Desai does Dubai

Indian-Swedish indie musician Jonas Desai came to Dubai to launch his career and now he is releasing his first album.

Interview, Music feature

How did you get to this point?
I’ve been singing for so long that I can’t remember when I started, but it wasn’t until I sang at my brother’s friend’s wedding that it took off. My friend, a producer who was then living in London, was there and suggested I go back to England with him to record something. I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I started writing, mostly just so I could say I have a song, and went there for a week in 2006. Two of the songs we recorded are on my new album, A Weight Off My Mind.

You’ve got your own indie sound, but who has inspired you musically?
I listen to a wide variety of music, which I think is important if you’re a songwriter. I listen to Craig David, Weezer, Coldplay, and the latest stage is people like John Mayer and Jason Mraz. Guys like Mraz are able to say what they want to in a very simple way – they might talk about difficult things, but they do it in a way that everyone can understand. It’s a rare gift, and something that I’m trying to achieve for myself.

You hired a Danish producer, Reiner Erlings, to help make the album. How’s it been working with him?
We work together really well. At first, I asked him not to make it too commercial, because I’m scared that will take away the soul and integrity of my music. But in order for people to respond to it, it needs to be catchy. Reiner was able to strike a balance between what I wanted and what the song needed commercially. We bounce ideas off each other as well – I slip in an idea here and there, and then he can do what he wants with that idea, either dismiss it or use it in the song. But I feel we can talk to each other very openly that way, which is vital for our relationship and for the quality of the songs.

You’re from Sweden – how did you end up in Dubai?
I’ve been in and out of Dubai for a while now – my uncle lives out here and he invited me over for six months in 2004-2005 and I really enjoyed it. I came back in December [of this year] to do a few charity gigs and I didn’t have any reason to go back to Sweden, so I said to myself why not come back in January, do it for real and
see what happens?

And what’s happening now?
I’m going to tour the UAE, India and Scandinavia. India’s obviously something we want to try, and I think the market for people like me is growing right now, so it’s a good idea to go and see what happens. And we have family and friends there. For summer we’re hoping to go to Scandinavia because I think a lot of people appreciate my music there, so that’s an interesting market. I don’t think that Sweden has a good singer-songwriter with a decent voice and I think that I could be that guy.

Does having cultural influences from both Europe and India help you creatively?
I think it helps me to relate to both groups of people. That’s why I like Dubai so much, because there are people from all over the world. It’s helped me to connect with a lot of different people and I think that shines through in a lot of my lyrics.

If Scandinavia and India love you, will you forget all about Dubai?
No! Without Dubai I wouldn’t be able to do any of this. You can’t forget where you started. And Dubai is becoming a centre for many different creative people, so who’s to say it won’t be the next New York or Los Angeles or whatever? Who knows what will happen when Dubai settles down as a real city? Maybe they will come here instead of us going somewhere else.

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