Ahead of his return to Dubai, the velvet-voiced singer talks to Benita Adesuyan about romance, growing old and that moustache
Lionel Richie’s had the kind of career most singers can only dream of. The Alabama musician has won four Grammy awards, sold millions of albums worldwide and worked with a roster of artists that reads like a hall of fame – Michael Jackson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder to name a few. Now the singer is returning to Dubai on Thursday April 17, where he’ll perform at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, and show audiences that at even at 62, he’s not ready to slow down.
As a youngster, Richie considered becoming a priest, but discovered a calling of a different kind when he formed The Commodores in 1968 and signed with Motown Records. As lead singer of the funk-soul band he penned hits such as ‘Zoom’, ‘Easy’, and ‘Three Times a Lady’. Richie’s undeniable talent soon lead him to break away from The Commodores and go solo in 1982, and during the 1980s and early 1990s his songs, with their laid-back soulful grooves and smooth tones, were heard on radios and dance floors all over the world, with hits such as ‘All Night Long’, ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’, ‘Say You Say Me’, and ‘Hello’.
It’s not the first time he’s been to the emirate, and he’s simply buzzing about coming back to perform. ‘Dubai is my favourite place on the planet!’ says Richie. ‘Every time I come I don’t recognise the city, it’s growing so fast. The first time I came they’d just built the sail [Burj Al Arab] and you could see it from anywhere in the city – the second time I came, I couldn’t find it! It’s like New York City in the middle of the desert.’
Richie’s best-known song, ‘Hello’, is so synonymous with the performer that it’s the first thing to come up after his name in a Google search. ‘I own that word!’ Richie laughs. But having written scores of great songs, isn’t it annoying to constantly be associated with just one? ‘Not at all. Frank Sinatra said to me, “if you’re lucky enough in this business that people want you to sing over and over again, then you my friend have a career. But in your case, not only do you have more than one song, you wrote them all.” So I call ‘Hello’ my intro.
I get you into Lionel Richie world with ‘Hello’ and when you’re there we’ll then spend the next four-and-a-half hours singing the rest of the songs.’
And that’s exactly what the singer plans to do when he plays Dubai next week. ‘I’m going to play everything I can possibly play, and I don’t have to worry about whether they know the songs – believe me, you all know the songs!’
Richie’s smooth timbres makes his music popular with romantics and songs like ‘Three Times a Lady’ and ‘Truly’ are popular wedding songs – the star even jests about his music’s personal involvement in his fans’ lives. ‘I say this as a joke, but it could be very possible that I populated the planet. Between the years of 1971 and 1972 and probably 1991 and 1992, every kid should have the last name Richie,’ he laughs. ‘To be honest, it’s a compliment because the music’s been there somewhere between the engagement, the marriage, the baby – and of course what happened with me is the babies grew up, and now they’re singing the songs.’
But Richie is somewhat humble about his achievements, saying: ‘My career has been a great ride. If you’re lucky, you get one song, but considering there are only 12 notes, there are only so many different ways to play them.’
Richie laughs easily and has a playful manner and says being called Mr Richie makes him feel old, insisting on being called Lionel. ‘Back in the day, people would say, “Yo! L-dog”. Now it’s Mr Richie,’ he quips. His daughter Nicole has two children and the grandfather still looks youthful and is full of energy. ‘Some people have to join the gym, but I’m lucky because all I have to do is book a tour and for two-and-a-half hours I’m on the stage sweating like the last crazy man on the planet.’
In his early career with The Commodores, Richie was famed for his wholly energetic performances and bright sequined jumpsuits, many of which he still owns. ‘I was in love with those outfits, although they weighed a tonne, they were completely heavy without sweating in them and then you put them on with platform shoes and go on stage for an hour – believe me I was thin for a reason back in the day.’
Sadly, we’re unlikely to see the sequin suits when he takes to the stage here, but while the outlandish costumes may have stayed in the 1970s, there is one aspect of Richie’s style that has endured as long as his music – and that’s his moustache.
But would the star ever consider a facial hair makeover? ‘I’ve come close once to trimming it down as much as I could – but the answer’s no. I’m going to leave that alone – Mick Jagger has his lips, Lionel Richie has his moustache.’ Lionel Richie live in concert. Dhs350. Thursday April 17, 7pm-midnight. Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, www.timeouttickets.com.
Get soulful: more events around town
Soul of Dubai This event plays Northern soul and Tamla Motown every last Thursday of the month. The next night will be on Thursday April 24 Dhs75. 8pm-2am. The George & Dragon, Ambassador Hotel, Bur Dubai. www.facebook.com/soulofdubai.
District Live Thursdays
Check out this weekly outdoor live music event for neo soul funk artists. Free. 6pm-late. District Lounge, Capital Club Building, Gate Village, DIFC www.districtlounge.ae (050 880 2285).
Enjoy soul, jazz and folk music at this festival. British singer Joss Stone and US soul man Aloe Blaac will be entertaining the crowds. Dhs350. Thursday May 1 and Friday May 2. From 4pm. Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, www.timeouttickets.com.