The Soul and dance legend touches down in Dubai for a weekend of fun in the sun. Time Out joins him on his travels.
It has to be said, London-born musician Jazzie B has done pretty well for himself. In 1989, his dance/soul band Soul II Soul enjoyed massive success with ‘Keep On Movin’ and ‘Back To Life (However Do You Want Me)’, kicking off a career that has since seen him receiving the keys to seven American cities and two Grammy awards. It’s a seemingly fairytale career punctuated with phenomenal success, but Jazzie remains unfazed. ‘This year we finished doing a tour with Alicia Keys, we’ve been working in the studio with the usual suspects, I’ve got my radio show, I received an OBE [Order of the British Empire], I received an Ivor Novello Award, I made breakfast this morning. You know – the usual stuff,’ he says dryly.
Surely he’s a little bit pleased with himself at being given an OBE by a member of the royal family, even if it was Prince Charles? ‘I suppose it’s a little bit different from Rice Krispies, yeah. Going to Buckingham Palace and being acknowledged from a British standpoint is interesting, naturally. That was a highlight for my family. But there’s also the fact that I lost my grandmother, who was 96, this year as well, so it’s a contrast: one era ends and another one begins.’
With all that to his name, though, does he feel like he has a lot to live up to? ‘The pressure’s constantly on,’ he acknowledges, ‘but you can’t really think of life like that or you’d never do anything else. On a personal level, I’ve got loads of things to do. Tomorrow’s not promised to anyone. I know what I don’t want, but the cup is only half full at the moment.’ So what doesn’t he want? ‘I don’t want any red meat, I don’t want any nonsense. I don’t want a s*** crowd, I don’t want a bad promoter, I like people to adhere to my rider, I love to entertain and I like the support and I love what I do. I’m very fortunate to have a career in something that I love doing.’
That career is what’s bringing him to Dubai now, of course, though he’s been here a good few times before. ‘It’s been pretty good over there,’ he says, ‘the last time I played there was at iBo, though it’s closed now. That was a good gig; a nice crowd and quite a lot of people knew their music. I was surprised by how many English people were there, because the last time I played there was at some speedboat thing in the 90s, and it was almost entirely people from the Emirates. I’ve been there probably four or five times.’
So has he noticed any changes over the years? ‘Nah, it always looks the same to me because they’re always building something,’ he laughs. ‘Seriously, though, it was a lot less Westernised when we went there the first time, but now you could take a snapshot of LA and Dubai and the two would look the same. It’s the LA of the Emirates I guess. But obviously there’s more going on under the surface. You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ Judging things, it seems, is one of Jazzie B’s big bugbears; when asked to give one last word about what Dubai could expect from his set – genres, top tunes, anything – he suddenly turns reticent. ‘It’s not really a question I can answer until I get there,’ he says. ‘That puts a lot of pressure on me. I’m not going to say I’ll come and play Tom Jones, but at the same time I’m not new to this, it’s something I’ve done for many years and a question like that – with all due respect it’s a weird question to ask.’