As such, reproducing the album on stage, with drummer Issa Khoury and bassist Shadi Awidat, has not been easy.

“We’ve been trying to put material for a five-piece band into a three-piece band,” said Daw. “As such, we’ve been using more electronics and it’s been a very interesting challenge for us. But it’s got us to a place that I’m definitely very happy with.”

Daw is very much a product of Haifa. Born into an artistic family — her father is the actor Salim Dau — she immersed herself in the city’s independent Arabic-music scene, performing at venues such as Kabareet and collaborating with Ministry of Dub-Key, a Galilean group that fuses the sounds of hip-hop and dancehall with traditional Palestinian dabke.

She also recently finished recording an album with Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, who she joined about five years ago. Due to be released early next year, the as-yet-untitled album is her first full-length collaboration with the group. Prior to this, Daw and DAM recorded two tracks together, including the feminism-infused “Who You Are.”

Although Daw’s work gravitates toward the personal, much of it also can be viewed as intrinsically political. The song “Come with Me,” for example, is about two lovers kept apart by the separation wall, while “Radio” features the voices of refugees living in the West Bank. In snippets of their conversations you can hear them talking about the wall, the effects it has on their lives and their desire to tear it down.

“I do talk about politics but only because it’s a big part of my life, whether I want it to be or not. And believe me, I don’t,” she said. “But it is a part of my life.

“I started loving music way before I even understood what politics is. I only wanted to make music but with time I understood more about the responsibility that I could accept to have.”

She paused and corrected herself: “Not exactly a responsibility but a sort of a privilege. I have this voice that I can use and it has the potential to reach a lot of people. It made me realize that I can use this to talk about things that many other people can’t talk about.”

Daw once said that despite the perceived mundanity of everyday events, “everything we do here as Arabs is connected to politics.” As such, there is a vein of resistance running through much of her work. She sings of love under occupation, equality, society and religion, with freedom the ultimate objective.

“A lot of the time I write for the purpose of trying to tell somebody something, or trying to express my opinion about something,” she said. “And sometimes I just feel this thing that’s blocking me, that I need to release in any way, and my way of releasing it is through music.

“Sometimes I release something just for myself. I write it, I turn it into a song and I don’t release it to the world, because sometimes some things are too private. I still do it, I still work on a song and I still do it in a way that I absolutely love the song, yet it will never be heard by anybody else.”

One song on her debut album is sung in English, titled “Live Free.”

“You know, when I started making music and writing my own songs I started writing in English,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing it in Arabic. And at some point I realized that it was a little bit strange for me, because the whole personality of a person changes when you change language.

“I wanted to start writing in Arabic to see what it would bring, and it brought a very new side of me that I didn’t know. Everything was different: the melodies, the type of words I used, how I built sentences — something just clicked. Arabic feels a lot more like home when writing music.”