Ramzi isn’t content with being the next UK R&B sensation – he wants to change the way the genre is seen

Interview, Music feature

Hello there! This is your second visit to Dubai. How was it the first time?
I thought it was great – really, really exciting. I was out for four days and I hardly had a minute to sit down because it was one interview after another: TV, radio, magazine… Everyone seems really receptive to what I’m doing. Having Middle Eastern parents probably helps.

What’s your musical background?
My mother’s a classical pianist, which left quite a mark on me. When I was older I did three years of graded classical piano. That has helped a lot as a musician – even when I’m writing commercial music.

But I suppose R&B is more popular with girls?
You’d think so, but I’ve got a friend who’s a classical pianist and he seems to have a lot of luck as well. But doing vocals definitely gets a lot of female attention.

That’s what got you singing, right?
That’s right – I was very confident as a guitarist and pianist when I played in bands as a kid, but not as a singer. But when I was about 14 or 15 I started to sing a little bit, and when I saw the girls paying attention
I started to take it more seriously.

You started off in rock bands – what got you into R&B?
When I was about 14, I started to hear stuff like Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey and all these things. I’ve gone through phases with almost every genre of music, but the one that left the biggest mark was R&B.

What are your long-term plans?
World domination, I guess. In the UK I’m already getting a nice response from [BBC] Radio One, Kiss FM and other stations. We’re also looking to expand into Australia and Japan, and EMI has lots of things in the pipeline. But the main thing is to get my music as far out as possible. It was never really about being a celebrity or a pop star – all I want to do is make a living off my music.

You sound amazingly relaxed about all this massive stuff.
I am quite relaxed, but I hope it doesn’t come across in an arrogant way because that’s definitely not my vibe. But, when you think positive, positive things are drawn to you. If you’re negative about everything then it won’t happen. And things are progressing well.

The multi-lingual tracks probably help. What’s the thinking there?
I guess my Middle-Eastern heritage is something that needs to come through in my music. The track ‘Love Is Blind’ is a blend of English, Arabic and a bit of Hindi. It’s never been done in the way it’s been done in that track and we hope it will reach out to the R&B fans, the Arabic people and the South Asian people, and that they’ll all feel that they have something they can relate to.

Isn’t there a risk that you’ll be pigeonholed as an ‘ethnic’ artist by the mainstream audience, though?
Well I guess to a certain extent there is that risk but I’d love to be able to bridge that gap and be the one who gets a track with an Arabic twist on [British] national radio. It would be an accomplishment because the Middle East is portrayed quite badly these days. I’ve always wanted to show that there is a better side to it.

Have you experienced prejudice yourself while growing up in the UK?
I experienced some – a lot of people from ethnic minorities in the UK have experienced some kind of prejudice. It hasn’t scarred me or anything, but it’s given me a big interest in the conflicts of the world. So I try to bring people together with music. The last song on [debut album] Chapter One, ‘Watching The World Cry’, talks about everyone coming together and just chilling out. I did it to show that I’m a serious artist who has serious views. On my next album I’m hoping to cover more serious topics. The first album has to be quite light – everyone wants to feel good – but, once you’ve established that, you can think outside the box a bit more.

I’d usually connect R&B with songs about girls and clubs rather than international politics.
I guess that’s how I’m hoping to be seen – not as a manufactured R&B act but as a mature musician. And I want that to apply to my music – although the album is a produced sound, I perform with a band on as many gigs as I can. Sadly I won’t be doing that in Dubai, though. But I’d like to be thought of as the R&B version of James Morrison.

Ramzi plays The Apartment, June 19 and Virgin Mall of the Emirates, June 18. Chapter One is available in stores.

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