Interview with Mishaal Tamer: A Trailblazer in the Saudi Arabian Music Scene

Half Saudi, half Ecuadorian rising pop star Mishaal Tamer has shared his latest single ‘ITTY BITTY’ – listen here. Co-written alongside Maria Vertiz and co-produced with David Balshaw, ‘ITTY BITTY’ features Mishaal’s charming vocals as he sings about heartbreak after infidelity in a relationship. Speaking on today’s release, Mishaal says: “‘ITTY BITTY’ is another single from Home Is Changing Chapter 3 ‘The Heartbreak’. It is a song about betrayal, irony, and acceptance. It was written using the text conversation of a relationship where one was being cheated on.”

‘ITTY BITTY’ follows last month’s release, ‘KEEP IT UP’, a punchy and encouraging track that Mishaal dedicates to all the creatives in Saudi. Both singles will feature on Mishaal’s upcoming debut album Home Is Changing. The album will consist of five chapters representing a different subject, including tracks from Mishaal’s EPs THE DEEP and THE HEART that have recently been released.

Last month, Mishaal made his UK live debut with a remarkable sold-out headline show at London’s Camden Assembly. In November, Mishaal will be returning to Europe with shows in Germany and France – more information here.

Boasting over 1.4 million monthly Spotify listeners and 746k followers on TikTok, Mishaal’s music is a unifying force among the youth of Saudi Arabia. Mishaal is the first modern musician from his country to make an impact within the global music industry, which was marked by Mishaal being the first Saudi artist to sign to a major record label in 2020. Tamer, who sings in Spanish, English, and Arabic, now works under the independent label Arabian Knights Records/EMPIRE.

In the last year, Mishaal has supported Grammy Award-nominated band OneRepublic on tour in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, including their sold-out one-off show at London’s Wembley Arena last summer. Mishaal also collaborated with OneRepublic on ‘Mirage’ for Assassin’s Creed Mirage. This year, Mishaal performed his first headline show; the event was the first-ever fully Saudi concert complete with support from female Saudi musicians Fulana and Tamtam.

Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your new single ‘KEEP IT UP’?
Right now, Saudi Arabia is going through a renaissance. Artists of all types are emerging into the light. I believe art and intelligent life go hand in hand; one cannot exist without the other. This song is an ode of encouragement to all those creatives making a change back home. I love you, KEEP IT UP.

What was it like co-writing ‘KEEP IT UP’ with Greg Recchia and Mike Guerriero?
These guys (Mike & Greg) are my best friends in New York. I was a teenager at the time, going through my first real heartbreak. I was devastated, but in my opinion, there is almost nothing more therapeutic than making music with your friends. I miss them.

How did the collaboration with Andrew Wells come about for the production of this track?
Andrew Wells is a producer and good friend of mine who I met when I signed with Sony Music. I keep seeing him randomly in different places around the world, and every time we meet, we end up making music. I had a demo of ‘KEEP IT UP’ at the time; Andrew loved it and I believe he made it so much better.

You mentioned the song is for those back home chasing their dreams. Can you elaborate on this message?
Yes. Saudi Arabia has a population where 70% of us are under the age of 30. The country itself is not even 100 years old yet, and the people today are super young. That’s why everything has been able to change so fast. I come from the Tamer family, which has always been supportive of the arts in Saudi. As an artist, I do what I can to encourage others around me to simply be themselves. If you’re Saudi, your time is now. If you’re already doing it… KEEP IT UP.

What can fans expect from your debut album, ‘Home Is Changing’?
“Home is Changing” is work that was done in the shadows and is now finally being brought to light. The reason why I feel so passionately for Saudi artists is because I am one of them. I know what it’s like to work tirelessly on something that you think nobody will ever hear, and then to not even care because you do it for the love of it, for the freedom it brings. I believe this is true artistic expression. When you think nobody is watching, that’s when you truly shine most as yourself, free from judgment, free from any nonsense that gets in the way of true universal expression. There is so much of this coming to light right now from Saudi. This is what “Home is Changing” is; it is pure expression, pure creative freedom. It does not care what you think, it does not care what you believe, it will accept you as you are. Art is human, we are all human.

Mishaal Tamer

Can you give us a sneak peek into the themes or stories behind the five chapters of your upcoming album?
There will be five chapters. I was writing, producing, and recording music every day of my life from 18-25. With “Home is Changing,” I simply curated these songs into chapters, letting the story naturally play out. A story that, by the way, I didn’t even realize was there! I was simply being honest; this music was my therapy, it got me through those times. I don’t even know if I’d still be here if it hadn’t been for that (music). This album saved my life, and I didn’t even realize it. But here I am, alive and still listening. Every day.

“THE DEEP” is actually chapter 1. It was the lowest point of my life and even the title is real—that is what I called that period of my life. Whenever I’d sink into that dark place again, I’d say I was back in “The Deep.” However dark it would get though, the first step out of it was the same. No matter how hard or how many times I fell, when I needed to take that first step out, the answer for what I needed was and always will be “THE HEART.”

How was your experience performing at London’s Camden Assembly?
It was an honor to have my first (out of Saudi) concert sell out at such a legendary English venue where many of my favorite English musicians also had their start (Adele, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, etc.). I am very grateful to my fans both in and out of Saudi, especially to those that flew to come see the show. You guys are awesome.

What emotions or thoughts ran through your mind while preparing for your first headline show in the UK?
Leading up to it, I was anxious. But when the day came and I saw the fans, the support, and the love, I just felt very, very grateful.

How did it feel to support OneRepublic on tour and perform at venues like London’s Wembley Arena?
It felt like a dream come true. These guys were one of the first rock bands to play publicly in Saudi. I respect that a lot—they came and they saw the youth and the truth of what it is like here, what the young people are doing, what it’s really like. I am also a big fan of their music and have been since I was a child, so to perform alongside them at London’s Wembley Arena was an absolute dream and honor.

What was it like collaborating with OneRepublic on ‘Mirage’ for Assassin’s Creed Mirage?
I actually used to play Assassin’s Creed every day as a child. In 2007, it was the first Arab protagonist in a video game! Finally, we are the good guy and not the bad. I am super grateful to be involved in the franchise and song.

Can you describe the significance of your first headline show being the first-ever fully Saudi concert?
The music industry is very young right now in Saudi Arabia. In fact, I’d say it hasn’t even been born yet; it is still a fetus. It will grow and it will one day blossom beautifully in the garden of the world (the global stage). I didn’t even know that it was the first-ever fully Saudi concert. I just wanted to support my friends (Saudi artists “Fulana” from Jeddah and “Tamtam” from Riyadh) because I think they’re great. This may have been the first concert of its kind in Saudi, but mark my words, it sure as hell won’t be the last.

You’ve mentioned that music was not allowed in Saudi Arabia when you were growing up. How did that influence your music journey?
It depends on different households. But music was always here, even when it wasn’t allowed like today. Art and life go hand in hand, you can’t take it away from people. In the city where I grew up (Jeddah), for example, there was a burgeoning metal scene I remember as a kid. It was illegal, of course, but it was there. Saudi artists are badass. Those metal heads were some of the coolest people I have ever met in my life. While learning guitar, I looked up to those guys growing up, and they still inspire me and my work today. In 2017, when they legalized music for the public, I began seeing people in Saudi posting clips of them singing. I would also see videos resurfacing from anonymous singers in Saudi Arabia singing from home. They wouldn’t show their faces and would mostly sing in a falsetto type voice register (especially those who were doing this anonymously and didn’t want their friends or family finding out). The aesthetic of these videos was similar to that of USA-based artist Shiloh Dynasty, though I don’t think there is any correlation as the Saudi videos with that trend and aesthetic have existed years before Shiloh’s first vines. I was inspired by these accounts and decided to give it a go myself. By this point, I had been writing songs almost every day from 9-17—that’s 8 years of work. Alhamdulillah, the first post is what became the sample “can’t love myself.” I posted a few more that became sampled in the lofi or rap world mostly in the USA and Russia.

Can you share the story of how learning guitar as physiotherapy for your arm injury led you to discover your passion for music?
At the age of 9, I broke my arm, suffering nerve damage in my left hand and fingers. The guitar was the physiotherapy and it saved my arm. I began writing music shortly after I had learned my first two chords (C major and E minor) and never stopped.

Mishaal Tamer

What was the turning point that led you to pursue music professionally?
Reading letters from listeners about how the music affected them and their lives.

You sing in Spanish, English, and Arabic. How do you decide which language to use for a particular song?
I don’t like to think too much in the studio; I just go with whatever feels best.

With over 1.6 million monthly Spotify listeners and a large following on TikTok, how do you feel about your music resonating with such a wide audience?
So far, it has been what I grew up with: being a mixed background that was a mix of Arabic, Latin, and Western. However, lately, my love of Khalee

ji music has been expanding, and I plan to do what I can to help bring this music into the global pop scene in the future, inshallah. I love to experiment. For example, in the song “Disco Cowboy,” I built an electric oud with its own unique sound to create the feeling I was looking to express in the song. As a Saudi, I truly feel we have this blank canvas, and we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. In fact, I think now is the time to do so.

What challenges have you faced as the first modern musician from Saudi Arabia to make a global impact, and how have you overcome them?
I definitely face a lot of discrimination that stems from ignorance, but I am hopeful that this will change over time as people learn more about my country and its youth.

What are your goals for the future, both as an artist and as a representative of Saudi Arabian music on the global stage?
My goals are to change perspectives on what a Saudi can be. We have art, we have a beautiful culture, and the world is missing out, but not for long, inshallah.

How do you see the music scene evolving in Saudi Arabia, and what role do you hope to play in it?
I see the passion, and I see it growing every day. I see it in those building the infrastructure, but what truly excites me most is seeing it in the youth. The kids picking up instruments and posting covers of my songs—they will be writing their own songs one day. This is only the beginning; I will simply be myself and let that inspire whoever it inspires.

As a groundbreaking artist from Saudi Arabia, Mishaal Tamer is not only shaping the future of music in their home country but also bringing a fresh, innovative sound to the global stage. Their journey from overcoming personal challenges to achieving international recognition is a testament to their resilience and creativity. With a deep commitment to artistic expression and cultural representation, they are set to inspire a new generation of musicians and pave the way for the flourishing of Saudi art worldwide.

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