Meet Khalifa Nasser, the soulful Emirati singer going viral

We spoke to the Emirati musician about being self-taught, celebrating his roots and becoming an Instagram sensation
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Meet Khalifa Nasser, the soulful Emirati singer going viral
Khalifa, put that record on

You might have heard him, you might have heard of him - Khalifa Nasser is the powerhouse of raw, unfiltered talent that the Middle East is currently enamoured with. The self-taught Emirati musician's soulful yet spunky voice has been blowing up all over Instagram for covers of hits like Billie Eilish's Bad Guy. Part of the appeal lies in the contrast between his appearance and his choice of music - clad in the traditional kandoora, you'd expect him to harmonise to Arabic hits, but his unconventionality adds to the charm of the experience that is listening to Khalifa Nasser. We sat down with the acoustic singer, and here's what we found out.

Tell us a little about your music - when did you start posting your music, and when did you go viral?

It all started about ten years ago, when I was singing with my family. My cousin came up to me, and told me I had a good voice, so I began to practice by myself, and often sang for my friends and family. It was around this time that social media became popular, so I began posting covers of songs, but I didn't really receive the right feedback. People thought it was unusual that someone in a kandoora was posting videos of himself singing with a guitar, and the negativity did affect me, so I stopped posting. I started  again after a gap of a few years, and this time, the response was great! People had become more open, which really made my profile popular. It was my cover of Billie Eilish's Bad Guy that really blew up - I think it was about a minute long, and it received 300,000 views on Twitter. 

You've mentioned that the kandoora is important for you - could you tell us more about that? 

Of course - I started posting because I know that people would love to see an Emirati portrayed uniquely. For me, this is was wearing the kandoora while singing English songs. I saw I had an opportunity to represent my country, so I decided that I shouldn't keep this talent hidden, and instead, take it out to let people see and enjoy it. I also wanted to try and encourage young talents to never be scared of what they do as, long as they are not hurting or offending anybody. For me, wearing the kandoora is a way to represent the Emiratis well - I'm proud of being Emirati, and I want to show the world that Emiratis can do anything. Being Emirati has influenced my philosophy: I believe that all artists should make an effort to help give the younger talents opportunities for success because we are all one. Regardless of religion or culture, humans should help each other, and this is all I hope to represent by wearing the kandoora. 

Where would you like to see yourself?    

I would like to see myself as an international artist who would always do what it takes to reach the top, and represent my country well. My craziest dream is to perform in great arenas such as the Coca-Cola arena in Dubai, or the Du arena in Abu Dhabi. I want to spread love and happiness though my music, since my greatest passion aside from music is seeing the people around me happy. 

Photos: Unsplash and Instagram