The Neo-Arabs Issue

Khayal: Representing My Culture Through Music is My Mission

'I have a child within me that still has the urge to become this character. To live this life.'

By Sharifah Alhinai

Emirati singer Khayal. Image courtesy of Khayal.

‘I fantasise, dream and create.’ This is how Khayal describes his artistic approach. Born in London, the 21-year-old Emirati, whose stage name means imagination or fantasy in Arabic, is one of the Arab world’s new generation of singers, who blend western and eastern cultures together through their work. With an album and more than ten English and Arabic singles under his belt so far, the young artist, whose songs are heavily inspired by his childhood experiences and fantasies, is keen to make an impact on the music industry, and he is well on his way to doing so. In 2020, he was the cover star of GQ Middle East, which has helped him establish his unique theatrical style, both in music videos and attire, that makes him stand out in the sea of talent.

I spoke with Khayal about the beginnings of his music journey, his latest single, ‘Disco Pain’ and why it is important for him to represent his Arab culture through his work. This interview has been edited for the purposes of length and clarity.

Tell us something people don’t know about you.

K: A lot of people think that I studied or was educated in music and art related subjects. But I’m actually almost done with a Bachelor’s in clinical psychology, and will keep working to become a clinical psychologist in the future. However, I’m never letting go of my musical and artistic career. I believe that those two careers, that I’m pouring my efforts and heart into, keep getting me closer to my purpose in life. When it comes to my artistic and musical background and education, I’m mostly self-taught. My father gifted me a guitar when I was seventeen, and I’ve been writing and teaching myself since then. But I have recently been a part of two amazing programmes that really helped me to develop and set up my brand and content as an artist. These are the Pearl Programme provided by Berklee Abu Dhabi, and the NUMOO Programme provided by NYU Abu Dhabi. Being a part of these programmes was such a reassurance to me; that I can be in my home, Abu Dhabi, and be appreciated and supported as an artist.

Describe the beginnings of your music journey. What first sparked your interest in pursuing a music career, and how have you worked towards one?

K: As a child, I watched a lot of Disney movies. They were my source of inspiration and the reason I became the way I am today. Every character in these movies had a story to tell, and those stories were told through the way the characters were illustrated, their unforgettable colourful attire and their musical way of telling their stories. These movies welcomed me with songs that warmed my heart when it was cold outside, and led to visions that took me to where my subconscious felt safe to rest. Watching these movies, I started singing about my own life experiences — the good and the bad. The bad experiences always felt better released through music and performance. I used to make my own costumes. I became my own version of a character and sang my story at home. Then I discovered Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga. That’s when I was introduced to pop culture and the music industry and all the magical possibilities they hold. I was like, ‘Oh! I can make the things that I naturally make, and share them with people.’ So, I asked my father for a guitar, and he really loved the idea of me being a musician since he was one himself when he was younger. I got my first guitar from my second home, London, and started teaching myself and writing out my emotions in the form of poetry that could be harmonised.

What drives you artistically?

K: At this moment, my music is heavily inspired by my fantasies. I have a child within me that still has the urge to become this character. To live this life. To create this, be a part of that and lead my story from there. So right now, I’m listening to this voice. Because I owe it a dream. When you listen to my current music or my future works, you’ll notice that I’m not sticking to a genre or a certain approach yet. This is me following this voice in my heart and giving it what it needs right now.

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